Digital manufacturing: what, where, how and why?

We need to become more like Germany: a misguided national obsession with keeping old manufacturing equipment running as long as possible rather than investing in the latest technology is holding UK firms back and hampering productivity.

This was just one of the claims made at a recent roundtable event convened by The Engineer and BAE Systems to discuss the opportunities presented by digital manufacturing technologies and practical challenges of implementing these technologies.

Inside BAE Systems Samlesbury facility. Image: BAE Systems

Held at BAE’s impressive Samlesbury facility – home to its F-35 manufacturing and assembly operations and something of an exemplar of the digitally enabled factory – this debate brought together a mix of OEMS, Tier Ones, SMEs and manufacturing researchers to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting digital manufacturing technologies and to look at how UK industry might accelerate its digital transformation.

We asked our panellists to talk about their own adoption and development of technologies including cobots additive manufacturing to AR, to comment on the much-trumpeted productivity-enhancing benefits of these techniques and to consider the lessons they’ve learned that could make it easier for others to follow in their footsteps. 

Until recently, it’s not been easy to answer these questions. While industry leaders and government-led panels have repeatedly made the high-level strategic case “digital manufacturing”, it has been difficult for the rest of the manufacturing sector to grasp the benefits.

But this is beginning to change. And as our discussion demonstrated, today there are numerous tangible examples of technologies that were at the fringes less than a decade ago now playing a key role in manufacturing operations across the industry.

As you’ll learn from the following series of articles based on this debate there are clearly some major challenges ahead: from the requirement to encourage greater cross-sector collaboration to a pressing need for entirely new skills. But encouragingly, there’s also a growing understanding of what industry is doing right and how it can rise to these challenges.

Click here to begin reading our Digital Manufacturing roundtable report

You can also find a full version of our report in The Engineer’s February issue