How the UK can regain its position as a global manufacturing powerhouse
Whilst recent figures showed that the UK’s manufacturing sector grew by 0.9 percent in September, the sector shrank unexpectedly by 0.4 percent in October 2015. Despite this decline, the chemical manufacturing sector is among one of the fastest growing industries with a 31 percent sales growth in Q1 2015 alone. So what is setting this apart?
It is no coincidence that in line with this growth, the government has pledged to help the chemical manufacturing sector do more business internationally, including helping companies partner internationally in technology innovation. With this in mind, the link between investment and growth cannot be ignored. If investment in technological innovation alongside additional factors was replicated across different industries, we might see similar levels of productivity and growth throughout the manufacturing sector as a whole.
In reality however, a recent CBI survey found that despite manufacturers indicating that their plans for spending on buildings and machinery remains broadly unchanged for the year ahead, their plans for spending on innovation and training had eased. While the struggle across the industry is clear, it is disappointing that firms are scaling back on vital elements that could have an uplifting impact on manufacturing growth and productivity.
It is likely that this ease is a result of the pessimism within the industry. The survey also signalled that manufacturers’ confidence about their business situation and export prospects for the year ahead fell at the fastest pace since October 2012. In addition, economists estimate that one of the key triggers affecting the manufacturing industry – the strength of sterling – will continue to depress export orders until mid-2016 at least.
It is clear that the UK’s performance in exports needs to be boosted, visible through the launch of its ‘Exporting is GREAT’ campaign, which aims to get 100,000 British companies exporting by 2020. But for this to happen, the government needs to act decisively to protect spending in these areas. In fact, it needs to curb spending on ad campaigns, and pledge investment in innovation and skills to increase exportation, enhance manufacturing growth and improve productivity.
With support from the government, the hope is that positivity within the industry itself will pick up and that manufacturers themselves will become reinvigorated to invest in their industry, specifically in innovation, training and product and process tools to support decision making and action taking. Modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms, for example, give organisations the ability to analyse business conditions and develop improved business plans, monitor and measure progress and provide the visibility into day-to-day operations.
Responsiveness and faster decision making could be key. This can include insight of capacity requirements planning, work order management, job costing, product data management and production planning and scheduling, which can all assist in helping manufacturers to ensure processes are streamlined and cost effective. Planning and budgeting on an annual basis, especially considering the current state of the economy, is no longer possible.
The message is simple. The UK has some real strengths and manufacturers need to play to them. With a wealth of technical skills and knowledge and a strong history of innovation, it is here the solution lies. By harnessing UK employees’ technical abilities, and evolving strong research and development capabilities, UK manufacturers can use innovation to achieve a unique competitive position.
The manufacturing industry is key for the UK economy. It is a vital sector and organisations need to be resilient and ensure they are doing all they can to invest and innovate. Technological innovation needs to be grasped with both hands, whether improving internal production processes, increasing automation or implementing modern software such as ERP solutions. This innovation can help firms achieve growth and subsequently position the UK as a global manufacturing powerhouse.
Stuart Hall is Sales Director for Epicor Software
Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.