Putting talk of digitalisation into action

To shift the digitalisation chat into action requires three key commitments from the industry. Tim Hulbert, vice president of Air Products UK & Ireland – one of the world’s largest industrial gas and related-equipment suppliers, explains.

Automation Cloud Digital Digitalisation Industrial Internet IIoT - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
“[The UK] needs to adopt more digital technologies if we’re to keep pace globally” – image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Most people would agree that UK manufacturing must embrace digitalisation. Indeed, it’s a topic that has occupied many column inches in recent months.

And with good reason – we do need to adopt more digital technologies if we’re to keep pace globally.

But, to move past the chat and start putting some of these innovations into action requires three key commitments from the industry: proper application, confidence and collaboration.

Proper application

If we want to get the most out of digital technology, we need to invest time and energy into finding the best ways to use it. Central to that is understanding customers’ needs.

There’s a growing demand for integrated, ‘smart’ manufacturing processes that can offer real-time data. It’s something that we’re seeing more and more at Air Products and I’m sure it’s true for others in the industry too.

It’s therefore important that we’re able to respond by developing and delivering products that address specific need. There’s no point in adopting new technologies just for the sake of it. They need to add tangible value to manufacturing services – whether that’s through increased efficiency, productivity or sustainability.

And the best way to do this? Greater investment in R&D. Making it a core function of business, with the appropriate funding to boot, will naturally lead to better understanding and use of digital technologies.

Confidence

There’s also a certain amount of confidence-building to be done. We sometimes run the risk of undervaluing our abilities in UK industry. The latest Annual Manufacturing Report showed that many respondents thought other countries might be quicker to adopt new technologies.

This doesn’t have to be true. But we do need to shake up the way we approach the issue. Digitalisation seems to have become something of a looming spectre, hanging over the industry and threatening to completely overhaul manufacturing. T

his just isn’t the case and for most people it should be viewed as an evolution not a revolution.

Manufacturing processes will remain largely the same as they’ve ever been. New technologies simply offer tools to streamline them and allow companies to become more agile. Changing this mindset is easier said than done but through greater inter-industry working we could make some real progress.

Collaboration

There’s a leadership role for government to play in bringing industry bodies and voices together but we also need to start ramping up collaboration between suppliers and SMEs.

Traditionally, we’ve been quite reluctant in this country to share specialist know-how for fear of giving competitors the edge.

But we don’t need to spill company secrets to share knowledge and thinking with fellow manufacturers – whether that’s dedicated forums, events or working together on common projects.

When it comes down to it, the collective brain power of the industry is far likelier to unlock the benefits of digitalisation than just going it alone.

Time waits for no manufacturer and getting the right digital infrastructure in place today will help ensure our industry remains competitive tomorrow.

UK’s largest digital manufacturing showcase returns in 2018

The Manufacturer’s Digital Manufacturing Week brings together technology, finance and manufacturers in an annual celebration of British industry.

Six thousand future-facing manufacturing executives in the same place, at the same time – with enough space to reach out to one another and build better businesses.

That, in a nutshell, is what we are bringing to the table with Digital Manufacturing Week 2018 – five days of factory tours, awards, workshops and high-level conferences that reach a crescendo in the middle of November in everyone’s favourite city.

13 – 16 November, Exhibition Centre Liverpool

www.digital-manufacturing-week.com