Taking place in Manchester on 13 July, and hosted by The Manufacturer, the Manufacturing Digitalisation Summit saw the UK’s most senior digital-minded manufacturers come together to discuss the role of smart technology in their businesses and learn about new opportunities. Joe Bush reports.
Manufacturing is going through a digital transformation. Smart technology, data analytics and connected devices are enabling manufacturers to dramatically increase their efficiency, productivity and accuracy. Digitalisation is changing how products are designed, produced, used and maintained as well as transforming the operations, processes and energy footprint of factories and supply chains.
Taking place in Manchester, the Manufacturing Digitalisation Summit provided a platform for manufacturers to discuss how to successfully plan and implement a digitalisation strategy. Across a selection of discussion roundtables, the day’s agenda covered key issues such as organisational and operational change, upskilling the workforce, and when and where to implement enabling technologies.
Despite the backdrop of the digital transformation revolution, it is no secret that times are tough for manufacturers. Geopolitical instability is piling pressure on global supply chains, many of which are already stretched to breaking point. Meanwhile, spiralling inflation is driving up the cost of energy and materials and highly skilled labour is scarce. And all the time, meeting the sustainability imperative is becoming ever more urgent.
However, as much as these megatrends are presenting challenges for manufacturers, they also represent a huge opportunity, as the day’s first keynote speaker, Maddie Walker, UK&I Industry X Lead (Digital Engineering and Manufacturing) at Accenture, explained: “These challenging megatrends are helping to drive the value case and the reason to focus on digital, and the benefits that digital technologies can bring to make us more efficient and productive.”
She explained that digital transformation represents the next generation of industrial change, offering companies greater visibility and the ability to act on their data to become more responsive and more resilient; transforming how things are manufactured and designed.
However, Maddie was keen to stress the need for manufacturers to progress beyond pilots and trials to scale digital change across organisations and the wider supply chain. “The pioneers in this area are the ones committed to scaling and growth. For companies that are still on the fence, they should use the macro trends that are impacting the sector as a catalyst to go that one step further and make that change across the organisation.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, industrial manufacturing has come a long way and continues to build for similar unforeseen future triggers, and now, more than ever, resilience is at the forefront of the business strategy of any forward-thinking organisation.
This was a topic addressed by John McNiff, Digital Supply Chain Centre of Excellence, SAP, during his keynote. “To steal a phrase, we need to build back better to solve the problems that businesses have around resilience and the need to adopt new initiatives around sustainability and circularity. We need to take the momentum gained from the transformation driven by COVID to think about transformation to digitalisation in a different way, and achieve the desired outcomes around carbon neutrality and circularity of products.”
In recent years supply chain management, which is closely linked to digitalisation, has been propelled from relative obscurity into the news. However, as Richard van der Meulen, VP Solution Consulting, Infor, explained during his keynote, many of the supply chain challenges faced by manufacturers today, are the same as they’ve always been.“
Transparency, resilience and agility are topics that have been around forever,” he said. “Despite the recent disruption, supply chains didn’t all of a sudden become a challenge over the last two years. There’s been disruptions since the day we started manufacturing things. “
The difference now is the new trends around sustainability, nearshoring or right shoring, which have been partly driven by the geopolitical challenges that we’re facing in today’s world. These are adding an additional layer of complexity to what we need to do as supply chain professionals.”
Discussion table takeaways
Enhancing Your End-to- End Customer Journey and Experience Through Digitalisation: We heard some inspiring stories around the use of VR and AI in driving quality, meeting demand and driving the pace of change. Some manufacturers now have their own customer portals which are being used to share information with customers for metric measurement or to give updates on production cycles.
In terms of the digitalisation journey, we covered several aspects around adoption. Here, collaboration is absolutely key, as is considering how changes impact people on the shop floor. How can we bring those people with us to see the benefits for themselves? How can we break down the big problems and become more agile? And how can we create a groundswell to get people on board?
Lastly, we covered what’s necessary to drive good change. Sometimes the challenge can be about analysing data; sometimes the challenge in digitalisation can be about having enough data in the first place.
Rob Watson, Senior Advisor – Digital Commerce, Columbus
Turning Your Data into Insights for Competitive Advantage: The message from our discussions was find something that is quick which you can move on and just get started; it doesn’t need to be perfect. Secondly, recognise that this is a journey; your solutions that you develop will take months, if not years. You need to step through the process of coming up with a final solution by picking on those sequences that will deliver the end game. And thirdly, recognise that the people who are best placed to develop these solutions are the people that are closest to the coalface. They know what the data means, how to interpret it and how to enhance and develop it.
Matt Birtwistle, Manufacturing IMU Director, HSO
Creating a Data-Driven Digitalisation Strategy: Many companies are at similar stages on their journeys. One of the key topics that came up was around joining up legacy and siloed systems into one single platform – that was something that resonated with everyone.
What was also mentioned was the benefits of a sandwich effect – the influence of the shop floor up and the top floor down; the idea of getting that groundswell of adoption from the user base right through to the strategy from the top end.
Steve Edmonds, Sales Engineering Manager, 8×8
Leveraging Optimisation, Governance and Edge Computing to Deliver a Competitive Advantage: Consistently, we heard about bringing data onto a common platform. We heard a great term, ‘pub and sub’, which is publish and subscribe; the idea that data can have value beyond its initial purpose.
Also mentioned was low cost, off-the-shelf technology. One person talked about putting six different IoT sensors on a 35 year old piece of kit, effectively turning it into a digital piece of equipment on the shop floor which can generate data and be of real value to the business. This isn’t necessarily something that requires massive executive sponsorship and a tonne of resources.
The reskilling of existing staff was mentioned, rather than automatically bringing in new people. Technologists come into the business with expertise, and that has value in and of itself. However, it’s no substitute for the person on the shop floor who really understands how processes work. Bringing those people along can be one of the key methods to deal with the talent shortage, because the industry is not necessarily going to be able to bring in data scientists and new technology expertise when there’s such a huge skill set gap.
Tom Moran, Senior Lead Technology Strategist, EMEA, Lumen
Sustainability: The Next Manufacturing Imperative: Everybody is on the journey towards sustainability but are obviously at different stages. Everyone recognises that data capture and understanding data is critically important and there were a few light bulb moments in realising that this isn’t very expensive to do – you can get sensors on machines for less than £1,000.
Most businesses have data, but the conversation often explored the question of what to do with it. How do you democratise that data? How do you use it to find the high-cost spots and react accordingly?
Graham Malley, Principal Director & Head of Sustainability, Industry X, Accenture UKI
Building Digital Talent to Accelerate Digitalisation: Firstly, people quite clearly recognise that there is a challenge around talent. One example was that there are 39,000 jobs in the North West of England alone that are currently open. There were lots of interesting and innovative approaches to addressing this. There are some amazing change champions that are thinking differently about what kind of skills and talent we need.
Although the topic of digital talent feels very current and modern, a lot of the underlying issues are fairly timeless, such as communication and collaboration. This was summed up nicely when we asked how we define digital talent. You can probably find digital talent in lots of unexpected places – it’s not always going to be about data scientists and coders. There are all sorts of people with different skills that can contribute to your digital efforts. We also discussed neurodiversity as something that we need to think about in that area.
Jason Burton, Director EMEA Manufacturing, Blue Prism
Delivering the Shift in Business Models and the Role of Digitalisation: We talked about the context in which digitalisation needs to happen. Whether it’s a business model shift – direct to consumer or service-centric business model – or around sustainability.
Quite quickly, the conversation turned to people and talent, especially around strategic workforce planning. You can do a lot of tactical stuff, whether it’s hiring graduates and so on, but unless you have a proper strategic workforce approach, you can’t take digitalisation beyond a certain point.
And then finally, from a technology perspective, we touched a little on IT/ OT. We raised the point that it’s not as if we haven’t done digitalisation – we’ve been doing it for years. But typically, we’ve done it in isolation, with IT and OT kept separate. Even within IT, it’s been quite siloed. So, how do we create an approach that combines OT and IT, almost in the same way that an application marketplace does? How do we ensure that everything is connected to drive automation and help data informed decisions?
Vikram Singla, Digital Transformation Director, Oracle
Integrating Digital and Physical Systems – IT/OT Collaboration: Our table’s two main takeaways were that most manufacturers are still trying to break down the silos between IT and OT; and most are at the beginning of that journey. Secondly, the IT/OT discussion is more than just a technical integration topic between standards and OPC, and where data goes in a data lake etc.
However, the main takeaway was figuring out how to break down the internal silos between IT and OT, because in the middle is operations who are trying to do deliver sustainability goals etc, and they need data, information, applications and processes that enable them to do that.
John Robinson, Strategic Client Advisor – Manufacturing & Industry 4.0, SAP
Deliver Business Value with Data Sharing: It is clear that there are many different maturity levels across, and even within organisations. One of the questions was where to start when it comes to secure data collaboration? Starting small with something that is a business imperative, and then building incrementally, is the way to go. Don’t try to take on everything at once.
Another element that we discussed is the move to the cloud and whether it brings challenges. What value does that bring? I’m a strong advocate for making data available and facilitating access to it through the cloud. But it’s important to think of that in the context of governance and education which puts guardrails and guidelines around it.
Jennifer Belissent, Principal Data Strategist, Snowflake
Supply Chain Resilience Through Digitalisation: Very different topics were raised throughout the day, particularly around operational resilience, rather than strategic resilience. There was a lot of discussion around getting hold of data, and the ways to do that.
That’s one element, but how do we then take that data and turn it into meaningful information that allows us to make decisions? And from that, what changes need to be made to make sure that the supply chain is resilient? We asked ourselves whether we will still be talking about resilience in ten years time? And of course, everybody said yes. I think that’s certainly true – it’s a topic that will forever keep us busy.
Richard van der Meulen, VP Solution Consulting, Infor
For more stories on Digital Transformation click here.