The only viable future for UK manufacturing is agile, high-margin and export-oriented businesses whose people, processes and systems are focused on fast-changing customer requirements and delivering transformational innovation.
Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 saw future-facing manufacturers from across the sector come together to look at how technology – particularly digital technology – is helping to grow margins and boost growth by compressing innovation and development cycles.
The Summit’s innovative format revolved around a series of intimate roundtable discussions, enabling decision-makers to sit next to their peers and topic experts and have their questions answered first-hand.
Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 also included a series of expert keynotes, the main takeaways of which can be found via the links below:
There is a growing global trend towards hyper-personalisation, a shift that is seeing manufacturers discover new and innovative ways to streamline internal processes. But, what exactly does that mean?
The first panel discussion was chaired by Steven Barr – managing director of The Manufacturer’s networked expert advisory team Hennik Edge, and focused on how manufacturers could ‘kickstart innovation’ in their organisations.
Santosh Carvalho, strategy and innovation lead at Salesforce, noted that the most innovative firms typically have senior ‘innovation champions’ and had made innovation a key aspect of their business strategy and/or culture.
When asked who the innovators were in their business, one panellist noted that when it came to process improvements, everyone was encouraged to make suggestions and conduct small test pilots. Another panellist noted that, predominantly, any product innovation typically originated from within their core technical team.
Carvalho added that innovation had to both driven from the top down and the bottom up in parallel, rather than one or the other in isolation.
A panellist also noted that though it was true that leadership had to be involved, leaders often had blind-spots in terms of “practical applications at the coal face” – an issue which often grows in parallel to an organisation’s size.
Connected value chain
My first roundtable was hosted by Salesforce’s Andrew Paterson and explored how hyper-personalisation is breeding new business models and prospects for manufacturers to get closer to their customers.
A common challenge running through much of the conversation was how companies located deep within an OEM’s supply chain can benefit from – or even have an impact on – a final transaction they feel very removed from.
This was particularly acute for manufacturers involved in very traditional production processes or supplier relationships.
“We have very entrenched ways of working, are deep in the supply chain and would rather not rock the boat, potentially upsetting our key customers,” one aerospace supplier said.
One component manufacturer present is seeing the benefits of attending meetings with their customer and their customer’s customer to better understand shifting market requirements and where they can add value as a supplier.
Significant benefit could come from creating value (for customers and end-users) through greater supply chain collaboration and shared learnings. Though, one delegate noted that their key customers prefer that her business didn’t interact with the end-user for fear of being ‘leap-frogged’.
Salesforce’s Paterson offered a conclusion: “A connected value chain touches on every part of a business and requires you to break down your organisational siloes and barriers to communication or collaboration.
“It’s likely that you’ll need to look at your business model and processes and make some changes. Before that happens, the questions to ask of your business are, where do you add value, and how easy is it for customers to work with you and benefit from a relationship with you?”
Digital equips manufacturers for a more connected future
My second roundtable was hosted by Gemma Coupland of Dell Boomi and discussed the role of data and process integration, and how that can underpin innovation and digital strategies.
Someone representing one of the world’s largest consumer goods manufacturers, operating hundreds of sites globally, noted that the sheer volume of data being gathered was proving challenging.
“Deriving meaningful insights from our data represents a lot of investment in analysis, and not solely on the production side, we also have a similar volume from sales,” he noted.
Could the key lie in becoming more agile through a more localised or regionalised focus, rather than having to take a global view, one delegated asked.
The conversation moved on to issues attached to offering customers an infinite versus a more defined choice.
“Having a closer connection to customers should help rationalise or even eliminate the need to offer huge optionality,” one delegate suggested.
How to create the ‘factory of the future’ today
My third roundtable was hosted by Oracle’s Sara Nichols and focused on how innovation and technology is bleeding into every aspect of a modern manufacturing business.
Delegates agreed that Industry 4.0 is being sold as a ‘golden bullet’ to overcome all pain points and achieve sustainable growth.
However, it was also agreed that most technology projects fail because clearly defined and measurable objectives aren’t in place from the outset and employees aren’t engaged early enough.
The conversation moved on to the topic of robots and automation, with a representative of BMW Mini describing how a collaborative robot affectionately known as ‘RITA’ (Riveting, Innovation, Technology in Assembly) was working alongside human operatives to great success.
The Manufacturer wrote about RITA earlier this year, and you can learn more about how cobots are providing a helping hand at MINI plant Oxford here.
The day’s second panel discussion – also chaired by Hennik Edge’s Steven Barr – saw panellist agree that the most effective way manufacturers could ‘sustain innovation’ was by making it part of their culture, rather than an add-on.
“Every employee has to be given the autonomy to be innovative and dare to be creative and make suggestions,” one panellist noted. “Though some restrictions or guiding framework must be in place, we’ve found the fewer the better.”
Another panellist noted that your organisation has to learn to celebrate failure and offer support to those who do fail: “People can become very invested in their projects, and we want to push employees to their limits. But that means that should a project fail, the people involved can be deeply affected.”
As well as supporting individuals, the importance of capturing learnings was also highlighted – regardless of whether a project is successful or not.
Digital transformation & emerging technologies
My fourth roundtable was hosted by Hitachi Consulting’s Daniel Nisser and explored how manufacturers could effectively leverage the world of hyper-connectivity.
The term ‘digital transformation’ often means different things to different businesses, but what’s shared by all is the need for quality data – if you put rubbish in, you’ll get rubbish out, one delegate noted.
Delegates also agreed that the word ‘emerging’ was a misnomer, as many technologies currently being discussed at length are years, if not decades, old.
When it comes to digital transformation, many manufacturers are unsure where to start. “A stepped approach has worked for our business,” one delegate said. “It’s helped drive the conversation both up and down, and enabled us to get to ‘no’ faster. If there isn’t value in using a particular technology or dataset, we move on, rather than wasting time and resource.”
This stepped approach means the value proposition may initial be quite small, he continued, but the learning gained quite be valuable and help take the next step and gain traction.
My fifth and final roundtable was hosted by Salesforce’s Santosh Carvalho and explored how businesses can get the most from their human capital.
Like several of my roundtable discussions, it was noted that technology ultimately won’t be the deciding factor in your future success, your employees will be. What technology can do is enable workers to do more, faster, across a wider landscape, with greater accuracy.
A couple of delegates noted the generational gap can be a resistance to change, particularly older workers who have grown comfortable with entrenched ways of working and are hesitant or even hostile towards disruptive technologies.
One way of overcoming that is having digitally-savvy workers offer reverse-mentoring to older employees. At the same time, experienced employee can share their skills and expertise with the next generation.