UK manufacturing and its vital need for a ‘digital disruptor’

Manufacturing is in need of its own digital disruptor in order to break the status quo and shake businesses out of their current level of complacency. Nick Wright, head of Manufacturing Industries at the Digital Catapult, reports.

Our entry into the digital age has revolutionised our lives and business operations. As consumers, we have quickly become accustomed to the ease and efficacy of conducting our lives through a smartphone, but for businesses, the transition has been more difficult.  

Many sectors have been radically disrupted by one or two new digital entrants, who have turned well-established industries and business models on their heads. Those slow to innovate are being faced with a stark choice; modernise or die. 

E-commerce, shopping & delivery - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

While this enforced digitalisation has presented an uncomfortable ride for most businesses, they have come out the other side much more efficient – and probably quite thankful in hindsight for being made to consider the benefits of data and technology. 

Identifying and applying the benefits of advanced technology 

Looking at the state of UK manufacturing, it’s in much the same place that most industries were in before their digital disruptors came along.  

Manufacturers are still focused on the production-centric business models that they’ve been using for decades, and despite the range of new technologies out there with the potential to revolutionise their offering to the market and their operations, manufacturers are being and slow in opening-up to the potential benefits. 

Listening to those within the sector, there seem to be two dominant reasons why.  

Firstly, there’s a lack of existing use cases. Without compelling proof of ROI, manufacturers still view adoption as high risk.  

Secondly, there seems to be some scepticism over whether the solutions currently available are appropriate 

Every business is unique and can comprise several different systems. To gain manufacturers’ trust, technologists need to concentrate on demonstrating how digital adoption can benefit their businesses, rather than pushing a specific technological concept.  

UK manufacturing - 3d rendering computer display automation robot system in factory - image courtesy of Depositphotos.But manufacturers also need to stick their necks out and be more ambitious and innovative about how they think of technology, and what it means to be a modern manufacturing business. 

The benefits of doing so are manifold. Advanced digital technologies have the potential to verify supply chains, improve trust in the sector, and optimise the value of existing data.  

They can also assist in improving sustainability by gathering data around the environmental impact of products. Adoption will drive efficiencies that will help keep UK manufacturing competitive, while bringing a net benefit to end consumers. 

Breaking the status quo 

Manufacturing is in desperate need of its own digital disruptor to shake up the industry. This disruptive influence will use technology to explode existing business models, leaving competitors no choice other than to follow suit or face extinction. 

At present there’s a high level of complacency in UK manufacturing, but businesses need to be brave, daring and willing to take on a level of risk if they’re to break out of their current digital stalemate. 

And they don’t have to do this alone. Digital Catapult exists to support the development of digital technologies and catalyse their adoption within industry. We work with manufactures to identify the technologies that will make a difference to their business, helping to de-risk adoption. 

Finding manufacturing’s data disruptor  

One project that we’re currently working on is the Connected Factory Demonstrator. This uses IoT technology to improve asset tracking – just one area where there is a big scope to improve efficiency. 

Tracking a particular asset around a factory (especially if spread across multiple warehouses) can be a tricky and manual process, especially if it’s a single component of a much larger structure.  

Finding its location involves manually checking records for the location of the asset, which even then is only as accurate as the last piece of data that was recorded. It’s inevitable that parts go missing, especially when multiple projects are on the go. 

Man using tablet pc warehouse tracking asset supply chain -image courtesy of Depositphotos.

In the same way you can now check on your smartphone that a taxi is en route, asset tracking within a factory cuts out the manual coordination of trying to find where an asset is, instead showing its location in real time through a central dashboard.  

Having access to this information helps to avoid the severe delays that can hold up a project when parts go missing, significantly improving factory output. 

Through this activity, among others, we aim to supercharge progress towards the technical disruption of manufacturing.  

Manufactures are sitting on the brink of digital adoption. Our mission is to remove the fear-factor from taking the leap by demonstrating the incredible value that these technologies can add.  

You can find out more about Digital Catapult’s work in the UK manufacturing sector here. 

*All images courtesy of Depositphotos