Special feature: The Manufacturing Innovation Forum

Posted on 7 Feb 2012

On March 8, participants at a free Manufacturing Innovation Forum will hear where some of 2012’s biggest opportunities lie. Save the date, and book a place.

In early March, a community of like-minded manufacturing executives will gather at Hellidon Lakes in The Midlands in order to share best practices and inventive thinking.

Their goal? To identify how to overcome the challenges of unpredictable market conditions and volatile demand that so cruelly characterise the business environment of 2012.

Free to attend, the Manufacturing Innovation Forum will deliver an impressive line up of industry experts and manufacturers, each poised to deliver practical, ‘hands-on’ advice on how to convert opportunities into growth.

Lee Hopley, Chief Economist, EEF
Lee Hopley, Chief Economist, EEF

Because new ways of working, as well as new technologies, are key to promoting responsiveness to change. And the rules of success are stark: the laggards in business get left behind – and ultimately become relics of the past, not part of the future.

Standing still, in short, is not an option: businesses must constantly innovate and improve. What’s more, they must improve not just their products, but their whole go-to-market proposition and business processes.

On March 8, participants at the Manufacturing Innovation Forum will learn, and discuss their interpretations of, how best to do just that.

Who, what and why?

As these words are written, some of the details are still being finalised. But already, it’s clear that the Manufacturing Innovation Forum is shaping up to be a ‘must attend’ event.

Jointly sponsored by SAP, the world’s largest enterprise software company, and by a clutch of seasoned partners, like mid-market focussed Itelligence (p88), with a deep bench of manufacturing expertise and experience, the Forum has a packed agenda.

But the event is not to be purely technology focussed with no appreciation of context. Kicking off the day will be Lee Hopley, chief economist at EEF. Her remit will be to set the scene for delegates, helping them pick through the major competitive forces that are influencing their businesses, and share some of the wealth of information and insight that EEF possesses.

“Despite the economic gloom, there are opportunities out there, and there are things that manufacturers can do to position themselves for growth and for new growth opportunities,” she insists. “The key concerns are around what is happening in the global economy – UK manufacturing is very exportoriented, and around half of those exports go to the eurozone.”

That said, she adds, different sectors face different challenges. 2011’s two-speed recovery looks set to continue into 2012, seeing the transport and mechanical equipment sectors pull away from sectors such as electronics and metals, where demand has been weakening.

And while some sectors – such as transport, machinery and food – are operating almost at pre-recession levels of output, others are battling sharply rising input prices and raw material shortages, especially in areas such as rare earths, specialist chemicals and metals.

Challenges like these are driving the manufacturing industry towards a phase of profound rethinking, reckons another speaker at the Manufacturing Innovation Forum – analyst Pierfrancesco Manenti, who heads IDC Manufacturing Insights’ European and Middle East operations.

Tasked with a keynote presentation, Manenti intends to use the opportunity to warn

Pier Manenti, IDC Manufacturing Insghts will speak at the Manufacturing innovation Forum
Pier Manenti, IDC Manufacturing Insghts will speak at the Manufacturing innovation Forum

manufacturers that there’s an urgent need to speed up their response to changes in today’s fast-paced business environment.

“To remain competitive, manufacturers need to improve and speed up their decision making capabilities,” he says. “To achieve the highest possible levels of visibility and intelligence, manufacturers need to fully exploit all the actual and potential information sources that they have available to them. They need to create ‘intelligent value chains’, built upon smarter employees, factories, and supply chains.”

Such intelligent value chains, though, call for a strong IT foundation – and this is where many manufacturers have a weak point, says Manenti.

“However, what is emerging from our research is that current ineffective or inadequate IT systems are considered as the single most critical barrier that hampers manufacturers’ ability to improve their decision making,” he notes.

Despite this, he adds, manufacturers do have options open to them – as he intends to explain during his presentation at the Manufacturing Innovation Forum. One clue: traditional ERP systems aren’t enough.

That said, one manufacturer speaking at the end of the day will likely shock participants with the news that his company – specialist aircrew seat manufacturer Ipeco Holdings – implemented SAP’s flagship ERP system in just ten weeks, a remarkable feat in anyone’s book, given that many businesses have taken months or even years to do it.

Based in Southend, the 600-employee, family-owned business has been the sole supplier to Boeing of flight deck seating for over 20 years.

“On every single aircraft sold by Boeing, from the 737 to the giant 787, the pilots’ seats come from here in Southend,” says company secretary Keith Ross. “Designed here by us, built here by us, and exported around the world.”

Ipeco will present a case study at the Manufacturing Innovation Forum. The manufacturer is Boeing's sole supplier of flight deck seating
Ipeco will present a case study at the Manufacturing Innovation Forum. The manufacturer is Boeing's sole supplier of flight deck seating

To be sure, the Ipeco approach to its implementation was conventional enough in many respects: good team work; in-house teams; ‘A’-grade people; a rigorous approach to data cleansing; the use of a pre-defined process template; a focus on training. It’s hard to fault a single aspect of the implementation path.

But without giving too much away, the ‘secret sauce’ behind the Ipeco story also contains more than a dash of what is clearly a ‘can do’ attitude that runs through the entire business.

“We believe that there’s a danger that you can spend too much time arguing about the number of angels on a pinhead,” sums up Ross. “Having a deadline focuses people on the need to actually make decisions, rather than put them off. If the outcome of a meeting is another meeting, you never actually get anywhere.”

Radical stuff. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating and, after a swift implementation period Ipeco seems more than satisfied with the flavour of business the system is now giving them.

For more on the detail behind this and other presentations, you’ll have to attend the event. Book a place now: the time spent could turn out to be one of 2012’s better investments.