Q. What areas do manufacturers need to focus on for manufacturing success?
A. In my opinion for manufacturers to achieve success then they need to remain focussed on their customers and their strengths. Manufacturers must never lose sight of the reason they are in business and remain focused on their outputs and their customer needs. Just focusing on the customer brings other challenges such as the need to deliver instantly and have a diverse range of products and services. It can be confusing managing all of these while remaining competitive and delivering high levels of quality. To do this manufactures can orientate their processes around a quality model first before trying to add on others on such as safety, environment, data, etc. Of course the more competent of us can do this in one go and create holistically integrated systems. And that’s the beauty of the new ISO standards. They reinforce the old message of designing a system that reflects what you actually do and what your customers actually want. And not just a system to pass an audit but they are also built around key principles the recognise business structures and leadership.
Q. How can manufacturers ensure they are prepared and ready for the digital future?
A. Keeping up to date with technology is a challenge for most. Commentators have suggested that we should focus on harnessing the power and technology that already exists rather than keep pursuing ever more complex technology. In other words many of the tools we actually need are already available. Therefore harnessing and refining the data and technology that already exists within business should be the first step. Secondly businesses will have to appraise projects carefully as product lifetimes are often shorter or phased to extend product lifetimes. Just think of car manufacturers that modify a product line over a number of years to create some economies of scale. The exterior may appear similar but underneath many of the features remain the same.
A further point to consider is that improvements in technology will affect all areas of the business. From the drawing board to the production line. The challenge will be to integrate these and ensure they communicate effectively. The manufacturers that achieve this will be better prepared for the IoT (Internet of Things).
Q. What do businesses need to do to remain competitive?
A. Always remain focussed on what the customers want. If that’s 'cheap', then deliver efficiently and watch costs. If that is 'luxury', add value and ensure customer satisfaction. As always keep an eye on the competition and of course all of those external threats – currency fluctuations, politicians and the popular vote!
Q. What programmes and initiatives could businesses put in place to ensure efficient operations?
A. If technology is going to integrate then so will business thinking. At a higher level the structures should be stable but at lower levels within a business a more fluid approach may be needed. To achieve this strong leadership with clear structures that allow people to work flexibly. On the face of it these contradict but flexibility cannot be given at the cost or good management and co-ordination. Therefore investing in people with the necessary skills to achieve this will be as important as ever and recognising specialists may need more than one skill.
Q. Are manufacturers doing enough now?
A. On the face of it you would say manufacturers have done the best they can in the climate in which they operate. With the global economy looking to be more important to the UK than ever before they may need to re-think. The effect is likely to raise the level of competition from markets further afield. This competition is likely to come in many forms from digital technologies, raw materials and labour. The UK may find new trading partners and also economic factors that allow UK trade to be more competitive. UK manufacturers will have to understand the part of the supply chain they fit into and continue to demonstrate why we are known for our engineering and manufacturing skills.
Q. How would a manufacturing business ensure they can innovate to ensure a secure and productive future?
A. Know your customers. Know what they want. Assess and react to their feedback.