The pandemic has created unprecedented uncertainty in businesses around the globe. Unsurprisingly, the UK’s manufacturing industry is in a state of flux, too. According to the Annual Manufacturing Report 2020, 43% of manufacturing companies said they want to plan for growth, but times are too unstable and uncertain.
So, how can businesses keep up? And how can manufacturers turn the upheaval of the pandemic into a driving force for progress?
The answer lies in the government’s Industrial Strategy, which will ‘boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure’.
By adopting the right digital technology – such as remote working and digital modelling solutions –businesses can help accelerate productivity and improve cost efficiency. So, how can the manufacturing sector support long-term technological changes, while enabling the UK economy to thrive, post-COVID-19? Here are my five key thought-starters.
1. Train employees to leverage the digital future
When it comes to adopting new, innovative technologies, your focus should not be on deep specialist upskilling, but building strong foundations across your organisation for a wider understanding of how these technologies can help.
For example, capturing data with smart devices on the factory floor has been helpful for improving productivity and understanding cost efficiencies. However, employees need to understand how this valuable information can give organisations real-time, strategic insights they can work with. For instance, benefits might include monitoring plant performance remotely, creating smoother supply chains and optimising ecosystems.
In addition, training shouldn’t stop with employees – instead, organisations must aim to hold ongoing dialogues with academic institutions. But, more on that next.
2. Educate younger generations on engineering and manufacturing
In order to build strong foundations across key industries, skillsets must be embedded from the beginning. The only real way to leverage value in the digital future is through training initiatives, to make engineering and manufacturing more appealing and diverse. At Rockwell Automation, for example, we promote engineering to students at primary school, secondary school and university age.
It’s important to note that this kind of activity requires help from government resources and funding. However, done right, educating young talent can be a fantastic way to achieve higher standards in manufacturing.
3. Work with the government to focus on, and harness, the future of mobility solutions
The pandemic has proven the flexibility and resilience of UK manufacturing. Not only did the industry transform overnight to manufacture medical equipment, but many businesses also agreed to repurpose their lines to make hand sanitiser.
As a result, it was recognised how flexible and capable the industry can be. By partnering with the government in the future, manufacturers can support the agenda on green growth by using low-carbon technologies to develop new mobility solutions. Hydrogen will play a key component here – more on this in point five.
4. Invest in research and development
As stated previously, much of this progress will depend on government involvement – namely, support in progressing digitalisation via grants and funding. Such financial support will help mitigate risks from investment.
The misconception is that research and development are only worthwhile pursuits for large organisations. In truth, any company – no matter its size – can benefit.
By investing in research and development, we can ensure the manufacturing sector plays its part in helping our society recover from the pandemic, and thrive beyond it.
5. Take responsibility for addressing climate change
Finally, it’s important to note that we all bear responsibility for addressing climate change. And Rockwell Automation knows there’s no easy answer. However, by reducing waste and improving management of resources, the manufacturing sector can have a significant impact on our efforts to protect the planet.
I’d also like to mention Digital Twins here, as an example of how manufacturers can become more efficient and less wasteful. From plant design and virtual commission to plant modelling and optimisation, Digital Twin models can certainly prove their worth. Rockwell Automation’s Emulate software is an example of this kind of thing, and you can find out more about it here.
Using renewable energy sources too, such as hydrogen, will reduce environmental impact and help improve management of resources such as water, gas, electricity and steam. This, of course, all has far-reaching, positive outcomes beyond the sector and beyond recovering from the pandemic. But it’s through innovation and digitalisation that these new opportunities will be found.
Next steps for manufacturers
So, that’s what manufacturers need to be thinking about in order to plan effectively for the future. If you would like to learn more, listen in on the Industrial Strategy webinar we put together with Make UK: Resetting UK Manufacturing.
As a trusted consultant with a partner network of leading companies, we can support you on your digital journey – no matter what stage you are at, or how far you want to go. If you’d like to know more, simply get in touch.
Published November 30, 2020