Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit: Overcoming the barriers to industrial digitalisation

A panel of directors and executives took to the main stage to discuss the key digitalisation challenges manufacturers face and offered advice around effective strategies to overcome them.

Concept of industrial digitalisation construction Industry 4.0 4IR Digital - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
OEMs have a role to play in helping their suppliers understand the opportunities digital technologies can bring – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Donna Edwards, program director for the recently announced Made Smarter North West Pilot kicked off proceedings by explaining how the pilot’s primary goal is to encourage and support manufacturers to embrace industrial digitalisation.

“We want to engage with those who don’t usually engage, particularly small and medium-sized manufacturers,” Edwards commented.

“We understand that businesses are somewhat afraid of change and of losing control but Made Smarter is about helping business-owners and decision-makers to understand the opportunities.

“We want to disseminate real, practical and tangible advice, it’s not about selling software solutions.”

The UK’s enviable network of high-value manufacturing Catapult centres have helped bring together a suite of industrial digital technologies, noted Sam Turner, CTO of the HVM Catapult.

“The demonstrations and access the Catapults offer individually and as a network means all stakeholders – industry, academia, innovation centres and government – can advance the state-of-the-art together and move forward collectively,” he commented.

According to Andrew Schofield, manufacturing & materials strategy and technology director at BAE Systems Military Air and Information, the challenges BAE faces are largely no different to any other manufacturer or supply chain.

“BAE Systems are working with some cutting-edge technologies, but we’ve still got to introduce them successfully and sustainably,” Schofield said. “It can be scary to consider what happens if something goes wrong, but that’s where strong leadership plays a vital role.”

Neil Jarvis, director of information technology & security at Aston Martin, picked up on a theme running through much of the discussions I heard at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2018 – that of cultural change.

“Without a culture that is accepting of change and open to new ideas or ways of working, any project – digital technology-related or otherwise – simply won’t succeed,” he advised. “Again, that is where strong leadership needs to be in place to drive that change.”

Collaborative solutions

BAE Systems has announced a £5bn contract to supply Typhoon aircraft to the Qatari air force - image courtesy of BAE.
“BAE Systems are working with some cutting-edge technologies, but we’ve still got to introduce them successfully and sustainably” – image courtesy of BAE.

The two manufacturers on the stage both sit at the top of extensive supply chains and it was mentioned that OEMs have a role to play in helping their suppliers understand the opportunities digital technologies can bring.

“What challenges did you have in common with your supply chain and how did you solve them?” said Sam Turner.

“How can you signpost opportunities for smaller businesses to learn, upskill and gain experience? Could you as an OEM work with technology partners to create relevant and affordable value-added tools your supply chain could benefit from?”

As much as those at the top have a responsibility to lead, change doesn’t always have to be driven top-down. Indeed, more OEMs are creating mechanisms in which their innovative suppliers can share ideas, strategies and solutions. A positive step that should be encouraged to continue and broadened out to encompass all supply chains, regardless of size or vertical.

The discussion concluded with each panellist stating what they saw as the UK’s biggest barrier to increasing technological adoption and what they believed the solution might be.

BAE’s Andrew Schofield said culture and acceptance that change needs to happen.

Aston Martin’s Neil Jarvis said for all the benefits the younger generation bring to an organisation – such as fresh perspectives, new ways of working and being ‘digital natives’, they also needed guidance as to how to work in an organisation.

“We have to allow them push the boundaries, to an extent, but they can’t overrun processes that have been established for a reason; we have to meet in the middle,” he noted.

Donna Edwards said companies don’t know what they don’t know, which is where Made Smarter can help.

“We also can’t rely on the next generation,” she added. “Two-thirds of the 2030 workforce have already left full-time education, which means we must focus on upskilling and retraining those already working in industry.”

Sam Turner had the last word, “Too often, we are guilty of comparing ourselves to international businesses or nations. We shouldn’t be trying to catch up to where they are or follow what they are doing. We should be doing something different, blazing our own path and becoming smarter, more efficient and more innovative in the process.

“You can do that in your own organisations by determining what it is you want to do or do better, understand the added value you are trying to create, and then consider what skills, technologies or changes you need to have in place to achieve that goal.”


Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit has been bringing together senior industry executives for more than a decade, and is the biggest manufacturer-to-manufacturer conference in the country.

It is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Digital Manufacturing Week, an annual celebration of UK manufacturing excellence that takes place every November in Liverpool. This year saw 887 delegates attend Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit (up 45% on 2017) and 5,322 visitors to Digital Manufacturing Week (up 36% on 2017).

Clear your diary and join us next year: 13-14 Nov 2019!

Start your own revolution! 

Discover how you can help build the North West’s digital manufacturing future, register for an assessment at MadeSmarter.uk

What is Made Smarter - Infographic