In June this year, UK manufacturing and engineering body EEF announced that UK manufacturing growth experienced a slowdown during the first months of 2015. Citing the slump in oil prices and a corresponding decline in manufacturing demand, the EEF’s report is indicative of the difficulties UK manufacturers, big and small, face at the moment. While the sector is still set to grow by 1.5% in 2015, it’s down nearly half from the 2.9% growth seen in 2014.
The standard response to this is that productivity needs improving. In manufacturing, this is traditionally achieved by lowering input costs (raw materials) and reducing the costs of production. Yet manufacturing, like many other sectors, is facing massive disruption.
That said, it is also experiencing a greater level of opportunity to differentiate and compete on a global scale. We can now meet increased demand for highly customised products and purchasing experiences through new ways of designing, making and delivering more intelligent products.
The industry no longer needs to rely solely on the traditional pursuits of productivity, innovation and process. As a result, there’s a lot more that can be done outside the traditional productivity cost-reduction cycle to boost manufacturing in the UK.
There are some sectors, such as automotive manufacturing, that are already doing this well, and offer some great examples of how manufacturing firms of any size can use advances in technology to transform the way they bring products to market. Below are three key areas where manufacturers of any size can transform the way they operate:
Whilst there are many initiatives to help manufacturing firms achieve growth and harness innovation, it’s the sector itself that must build a culture where it is prepared to take risks and look at new ways of innovating throughout the design to manufacturing process.
The cost of computing power and design and manufacturing software are no longer barriers to entry. Even the smallest manufacturing business now has access to cutting edge tools and software. To truly embrace innovation the manufacturing sector needs to build and adopt a culture that encourages bold and challenging ways to exploit cloud based design tools and take advantage of the opportunity presented by unlimited computing power.
The UK manufacturing sector has seen great improvement over the past couple of years. However, we‘re now at a point where the next stage of growth will only come through a willingness to innovate.
Innovation isn’t something that only global manufacturing firms can take advantage of. By being prepared to embrace change and by making incremental changes that improve all aspects of the design workflow and customer experience, manufacturing firms can ensure strong growth and productivity.
Think outside of just design and connect your design workflows
Every manufacturer goes through a workflow to create its products and services, encompassing the initial enquiry all the way to delivery of the end product and the customer invoice.
However, between the beginning and end of this process there are a number of other steps – such as quoting, receiving the purchase order, design and engineering, testing and validation, shipping and installation, and even service and maintenance.
The more quickly they can go through this process, the more growth and profits firms are able to make. However, managing disparate systems and disjointed processes can massively hamper productivity and can keep some of a company’s best ideas and thinking locked into managing this workflow when they could be focused on innovation of all kinds. Something the UK has a huge history of.
The key is being able to connect data from all parts of the business together. Software based design and engineering tools, which have traditionally been regarded only as tools for creating design drawings, can be a key enabler in connecting key workflows.
Supporting customer needs
One of the biggest trends in the future of making things has been a focus on customer centric designs, where customers have a much greater say in the design of what they’re buying. Design tools are a central part of this but it’s much more than just about 3D modelling.
Anyone can create and change a 3D model. But how about allowing customers to specify the characteristics of your product and have them drive the changes up front. All of this is totally possible today at investment levels that match budgets.
Where design is a fundamental part of the whole manufacturing workflow, it means it is also possible to accurately show the impact of the customisation on production time and costs.
The other aspect of this is going beyond pure manufacturing and looking at how you can offer your customers the additional services and support they need throughout the lifecycle of the product.
With the idea of an always connected product now a reality, manufacturers can offer these additional services through monitoring and improving the performance of any product after it has left the factory, in a way they could never do before.