An e-wake up call for British manufacturing

Don’t make the mistake of believing that e-business capabilities are optional – they are mandatory. As the global village turns into the global marketplace, British manufacturers must turn from ‘bricks and mortar’ to ‘clicks and mortar’ if they are to remain competitive. So Says Sean Toomes, international marketing director of Norgren.

E-Business, Toomes explains, is about using the Internet to streamline all aspects of your operation, from stock ordering to warehousing and distribution.

‘The first effects e-business can have are on how the manufacturer operates internally. Distribution and stock management are two obvious areas.’

‘Within a year’, Toomes says, ‘stock management will be influenced by developments like virtual warehousing, which will manage intelligently the availability of different part numbers in any area.’

Developments in distribution will be along much the same lines. Toomes claims that if a distributor doesn’t have the part that a customer orders, technology will soon be in place to source that part from the nearest alternative stockist.

‘The ability for a manufacturer to respond to a customer’s enquiries at any time of the day or night will become increasingly crucial to any organisation wishing to compete in the global market,’ says Toomes, ‘a point British manufacturers need to grasp – and quickly.’ To this end Norgren has recently added to its ‘Webstore’ online selection and procurement system with an online technical support service.

e-business also means that routes of purchase are changing fundamentally, and the trend towards purchasing over the web has been reinforced by the participation of companies like General Motors, Ford and Philips.

Referring to Norgren’s own online ordering facility Toomes says: ‘More and more companies are sourcing their manufacturing requirements from these sites, so it is an important new distribution channel for us’.

Customised private Web areas form another part of Norgren’s e-business strategy. The company is developing one-to-one Internet environments exclusive to individual customers.

Norgren is also exploring more unusual aspects of e-business, like using the Internet to enable `intelligent’ valves in remote locations to communicate with engineers in the event of pending system problems.

‘We’ve already got to the stage where valves can predict failure within a given number of cycles, and send warning signals to engineers through a Fieldbus system’, claims Toomes.

‘The potential of this idea alone is endless, and helps to reinforce the point that e-business is much more than placing a catalogue on the Internet. It’s up to British manufacturers to realise the power of the Internet and use it to their advantage, before someone else seizes the initiative’ he adds.

So if e-business is set to make an impact on the pneumatics industry, how can distributors and smaller manufacturers take advantage of it?’Distributors must see this as an opportunity, not a threat. Doubtless it will have an impact on their business, but if they can demonstrate that they can add value to our overall offering, then the benefits of e-business are there for the taking’ says Toomes.

Such added-value might comprise extended or specialised support for customers, systems design and integration – rather than the traditional supply of one-off sales of individual items.

‘One thing is for sure’, he adds, ‘e-business is changing the way we do things and those who will benefit most from the new business environment will be those who dare to do things differently. This is the alarm call.’