Comment: providing the UK’s manufacturing industry with the tools to thrive

Nick WrightNick Wright, Head of Manufacturing Industries at Made Smarter explains how the Digital Catapult’s recently launched Made Smarter Technology Accelerator will help manufacturers address current and future challenges

With every passing week, it seems as though we learn the scale of the task that we face to successfully emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic has grown. As the crisis has unfolded before us, we have seen unprecedented levels of disruption and damage to industries across our nation. The manufacturing sector has not only keenly felt the impact of the pandemic, but simultaneously had to stand tall and tool up to tackle the spread of the virus and save lives.

It is the sort of resilience that we will need to sustain. As exemplified by the recent Make UK/BDO Manufacturing Outlook Q3 survey, which showed that the balance on investment intentions fell to -32% from -26% in the second-quarter, the temptation to simply cut costs rather than invest is hard to resist during these tumultuous times.[1] Yet, in the long-term, this approach runs the risk of businesses getting left behind.

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The temptation is only magnified when you consider the other competing challenges which pre-date the pandemic that manufacturers are still contending with, such ever increasing product complexity at higher quality and reduced cost, as well as the industry playing its part in supporting the UK’s efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

In addition to this, is the manufacturing industry’s long-prophesied digital transformation journey – and we now find ourselves at an opportune moment to accelerate this revolution and aid the UK’s economic recovery. In order to help manufacturers solve some of their key challenges and realise their digital potential, Digital Catapult has launched the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator.

Rethinking our approach to technology

The pandemic has inadvertently initiated an accelerated learning cycle, with industry leaders leveraging 4th industrial revolution solutions in response to the crisis.[2] This increased adoption of digital technologies has provided many manufacturers with yet another glimpse at the potential for digital transformation across the industry.

Despite this, there are a number of barriers which they are forced to confront when considering how to innovate and in what way they can benefit from digital technologies. Typically, this involves a long decision-making process as committing investment will inevitably cut into low profit margins, require greater hybrid skills and will often not neatly align with established product lifecycles.

A collaborative, cross-industry approach is required to help manufacturers overcome these barriers effectively. The Made Smarter Technology Accelerator aims to work as a timely, long-term partnership with leading UK manufacturers and the digital technology innovation community, to develop innovative solutions that address many of the UK’s key manufacturing challenges. In recent times, Made Smarter has already enabled SMEs to realise that advanced digital infrastructure, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), is essential to minimise downtime and guarantee predictive maintenance, enabling manufacturers to reach optimum productivity levels and increase the lifecycle of machinery.[3]

Delivered by Digital Catapult, and funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, as part of the national Made Smarter movement, this national programme envisions advancing and shaping the UK’s technology adoption directly into industry.

Building a programme fit for purpose

Ensuring that this digital journey is as fitting and profitable as possible necessitates fostering strong relationships between innovators and manufacturers. You only have to look around and assess how we have adapted to our present crisis, to see the power of innovation and collaboration. As such, this match-funded programme will include medium and large manufacturers who will form a select group at the forefront of digital adoption, helping to define the scope of challenges whilst taking an active role in the programme.

We are currently seeking manufacturing industry partners who have challenges which fit into one or more of the five programme themes: intelligent factory/site management and control; intelligent product verification and validation; transparent and data driven procurement; digitally enabled factory/site workforce; and resource measurement and analytics.

Once the partners are on board and the challenges have been defined, the programme will work with the UK’s leading technology innovators, providing them with the necessary funding and a platform to grow as they develop prototypes to, for instance, to use advanced digital technologies for intelligent product verification and validation or resource measurement and analytics. Ultimately, the aim is to establish a more sustainable and resilient manufacturing sector in the UK.

Time to drive the next industrial revolution

The last few months have shown us that if markets across the globe are to rebuild their competitiveness and establish themselves as world leaders, they must evolve and invest. Therefore, UK manufacturers too cannot sit still. Innovation with and the adoption of digital technologies will be crucial to enable these industries to thrive.

The manufacturing industry has long been primed for digital transformation. Now is the time to turn the wheel and drive a technological revolution.

If you want to aid economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic; drive improved productivity, increase market capitalisation, export growth; and accelerate sectors across the manufacturing industry towards the UK Government’s net-zero by 2050 target, we want to hear from you.

Businesses can register their interest via www.madesmartertech.uk

[1] Make UK/BDO Manufacturing Outlook 2020 Q3, Make UK

[2] Industry 4.0: Reimagining manufacturing operations after COVID-19, McKinsey

[3] Made Smarter manufacturers use emerging technologies to navigate COVID-19, Made Smarter