The manufacturing productivity challenge continues to be a key talking point among the UK’s manufacturing companies, and as the world faces the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, the question about how manufacturers can thrive in this changing space is increasingly pertinent.
These were both key themes at the annual EEF National Manufacturing Conference that took place in London in February, where hundreds of the UK’s leading manufacturing organisations came together to gain insights and share opinion about the industry’s future.
EEF’s strategic partner, Canon, was among those leading the conversation on how digital technology is shaping the manufacturing future, with a simple message: it’s time for manufacturing to embrace digital technology.
Head of Strategic & Enterprise for Canon UK, James Pittick (pictured below) told Insights that technology is imperative for driving value across the productivity chain.
“Canon has a long history of innovation and a strong track record for delivering changes in technology. What is critical to remember, is that we need to focus on the quality of what we are delivering.
It’s easy to look for technology to be a shortcut for process challenges, but if that compromises the quality of the outcome, it wont’t deliver long term advantage.”
The industry is already seeing and benefiting from the wave of digital changes sweeping the industry, with technology such as robotics and automation of processes already being adopted.
"The framework historically seems almost science fiction, but it is helping to develop strategy for smart manufacturing. If you consider the rise of the volume of data both generated and required, automation of process has become critical for organisations to keep a competitive edge, to ensure they process information and deliver on their customer’s expectations.”
Pittick continued that much of the influence for the way that manufacturing needs to evolve comes down to this rise in the volume of data available to all parties involved in the production process.
“There is also the viewpoint about being socially connected. The social environment means that consumers have unprecedented access to information which means the demand to deliver the product or proposition has never been greater. The pressure on the manufacturer to deliver to the consumer very quickly is very high.
Our role is to help organisations process information correctly, help them with speeding up the entire supply chain to get products to market faster so they can understand and analyse information coming back to them.”
This pressure on manufacturers is a challenge, but one that Canon (which itself invests 8% of its revenue on Research and Development) believes is helping shape an exciting future for the industry, with developments that speed up (and add real value to) the supply chain.
“An example is human to machine interaction. Historically you would rely on prototyping or having to build scale models, which can be time consuming and expensive. If you take technology such as mixed reality where you can have human interaction with a simulated environment, it enables you to speed up the manufacturing prototyping process by understanding and learning through that type of interaction.”
Mixed reality provides another exciting, benefits laden development for the manufacturing industry, giving organisations the ability to actively futureproof their businesses.
“At our recent Canon EXPO event there was a very strong focus on mixed reality technology – the ability (for example) to sit in the shell of a vehicle and use the mixed reality headset to see ergonomics and the design of the cockpit, considering aspects such as driver comfort and the ease of reaching controls, without having to build a pre-production prototype model, can impact the cost and product development time greatly. It enables you to understand and see things differently. If you do this in mixed reality environments, you don’t have to hazard the cost of manufacturing a whole vehicle to discover any issues. So there are great benefits from being able to test new products within a virtual environment.”
3D printing technology too is changing how manufacturers can deliver their products to clients, allowing them to quickly create graphic prototypes at reasonably lower costs, thus delivering substantial productivity gains.
Left: 3D printed Formula 1 wing component at the Canon stand at EEF 2016. Right: Canon 3D printed Web Ellis Cup.
Pittick described these advancements in technology as exciting, saying manufacturing is “on the precipice of great change.”
“Our approach is to deliver efficiency optimisation, it's the ambition to get people, process and technology to work in harmony together. It’s at the core of what we do at Canon.”
On the future, Pittick said manufacturing organisations can take steps towards futureproofing their businesses and also improving their productivity by embracing the technological changes hitting the industry.
“Making the shift to digital means organisations have to focus on the investment and their infrastructure. They need to understand what they do and how that can be repurposed digitally. What is needed is a pragmatic approach to evaluate what is happening now and what is coming and consider the transitional phase.”
“We’re at a real junction in time where demand from consumers is so phenomenal that manufacturing organisations need to embrace digitisation and digital processes and technology. The future of manufacturing is very exciting. It’s at the precipice of fundamental shift in process and technologies and the future is very bright. Organisations need to embrace change and the digitisation that is happening to remain competitive.”
For more information on how Canon can support your technological advancement, click here.