Asif Moghal, manufacturing industry manager at Autodesk, explains why the future of British manufacturing lies with smaller manufacturers (SMBs).
The UK has long had a strong heritage of being a global leader in manufacturing.
While this reputation may have diminished in recent decades, everyone in the industry will agree we’re seeing resurgence in British manufacturing as we have emerged from our recent economic troubles.
However, the industry as a whole is still under incredible pressure. There are a number of factors at play that are making manufacturing more challenging than it’s ever been.
On a macroeconomic level, increasing globalization and competition are creating a complex and difficult environment in which to operate.
For example, June 2015’s Index of Production from the Office for National Statistics showed the UK’s total manufacturing output fell by 0.3%, due in part to the strengthening pound.
Alongside this are a number of catalysts for disruption that are fundamentally changing how products are being designed and manufactured.
The future of making things is being influenced by advances in additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques, along with a greater use of the cloud and mobile in the design process.
The concept of connected devices is also allowing manufacturers to extend their involvement in their products long after they’ve rolled off the production line.
For a UK manufacturing firm of any size, especially smaller manufacturers (SMBs), these pressures are adding to an already difficult situation.
The traditional approach for senior management in these firms is to try even harder to reduce costs, improve productivity (which four fifths of SMB manufacturers struggle with, according to research from the Business Growth Service), and innovate with their products or manufacturing processes.
The difficulty all firms face is that many of these strategies are not sustainable.
Any new product, method or process will ultimately be adopted across the industry, and any competitive edge gained will soon be lost.
While this may sound bleak, smaller firms are actually in the best position to respond to the changes in the market, adopt these new technologies and come out on top.
SMBs can be more agile than their larger competitors and, as a result, can respond to opportunities much faster, creating a tremendous advantage for them.
With this in mind, the smaller British manufacturers that will succeed are those that quickly figure out how to collaborate and personalise their products and services, flexibly design and manufacture them and, ultimately, step into the world of connected services.
The tools and technology to achieve this are already out there and smaller manufacturers can start meeting the increasing demand for the highly customised, connected and more intelligent products and experiences customers now expect.
The difficulty can be working out how to get there, especially for SMBs that don’t have the resources of their bigger competitors.
That’s where Autodesk is playing its part. We’re enabling British manufacturers to look at where they are today, where they want to be, and helping them to make the journey into their future of making things, developing a product innovation platform that delivers repetitive advantage, not just competitive advantage.
All the UK’s manufacturing industry needs to do is be prepared to take that first step.