The art of the (IM)POSSIBLE

Posted on 15 Dec 2020 by The Manufacturer

Autodesk’s Asif Moghal shared five examples of SMEs on a digital journey and the tangible outcomes they’ve achieved as a result.


UK-based Mabey Bridge specialises in rapidly deployed modular bridging. It’s products are used all over the world in areas where two landmasses need spanning in a hurry, such as following natural disasters or conflict. Every project is unique, and Mabey works closely with customers to understand exactly what is required before using that knowledge to configure a bridge that’s precisely tailored to the application. It stands to reason, therefore, that the faster Mabey can respond, the faster a bridge can be deployed. This realisation led to the team stepping back and questioning whether a different, better way of doing things was possible. “As a result, they applied digital technologies to the frontend of their process and are now able to generate 50% of their quotes in minutes instead of days, achieving something that ordinarily would have been considered impossible,” Asif explained.


Newag is a Polish company specialising in the production, maintenance and modernisation of railway rolling stock. The business has to collaborate with a complex network of stakeholders, including those designing and building the railway stock, the owners of the land and tracks, infrastructure and utility providers, and those building the stations to allow passengers to get on and off.

“The team at Newag knew that the faster they could share information with multiple stakeholders, the quicker a project could be successfully completed,” noted Asif. “They invested in digital collaboration tools and, as a result, they can get feedback on their projects 40% faster than previously, achieving something that ordinarily would have been considered impossible.”


US-based Poriferous specialises in surgical implants for reconstructive bone surgery. These implants are a far cry from the pins, screws, bolts and plates that you might be familiar with. Each one is uniquely tailored to a very specific set of circumstances and designed to allow bones to knit and grow around the implant, giving a superior final result.

To achieve that level of complexity, Poriferous explored the most complicated manufacturing processes – additive, subtractive and automation – and realised that the faster they could turn something around, the better it would be for patients.

“They explored flexible manufacturing and, as a result, now have the ability to meet with a client in the morning and by 5pm the same day they can ship them an actual product. Again, achieving something that ordinarily would have been considered impossible.”


Hosokawa Micron is a global expert in designing high-quality powder and particle processing machines for demanding industries. Some of Hosokawa’s equipment requires human interaction, such as isolated glove box workstations. In this instance, Hosokawa would invite the client to its factory, the client would put their hands inside a wooden mock-up, test it, provide feedback and adjustments would be made accordingly. The client would then return, and this linear process would be followed until final approval.

“Hosokawa recognised that clients valued the ability to visit their factory, look at the prototype and give feedback just once before sign-off. By investing in virtual reality technology, Hosokawa now has the ability to allow clients to interact with and approve projects virtually, taking four to six weeks off their delivery time and achieving something that would ordinarily have been considered impossible.”


UK-based Steve Vick International specialises in the renovation and decommissioning of pipe systems. Something that may not sound particularly complex or high tech, but the markets Steve Vick serves, including water, oil & gas, and nuclear, are very challenging.

Historically, Steve Vick focused its expertise on developing the best pipework systems. However, it realised that the level of focus its markets were placing on safety and inspection was steadily rising. “While the business could have continued to focus on producing high quality pipe systems, they asked themselves whether it was possible for them to get into the safety part of the industry.

“Using the data available at their fingertips, they invested in digital capabilities and launched an innovative pipe inspection system, providing new service-based revenues not possible through a traditional product-only focused approach.”

What do these case studies have in common? All five businesses asked themselves these questions:

Where are we today and what are we doing? – They realised that they were following a traditional linear product lifecycle, where a concept was developed and brought to market used until it retires or breaks or needs servicing. That in itself was the widely accepted method of bringing a product to market built on selling a product at a fixed value.

Where do we need to be and what’s stopping us getting there? – The answer to this formed their own unique digital strategies and kickstarted investments in technologies that enabled them to respond in ways that previously would have been impossible:

  • Mabey Bridge invested in design automation and made it available to the right people, in this case engineering, so that they could configure multiple options of bridge designs and respond to customers with speed and accuracy.
  • Newag invested in the ability to have digital conversations much earlier in projects with multiple stakeholders and validate as much of that input upfront digitally. This resulted in increased speed, quality and effectiveness of collaboration.
  • Poriferous explored the perfect blend of additive, subtractive and automated manufacturing under one roof and applied it to the products where it would add greatest value to customers, giving them true manufacturing flexibility.
  • Hosokawa identified what its customers valued most and invested in digital capabilities to allow customers to sign-off projects virtually in a unique and differentiated experience, changing the relationship it had with customers to a much more engaged experience.
  • Steve Vick put data at the centre of its business and drew insight from it, allowing the development of a brand new smart service for its customers.

What do these case studies teach us?

“Each of these initiatives could have had a cost saving or productivity metric attached to them, but that’s not what really grabbed my attention or the attention of these companies themselves,” Asif commented.

“What I find most exciting is the opportunity value that exists by getting good at these digital capabilities. The value and the opportunity that these companies can create for themselves, their customers and employees far outweigh the cost savings or productivity gains that they could achieve.”

For those looking to increase their own digital capabilities, Asif offered a handful of questions to reflect upon:

If, like Mabey Bridge, you want to increase your ability to customise products rapidly for individual customer requirements, you need to ask, what level of design automation works for you and who do you give it to – engineering, sales or even customers?

If, like Newag, you want to improve the speed, effectiveness and quality of your collaboration, you need to ask, who am I talking to, what language do they speak and what methods of collaboration are appropriate? What level of validation do I need to respond to any feedback or input I get from my stakeholders?

If, like Poriferous, you want to get your manufacturing to a far more flexible position, you need to explore what’s the right balance of additive, subtractive and automated manufacturing for your business that would deliver the greatest value to the customer.

If, like Hosokawa Micron, you want to change the relationship you have with your customers to one of a much more engaged experience, you need to identify what it is that your customers value most aside from price, and how you deliver that value in an immersive, unique way.

If, like Steve Vick International, you want to get into the world of smart services, you need to ask, what level of data do you need to collect for internal and external customers? What insights can that data provide and how would that inform your smart services strategy?