The manufacturing sector currently makes up 11% of UK GVA, 44% of total exports, 70% of business R&D, and directly employs 2.6 million people. It faces a number of challenges, not the least of which is how to use systems and digital automation to drive agility and productivity. Over the next few years skills shortages will worsen, and ‘Industry 4.0’ will gain pace — no manufacturing company can afford to be left behind.
Tracking and managing production without the proper technology is time-consuming and often ‘after the fact’. The line between shop floor production systems and back office administrative systems is being erased creating an integration challenge for many manufacturers with CRM, ERP, MRP, MES and EDI all playing a critical part. Covid-19 has driven changes in how manufacturing businesses engage and sell with an increase in B2B ecommerce. The sector therefore has data management and systems integration problems and complicated supply-chain challenges. But those businesses who can overcome these issues will lead in winning business, making production more efficient and driving profitability.
New collaboration systems and devices can dramatically improve communication, planning and forecasting, and radically reduce costs and time wasted in the purchase-to-pay cycle. But innovation needs to be balanced with rigorous business-focus in order to drive improvements. All projects must begin with clear, objective business objectives based on the business strategy.
Manufacturers should start by asking whether they are getting the most out of their current systems before they embark on exciting new projects! Basic IT infrastructure, data management and system configuration must be properly defined and implemented but, for solutions to deliver real business benefits, they need to address process and people and data issues including organisation, training and culture as well.
At the same time, cyber security and risk management is a complex issue as the manufacturing sector is a prime target for fraudsters. A lack of expertise in this area can hold back the investment in necessary technologies to drive innovation.
Innovation and improvement must become part of the culture of the business but a sensible and commercial approach is required in order to ensure solid return on investment and to manage risk.