Government Injects £300mn Stimulus into UK Manufacturing
In September, as we slowly recover from the effects of COVID-19, the government saw an opportunity to stimulate the nation’s creative thinkers and get British manufacturers churning out the product again. Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, announced that the treasury would invest almost half of a further £300mn in manufacturing capabilities, through a joint initiative between the government and industry. Sharma stated that the funding would be primarily used to drive innovation in areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR).
“Through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, the government will invest £147mn – backed by further funding from industry – to support businesses implement new tech to boost their manufacturing productivity, helping them reach new customers, create thousands of new highly skilled jobs, slash carbon emissions and reduce prices for consumers,” stated Sharma.
As it stands, after the successful applications for the ISCF Manufacturing Made Smarter Round 1 Competition, the first beneficiaries of the investment will be fourteen cutting-edge manufacturing projects from across the UK ─ each will receive a share of £50mn from the government-industry fund. Among the project proprietors, there are 30 small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs), 29 larger organisations, as well as nine universities. The rest of the funds will gradually be released into manufacturing over the coming five years.
“Increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive,” added Sharma.
“By helping manufacturers to reduce costs, cut waste, and slash the time it takes to develop their products, this multi-million-pound uplift will help fire up the cylinders of productivity as we build back better from the pandemic.”
For a glimpse at the developments that government and industry officials are trying to help, look no further than Digital Designer Robot (DDR) ─ a machine-to-person ‘digital assistant.’ The idea behind DDR is that when a business needs a bespoke product, it can use a digital robot, powered by AI, to help design it. The user or robot can then upload the bespoke design to the supplier’s website, and manufacturers can get to work on creating a sample, followed by a prototype, and eventually, the final product.
This is just one of many excellent projects that are receiving a well-deserved boost from government initiatives, in the new, post-COVID-19 world, and, as Alok Sharma says, “Increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive.”
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.