Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit: How will UK manufacturing win the digital revolution?

A panel of directors and executives took to the main stage to discuss perhaps the biggest question industrial businesses face today, with just 20 minutes allotted to find the answer.

High-value UK Manufacturing Tech Industry 4.0The debate was deftly overseen by the chair of Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit day one, Dr Tim Minshall – professor of innovation at the University of Cambridge, and head of the university’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM).

Minshall kicked off proceedings by asking the panel, how should UK manufacturing leaders be preparing for themselves and their businesses?

They shouldn’t be reaching for leadership books to learn new techniques and strategies, according to Juergen Maier – chief executive of Siemens UK and chair of the Made Smarter initiative. Instead, they managers and leaders should be giving their teams the space and permission to innovate, to experiment and to play, with the freedom to make mistakes and learn.

The ferocious pace of change has put an even greater emphasis on employee development and lifelong learning in the truest possible sense of the term, Maier added. Businesses need to be investing in training and supporting all staff members to expand their knowledge and skillset.

“I have received more training over the past five years than in the previous 25 years working in industry combined,” he noted.

It was a viewpoint shared by Neil Anderson – managing director of Caterpillar Skinningrove

“We need to take people of all ages and levels on a journey of discovery. Technology is pointless unless you have the people there to embrace and adopt it,” Anderson commented.

Naveed Khawaja – business transformation director at AstraZeneca, added: “It’s vital that leaders understand the motivation of their staff. Working people like hamsters on a wheel is demotivating, unrewarding and won’t generate the results you’d like.

“You need to build innovation breaks into the day or week and allow people to step off the wheel. That might take time and consistency to achieve, but it will help avoid staff becoming tired and burnt out.”

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Minshall moved the conversation on by asking, do we know what the skills we’ll need in the future, and if so, do we know where they are going to come from?

Neil Anderson said that Caterpillar doesn’t know the answer to the first question, but the UK operation – encompassing 13 sites – has forged close links with local educators and has implemented a mentorship programme to help address the second question.

“It depends on what level you’re talking about,” said Juergen Maier. “At the highest level, we do know. We need data scientists, social scientists, data engineers and digital leads. Social scientists are playing an important role in helping to break down silos and understand how technology interacts with people.

“At the lower level, we don’t know, and we are guilty of spending too much time on creating programmes that are obsolete almost as soon as they’re implemented. We need a more agile approach based on placements, employer engagement and collaborative partnerships.”

One positive step, according to Naveed Khawaja, would be to remove the fear surround failure. “We need to celebrate the learning opportunities that come with failing,” he commented.

Minshall brought proceedings to a close by asking, what are the necessary changes we need to make to the way that we learn?  

One of the reasons why Caterpillar has been so successful is because of its steadfast believe in degree apprenticeships, said Neil Anderson. “Growing our own by working closely with universities, college and STEM centres has proven to be a winning strategy,” he noted.

Innovation Manufacturing Skills Engineering Design Digital - StockBritish people like to dwell on negativity, said Naveed Khawaja, something that needs to change. “We need to pivot towards being more positive, focusing on what went well, rather than what went badly; focus on future improvements, rather than what’s wrong.”

Juergen Maier didn’t agree with Khawaja’s perspective on the British mentality, but he said that the country is definitely guilty of underselling itself.

The digital revolution, the Made Smarter programme and the government’s Industrial Strategy are just some of the reasons why manufacturing is steadily being brought back into the spotlight and people are beginning to reappreciate the vital role industry plays in our economy and society.

For the UK to win the digital revolution, the first step is believing we can – something that starts with each and every one of us.

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!