Paul Brooks urges British manufacturers to seize the initiative and grasp the opportunities offered by continuous improvement, advanced technologies and the adoption of digital manufacturing.
Britain knows what it takes to deliver an industrial revolution. It was British manufacturers that led the world into the industrial age during the second half of the eighteenth century and they remain at the forefront of innovation 250 years on.
But while the UK is still one of the world’s most important industrial producers (ninth largest in the world, according to figures compiled by Santander and Make UK), fierce competition from international markets means UK manufacturers must adapt swiftly to the challenges posed by advanced technologies and digital manufacturing.
At Santander, we’re keen to help manufacturers do exactly that. We’ve been working with Dr Hamid Mughal, director of manufacturing at Rolls-Royce and an internationally acclaimed leader in the development and deployment of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.
His view is clear: Britain can live up to its illustrious manufacturing history and play a leading role in the fourth industrial revolution – harnessing the coming together of digital, physical and biological technologies – but this will not happen automatically. Rather, manufacturers must seize the initiative.
Innovation under threat?
Santander’s analysis of data, from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office and the World Intellectual Property Indicators, suggests the number of patents secured by British entrepreneurs and companies last year registered its biggest drop since 2013.
In 2018, there was an 8% drop in patents granted domestically in a year when patent awards at both a European and global level rose.
Worryingly, some of the UK’s most significant manufacturing hubs saw sharp declines, patents were down 23% in the East Midlands, for example, and 25% in Yorkshire and Humberside.
While the UK is still in ninth place globally for patent awards, there is a clear decline – alarm bells should be ringing. There are exciting opportunities for UK manufacturers in a world of advanced technologies – we must not let these pass us by.
Three steps to manufacturing excellence
1. Standardisation and consistency
How, then, to rise to the challenge? Dr Mughal suggests the answer is to build on what manufacturers are already good at. In particular, the foundations for technological transformation.
He argues this will be found in the culture of continuous improvement with which many manufacturers will already be very familiar. The idea is that manufacturers should seek to constantly fine-tune their processes and systems, stripping out every possible inconsistency and standardising everything they do.
Consistency and prediction enable manufacturers to get better at what they’re already doing, but this doesn’t automatically lead them to do new things. A ‘lean management’ approach is needed to give them the time and the space they need to plan for the future and to innovate.
When their current business model is running to perfection, there is more of an opportunity to think about the business of tomorrow.
2. Using technology to your advantage
Dr Mughal proposes the step-change for many manufacturers will come from identifying how to deploy advanced technologies within their business, and which specific technologies offer them the greatest value, reducing cost and enabling them to be as responsive to market needs as possible.
This is how British manufacturers will maintain their competitive advantage in terms of product excellence in the face of mounting global competition.
Take something as basic as machining, which is evolving out of all recognition as new technologies are created. Until quite recently, machining was a manual task, but today’s cutting-edge manufacturers are incorporating technologies such as adaptive 3D processes, unprecedented levels of automation and linkages to real-time value-chain optimisation.
There are many such examples throughout manufacturing; and while businesses have different needs, the process improvements available from these emerging technologies are driving and creating huge gains in areas such as lead times, speed of production and capabilities.
Robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence, and many more technologies are potentially game changing for productivity and customer service.
3. Digital manufacturing
And finally, digital manufacturing, the last piece in the jigsaw for manufacturing excellence. Smart factories, for example, will deliver seamless integration of the manufacturing process from the boardroom to the shop floor.
The use of analytics tools to generate actionable insight from data at every stage of manufacturing, from innovation through to production, can transform the quality of decision-making.
The power of combination
The key is to layer these ideas together. The combination of continuous improvement based on standardisation with exploitation of advanced technologies and the adoption of digital manufacturing, is becoming the prime driver of manufacturing competitiveness.
Focusing on one of these factors in isolation will not be enough – all three are required.
Get this right, and it is possible for manufacturers to create an innovation cycle within their businesses.
But it will be vital to constantly monitor performance and benchmark competitiveness. Manufacturers cannot afford to be complacent, as others in their industry will also be striving to continuously raise their game.
Dr Mughal suggests a suite of key performance indicators will be necessary as manufacturers seek to evolve.
- How is the productivity of your business improving?
- Which assets in your value chain are currently constrained – and how do you break through those barriers?
- To what extent are you utilising all of your installed assets – where are the opportunities to increase your value-added activity?
- What about lead time: how quickly are you converting resources into finished products?
One final thought. Santander believes that where manufacturers are prepared to work together, sharing experience and expertise, there is an opportunity for the entire sector to benefit.
One initiative we’ve discussed with Dr Mughal is how to build up a community of like-minded manufacturers who want to keep the conversation going as they re-position their businesses for the future. We’d love to hear your views.
Santander is the Official Banking Partner of The Manufacturer MX Awards 2019 – the year’s largest celebration of UK manufacturing.
Paul Brooks is UK Head of Manufacturing at Santander UK
*Images courtesy of Depositphotos