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The next chapter in the digital revolution of UK manufacturing: Data-driven, customer-first

05 April, 2018
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The next chapter in the digital revolution of UK manufacturing: Data-driven, customer-first

These are changing times for the British manufacturing industry. Robotics, industrial automation and 3D printing are radically transforming manufacturing processes and keeping manufacturers on their toes in anticipation of the next wave of digital disruption.

Add in Brexit, an ageing workforce and skills shortages, and the pressure to adapt to new business models is on.

At Columbus we want to provide manufacturers with expert advice and actionable data, so they can make the best decisions going forward. That’s why we’ve created the Manufacturing 2020 report, a collection of industry thought leadership pieces, case studies and interviews with major stakeholders such as Microsoft, Caterpillar and Weetabix. Here are our top four takeaways from the report.

Data analytics: Open to all – large and small

Data does more than just tell you if a machine is operational. It can predict maintenance needs and inefficiencies in the supply chain before disruption strikes, increase capacity and identify areas to boost productivity. In order to drive value from data, manufacturers need to invest in analytics capabilities – and this doesn’t just apply to the major players!

When it comes to turning unstructured data into actionable data, it’s a level playing field, so being small is no excuse for being a late adopter! Every business generates and captures a wealth of information in this digital age, but harnessing this to deliver genuine business outcomes creates value from data. It could be identifying process trends and anomalies, or determining market needs at an early stage – every incremental improvement represents an advantage over competitors.

A paperless future

Accurate, real-time data is key to running a smart factory. But despite the immense benefits of going fully digital – such as faster service delivery, higher customer satisfaction and waste reduction – many factories still rely on paper. Columbus Product Strategy Director, Kevin Bull, has written about his recent experiences of visiting factories in the report, quoting a manufacturer who improved their production efficiency ratings by over 35 per cent by moving to paperless processes.

Customer care needs to reach the next level

Digital transformation isn’t just about technological change either – it’s also a cultural one. It’s all too easy to focus on interesting new developments such as virtual reality or digital twins, but at the end of the day if they don’t address your customers’ pain points, they have done your business no good.

Digital transformation enables you to put the customer at the heart of the business strategy and align all processes around providing a first-class service experience.

Manufacturers need to think of what their customers want. This is covered in the report with a Q&A about customer communication. Darren Crisp, Group ERP Manager, Sofa Brands International says that something as simple as setting up a first-class web presence is essential. It doesn’t require advanced technological skills to engage with potential customers via an online portal, and it will definitely raise their confidence in your offering.

Invest in people and skills, not just technology

It’s people, not machines, that will steer businesses through disruptive times and identify new technologies and revenue streams. But if they feel unsupported or unheard, they will take a back seat on the digital transformation journey – and manufacturers can’t afford this.

Faced with a skills gap, manufacturers need to make greater efforts to integrate the veteran workforce with a new generation of digitally savvy recruits. In practice, this means providing regular training courses and development programmes for existing employees – and reaching out to schools and universities to generate enthusiasm for manufacturing among young people.

At Columbus, we not only work with manufacturers to help them use technology to transform their business, but we place high value on inspiring children to choose a career in STEM – an issue I’ve covered in a recent article.

Remember, if you would like to learn more about these emerging challenges for the manufacturing industry and how businesses can be successful in their digital transformation strategy, make sure you register for our webinar on 8 May. You can also click here to download the full Manufacturing 2020 report.

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