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Make UK and Rockwell Automation Leadership Summit ‘Resetting UK Manufacturing: A new manufacturing system, building a fully digital operation’

Where we are

The UK is behind many countries in terms of investing in the new digital technologies and companies operating fully digitally. The UK lags significantly behind our global competitors including Germany, Sweden, Japan and South Asia. However, there also good news. There is a greater awareness of the Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) such as AI, IoT and additive manufacturing and the benefits bought by investing in them. Some 80% of companies from Make UK’s research said that IDTs will be a reality in their business by 2025.

There is an acknowledgement and support for businesses in funding from the government through Innovate UK via its Grand Challenges Funds and the recently announced funding for Innovation Hubs.

However, there is a two-tier adoption model in the UK for SMEs and larger companies. While the latter are better suited with programmes that are delivered by Innovate UK and Catapults, they do not seem to be that well suited for smaller companies. That is why the Made Smarter programme is such a positive and welcomed initiative.

Made Smarter North has started as a pilot operating only in the North West, but because of its enormous success it recently got extended. It delivers a comprehensive advisory service for SMEs. At the initial stage, the company can get a bespoke expert advice about what they need, help with developing a digital roadmap and skills and leadership training.  This is what business, in particular SMEs, need support with.

Where we need to be

We need to make sure our manufacturing base has a digital back bone. The top priority for manufacturers is connectivity within their production line and whether their machines are “talking to each other”. To achieve this, there is a need for greater support within the big data area, such as skills development and technology. The last project of the Made Smarter programme worked on digital strategy, big data and connectivity within the shop floor including the production line. Together, this strategy improved the efficiency of the company it was working with by 70%. 
Another area that needs to be put into sharp focus is the need for agile leadership and the question of why we are doing it. What is the problem? How do we get where we want to be? It is about making a good business case and presenting the right outcomes as this will make the change that is required here.

Digitally connected supply chains are key enablers for UK manufacturers to become a resilient and become competitive player on the global (and increasingly digital) stage. Not only through procurement but on a more complex and efficient way of connecting all aspects of the supply chains. Sharing data in a secure way is the way forward. IoT is there to provide that secure infrastructure, it can be built individually for the needs of the customer for connected supply chain. But there needs to be the digital backbone first to make the leap forward.

There remains a lack of connectivity on manufacturing shop floor.  Digital supply chains would help to focus on winning business instead of checking stock and making orders.
Manufacturers who want to be globally competitive need to have their supply chains transparent, with the right skills and technologies needing to be deployed as well.

How to get there?

Be curious, reach out, use all of your possible networks, check your local Universities, Catapult Centres, trade associations, LEPs, peer to peer programmes. Don’t be cynical – utilise all the offers.

Be as diverse as possible, bring new talent, so-called digital natives, people who breathe and live digital, as this might change your processes and culture drastically for the better. Use training across the company, involve all employees from the shop floor to the CEO. Get to know the trusted advisor who can help you with your digital strategy.

SMEs are going through tough time, with a lot of them in the survival mode, but there is a great appetite to invest in the new digital technologies. Start with a small programme, be amazed by its success and what effects it could bring to your company, then be loud about it and share with others.

We need a national rollout of the Made Smarter programme to support SMEs on their adoption journey, this is very important now. We know that new technologies increase resilience and efficiency, this will help business and communities.
Blog / Manufacturing / Digital technology