It is perhaps an understatement to suggest that 2018 has been marred by uncertainty – from the lingering unpredictability of Brexit to wider global geopolitical incidents – and 2019 looks to offer much of the same. Despite this, the pace of technological change in the UK has continued mostly unabated and British manufacturers have been tasked to grapple the short-term events whilst harnessing new technology to digitally transform. Indeed, there remains a sense that technology – most notably solutions that can help boost manufacturing productivity – will play a pivotal role in helping the UK adjust to the outcome of Brexit in 2019. It is with this in mind that the following five trends are predicted to define intelligent manufacturing over the next 12 months:
5G is coming
The UK is reportedly lagging behind its European counterparts when it comes to productivity, and improvements to digital infrastructure is one of the key solutions proposed by government. We can expect to hear a lot more about 5G in 2019 as it will underpin the next generation of mobile networks and many think that it will be a key enabler of industry 4.0 in the manufacturing sector – from improving data management to enabling greater collaboration between suppliers and end users. 5G networks will offer manufacturers the chance to build genuinely smart factories with real-time connectivity.
Increasing levels of automation
Everyone has heard of digital transformation, but many are still unsure what it means and how to achieve it. Over the next 12 months and beyond, the businesses that fail to embrace new innovations will struggle to compete. Increasing levels of automation are essential for manufacturers to remain competitive and meet demands for manufactured goods from established and emerging markets. Our recent report Harnessing Brexit, Technology and Insight: British Manufacturers, a Competitive Edge in an Age of Uncertainty and Opportunity has found that a third of the UK’s leading manufacturing executives expect automation to take over British manufacturing in the next three years.
Over the next 12 months, connected systems that leverage the cloud, IoT, AI and machine learning will deliver instant intelligence and play a crucial role in making UK manufacturing smarter and more agile. Our research has found that nearly all manufacturers in Britain (93%) are utilising live data and automation technology already in some capacity, most commonly to help optimise products and ensure quality consistency, and it is expected that this use will become more sophisticated and keenly adopted. Nearly a third (28%) of manufactures predict that technology which analyses big data will play a greater role in their business over the next three years.
Adapting to an evolving workforce
As manufacturers face an increasing skills gap in 2019, they must fill critical roles on the front line and in the back office. The skills mix has changed for many manufacturing jobs and there will be even greater emphasis on employees being tech-savvy. Training staff to become more digitally-orientated is crucial, and a culture and perception shift is required amongst many c-suite directors. More will need to be done to ensure that traditional workforces are equipped and ready to excel in this new digital environment. Directors must develop the skills of their staff to envision, educate, explain and execute the digital transformation of their businesses. It’s not just about buying the latest technology, it’s about understanding how the business can benefit from becoming more digital and putting this into action. This requires strong, forward-thinking leadership to drive the changes that are needed.
The growth of e-learning
Developing the skills of this evolving workforce can be supported with the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies to improve training programmes. Employees can learn much of what they need to know without stepping foot on the factory floor, and early adopters of AR and VR have demonstrated the technology delivers value by bridging the skills gap and transforming the way engineers are trained and evaluated.
Manufacturers have no choice but to move with the times. Over the next 12 months, businesses should spend money on innovation (but not just for the sake of it) and invest in technology that resolves problems so that staff can get on with adding value to the organisation. This could include transformation of production processes, optimising sales and marketing or improving customer services. Investment in technology should reflect the competitive strategy of the business. It’s not about buying the latest software, it’s about identifying how you can transform your business model to outcompete your competitors and better serve your customers.
Businesses must also balance the investment in acquiring new talent, including digital natives, with investment in the current workforce. Technology enables businesses to evolve, however talent is required to ensure that this tech is adopted. It is also important to remember that there is no substitute for wisdom in business, and technology cannot replace the fundamentals of management.
Ian Dowd has nearly 20 years’ experience in the technology industry and has held senior marketing positions in global software companies, Cloud and IT Services, social media and start-ups.
An award-winning marketeer and business leader, Ian is CMO of UK-based SaaS provider SSG Insight.