The Manufacturer’s premier event of the year, Digital Manufacturing Week, was launched last week (10 March) at The House of Lords and was supported by around 150 representatives within the industry.
Manufacturers and solution providers from all over the UK came to Westminster, eager to hear what this year’s event has in store. Taking place, once again, in the proudly industrial city of Liverpool on 14-18 November, Digital Manufacturing Week brings together an abundance of ideas and opinions and a vast amount of aggregated knowledge and experience from individuals and companies working within the sector.
A range of events are curated to support manufacturers at all levels of their digital journey. The week exists to provide manufacturers with the knowledge, contacts and solutions they need to navigate the sector’s biggest challenges.
Capturing the mood of the sector
The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum round table events have given us a clear picture of the mood within the sector. The current challenges, concerns and pain points for the industry centre around four main issues. Each presents its own issue to manufacturers, but they’re also quite clearly linked.
The integrity and resilience of supply chains is one of the most frequently talked about problems in the sector. Making supply chains more flexible, adaptable and reliable is a focus. As a consequence, manufacturers are showing a greater appetite for bringing production closer to home by reshoring. The manufacturers that are able to do this, have seen some positive impacts. Rather than focussing solely on cost per part and having production at cheaper facilities outside of the UK, localising production is reducing risk, creating new UK jobs and reducing environmental impact.
COP26 back in November was a critical event for climate action globally. For manufacturers, sustainability is also increasingly linked to profitability, so the need to shift to more sustainable practices is clear. This is now very much a board level agenda item, and not a ‘nice to have’ element that it was before.
This is a key investment area and driver behind the continued roll-out of technology; not only in terms of business operations but of making sure manufactured products have longevity, can be repaired, and potentially be recycled and remanufactured at end-of-life.
Like many STEM-based industries, manufacturing has an ageing workforce – the average age of a manufacturing operative is now over 50. The industry is in desperate need of skills and new talent, and is in the middle of something of a perfect storm. Not only is there a dearth of people with traditional manufacturing-based qualifications, in disciplines such as welding and CNC operating, manufacturers are also in dire need of a whole raft of new digital skills that they previously never knew they needed, due to the continued embracement and development of technology.
In the future there will also be a far greater requirement for manufacturing professionals to upskill and reskill throughout their careers in order to keep up with the pace of change. Add to that the legacies of COVID and Brexit and it makes for a demand and supply imbalance around skills which is very challenging for the sector.
There is also still a widely held perception of the industry among many young people that manufacturing is an ‘oily rag craft’ and is a dirty, messy business. There are several factors for this, not least the picture of the industry that is being painted by education. There is also a distinct lack of role models within the sector.
If young people have an interest or passion in sport, music of even cookery there are no shortage of individuals in the public eye who they can aspire to. However, manufacturing/engineering heroes are conspicuous by their absence – particularly for young girls – which is another major issue in the sector as women only make up 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK.
The impact of events over the last two years, manufactures have accelerated their digital transformation journey. The global pandemic acted as both a lens and a catalyst for the role of IT in manufacturing, exposing vulnerabilities in some sectors. Those who failed to keep pace with innovation suddenly found themselves floundering.
More than a third of manufacturers are hampered by a lack of digital infrastructure and connectivity. It’s not that digital systems and tools aren’t in place, it’s more that they aren’t yet speaking to each other. It’s believed that the UK is at risk of being left behind in the global race to thrive, not just survive, if the adoption of digital transformation is not accelerated.
However, it’s also vital that manufacturers are clear on their digitalisation rationale and the results they hope to achieve from the outset, before wastefully investing valuable time, money and employee goodwill – potentially entering what is termed ‘pilot purgatory’.
Digital transformation is extrinsically linked to the other challenges mentioned here. Technology is vital to sustainable manufacturing and digital solutions help support lean manufacturing processes which are more environmentally efficient and generate less waste. Digital technology can also give manufacturers greater visibility into their operational workflows, enabling them to identify and eliminate excess water or materials usage for example and reduce carbon emissions, as well as streamline and optimise production processes, and have greater clarity of their supply chains.
Grace Gilling, Managing Director of Hennik Research, publishers of The Manufacturer said: “It was fantastic to see so many people at last year’s event, despite the difficulties that so many manufacturers faced over the 18 months or so prior. We are announcing some changes to this year’s event, which we hope will be the best yet!
“We are making a commitment to an even more sustainable event. While, much like last year, we have some expert speakers and first class examples of sustainable manufacturing, we must reflect that in every aspect of this year’s show. This will mean less waste and more recyclable materials. Our fantastic host venue, Exhibition Centre Liverpool, is 100% renewable energy certified, sends zero waste to landfill and harvest rainwater to provide 40% of its flushing water.”
New this year
We’re committed to delivering a more sustainable show – we’ll be producing less waste and using more recyclable materials.
A renewed focus on the opportunities provided by the Digital Manufacturing Week festival of advanced manufacturing – the collaborative Summit roundtable format, the importance of the Expo to stay abreast of the latest technological developments, and the platform for showcasing and celebrating industry trailblazer that the awards programmes provide.
The Manufacturer Top 100 Categories – Net Zero Hero, Digital Transformer and Sector Activist are brand new categories for 2022. This recognises and showcases those that are driving forward the sustainability agenda and digital transformation within their roles, and the Senior Activist category is for those outside of the sector who have had a direct impact on changing the public perception of manufacturing.
The Atos Manufacturing Art Exhibition – This celebration of innovation through art will be ending its global tour in Liverpool. The exhibition brings together 30 leading artists to showcase how cutting-edge technologies can inspire new ideas for the future of manufacturing. It’s an empowering playground designed to motivate engineers and manufacturers to embrace Atos’s ambition of ‘Building the New World at Scale’.
Manufacturers of the Future – As mentioned, the industry is falling short when it comes to attracting new talent. This year at Digital Manufacturing Week we will be making more of our STEAM offering, with increased outreach to local schools and promotion to students, in the hope that young people will walk the Smart Factory Expo show floor and be inspired to pursue careers in manufacturing and technology. In addition we will be including a recruitment marketplace, helping manufacturers fill their vacancies with the young talent out there.
An opening address was made at the launch event by Lord Karan Bilimoria, President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the founder of Cobra Beer. Lord Bilimoria formally introduced guests and stated his fervent admiration and belief in the importance of this flagship event.
Lord Bilimoria said he felt privileged to be back hosting the DMW launch at Parliament and highlighted how important such events are for championing the manufacturing industry.
He went on to discuss one of industry’s biggest issues right now: the labour and skills shortage we’re witnessing. One of his recommendations was for a body to be set up to monitor what businesses need and set the number of jobs required sector by sector each quarter.
“What we need in the same way the Monetary Policy Committee sets the interest rates every month and the Bank of England has to listen. In the same way that the Low Pay Commission sets the minimum wage every year and the government has to listen, we should have a Migration Advisory Committee that is completely revamped comprising academics, economists and business people that every quarter sets the number of jobs sector by sector, including visas. I’m not talking about opening up the floodgates, not open immigration. But what business needs at any one time. That’s what we need going ahead. I hope the government eventually listens.”
Lord Bilimoria also talked about the importance of international trade and exports for the manufacturing industry.
“Manufacturing is fantastic for export. But only 10% of British companies export. And do you know the number of those companies that are super exporters — defined as exporting more than 10 SKUs or products to 10 different countries? Only 14% of our exporters are super exporters. In comparison, Germany, the powerhouse of exporting, 40% super exporters. We’ve got to encourage more exports.”
Peter Flinn, President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), spoke about the importance of events like DMW and The Manufacturer MX (TMMX) Awards for substantially raising the profile of manufacturing. “I do believe quite strongly that the whole system and the whole process is good for the entrants and for UK manufacturing generally. I think we set quite a high standard and our process is very rigorous.”
One of the stars of last year’s event was Lander Automotive, sweeping three awards at TMMX Awards 2021, one being Manufacturer of Year. Anita Davenport-Brooks, People, Culture & Compliance Manager at Lander Group said that while the whole experience was a little daunting, it was also invaluable in terms of the experience gained. “It helped us to look at our business in a different way. It helped us to grow. And every year, we made a commitment to ourselves as a management team that we would enter the awards. And every year, we won in a category. So we were really pleased.
“The feedback from the judges has been amazing. It’s helped us grow in different ways. It’s helped us to look at the way we train people, the way our processes are, it’s helped us to improve quite a lot.
“We’ve had about five people now that have been entered into the Top100, including myself in 2018. And then last year, I managed to get in again, as an exemplar, which I was really proud of.”
Adrian Bostock, Principal at Kearney, which has been supporting DMW for a number of years and had a stand at last year’s Smart Factory Expo (SFE), said: “What’s really important for us is connecting with manufacturers and having those intimate conversations. Through the [SFE] stand, through the roundtable discussions around predictive maintenance and also the mainstage keynote presentation around sustainability, we are really able to drive those discussions, which is extremely valuable for us.”
Joe Bush, Editor of The Manufacturer, gave some closing remarks, saying: “Manufacturing is an industry that, when faced with a challenge, also sees opportunity. To navigate the challenges that currently exist and move forward successfully manufacturing is going to need invention, innovation and pioneering thinking – luckily, this is something that the sector possesses in spades, and we at The Manufacturer have been privileged enough to speak to some real ground-breaking companies who are doing some amazing things that will not only boost the sector but also lay the foundations for a legacy that will benefit the country and the planet in the years to come.”
Digital Manufacturing Week 2022 events
Smart Factory Expo – The industry’s biggest manufacturing show that enables you to conduct months of research within two days.
Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit – The C-Suite conference that enables you to redefine your business models.
The Manufacturer Top 100 – Celebrating 9 years of inspirational industry leaders.
The Manufacturer MX Awards – The very best of the UK manufacturing industry.
SME Growth Summit – Designed for the leadership teams of SME manufacturers.
The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum – Exclusive private networking breakfasts and dinners with industry leaders, innovators and disruptors.
Visit the Digital Manufacturing Week 2022 website for more information