Two years of disruption, the likes of which most have never seen, meant that many manufacturing firms had to adapt fast just to survive. Accelerating digital adoption strategies was one of the main priorities. Lee Collinson, National Head of Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics at Barclays, delves into some of the advantages manufacturers can realise through digital adoption.
For the manufacturing industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption. On-site productivity significantly hindered by lockdowns and social distancing restrictions; broken down overseas supply chains; and plunging global demand as companies tightened their purse springs. Unfortunately, it was a perfect storm that manufacturers needed to weather.
But weather it they did. According to Make UK’s Manufacturing Monitor (15/05/2020), 90% of manufacturing firms continued to operate despite the arduous conditions they faced.
One of the reasons so many manufacturers remained resilient throughout the pandemic is because of industry’s incredible ability to adapt. Now I’m not just talking about changing shift patterns and introducing new hygiene measures. I’m talking about manufacturing firms pivoting to make products that would, ordinarily, not be in their catalogues – as was the case with the Ventilator Challenge UK.
We also saw manufacturers creating or accelerating digital strategies and innovating like never before to better position themselves to confidently deal with the challenges they faced. In fact, one of the Covid-19 pandemic’s few positive consequential impacts is how it served to spur manufacturers into accelerating their digital transformations – which many had conceived but not advanced quickly enough.
Digital adoption advantages for manufacturers
The benefits manufacturers can realise by adopting digital technologies are numerous. Here are some of the main ones:
Improved production efficiency
By moving away from traditional paper-based and manual processes, manufacturers can benefit from significant production efficiency gains. One of the ways this happens is as a result of being able to identify every tiny issue in the production cycle. With complete visibility at every stage, manufacturers can focus on tackling small issues that cause inefficiencies in the process.
True data-driven decision making
Digital technologies can provide manufacturers with invaluable insights into their production processes. For example, with advanced planning and scheduling (APS) solutions, manufacturers can plan and schedule their production based on available resources, materials and plant capacity. As a result, firms can decide whether to accept or reject any urgent orders that come in based on real-time data that shows what the exact production impact will be.
Attract and retain top talent
One of the most overlooked benefits of digital adoption for manufacturers is how it helps the firm become more attractive in the eyes of talent. Today’s manufacturing talent wants to be leveraging the innovative technologies that are driving industry forward. At a time when we are witnessing a significant skills shortage any manufacturer who positions themselves as a place where people want to work can get a large competitive advantage
Increased supply chain resiliency
As we witnessed with the Coronavirus pandemic, manufacturing supply chains – which are often complex and reliant on Far Eastern partners – are complex and fragile. Couple this with the just-in-time (JIT) inventory management many firms utilise as part of their lean manufacturing practices and the situation becomes even more precarious. But with digital technologies manufacturers can gain a complete understanding of their supply chains and identify any potential weak links so they can be addressed before they cause problems. Furthermore, supply chains become forward-thinking rather than reactive, allowing firms to accurately predict future requirements based on data/trends.
Net Zero gains
Sustainability and working towards Net Zero are, quite rightly, high on manufacturers’ agendas today. Digital technologies can help manufacturers reduce their environmental impact and improve their sustainability. By automating manufacturing processes, manufacturers can save energy and resources. In addition, digital technologies can help manufacturers track their progress and identify areas where they need to improve.
Manufacturing digital adoption in action
While it’s all very well highlighting the advantages of digital adoption for manufacturers, nothing beats learning about how firms are actually benefiting.
As this Made Smarter case study outlines, Crewe-based Qualkem, a manufacturer of eco-friendly domestic cleaning products, has realised a number of benefits by implementing digital solutions.
With its new filling and labelling operation for short product runs, Qualkem says its sales are forecast to grow by as much as 25% over the next three years, creating new roles in the process. Moreover, the solution – which uses up to 100% recycled plastic tubes and closures, 85% recycled polyurethane labels that are inline applied, and 85% recycled cardboard packaging – also enables Qualkem to offer significantly more sustainable packaging to its customers.
Related reading: Manufacturing a sustainable advantage
Related reading: Manufacturing a sustainable advantage
About the author
Lee Collinson is National Head of Manufacturing, Transport & Logistics at Barclays.
In his role, Lee travels extensively across the length and breadth of the country seeing businesses in the manufacturing, transport and logistics sectors. He is passionate about helping businesses across the UK to realise their growth aspirations.
*image courtesy of Shutterstock