Manufacturing has slowed down in the last decades, but the sector remains one of the top contributors to the UK’s GDP. British manufacturers earned a total product sales of £358.7 billion in 2020, employing 2.7 million people. While most companies appear stable, the future is becoming more unpredictable, particularly with the new technological advancements. To ensure the manufacturing sector continues to thrive, companies must adapt to the changes. How? Let’s take a look.

Collection of Big Data

The manufacturing sector is now using software, such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Material Requirements Planning (MRP) and Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) to streamline its processes. These systems gather ‘high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety’ information (a.k.a big data).  Analysts methodically examine to identify patterns and trends that can impact the maintenance and performance of production factories.

Due to the massive amounts and extreme variety of big data, it would take years to analyse the information without the help of computers. Thanks to Industry 4.0 — the automation and optimisation of digital processes — the manufacturing sector can obtain the data it needs within a reasonable timeframe, streamline production and improve operations. Many companies are investing in software that allows them to collect and analyse big data real time.  It lets them plan better, amend outdated processes, simplify supply chains and develop improved products.

Automation is Making Manufacturing Cheaper, More Efficient and Far More Scalable

Automation is the process of using robots and other control systems to produce goods with minimal, if not zero, direct human intervention.  Machines can work 24/7 without breaks which results in higher productivity. And because they do not require overtime pay, incentives, or salary raise, manufacturers can cut down on labour costs while increasing output. That’s business scalability at its finest.

Automation allows managers, carefully placed by automation experts like Samuel Frank Associates, to monitor and control the company’s operations remotely. This ability is more valuable now that remote work is on the rise.  It also enables businesses to continue operating despite national emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

One downside of automation is that it is not cheap. Apart from the equipment cost, companies have to prepare their facility, update their system, and hire people to install the machinery.  However, the long-term benefits usually offset the initial expenses.  If managed well, everything proceeds smoothly once set up.  Companies need not worry about rising labour costs, employee turnover, and recruiting expenses.

Robotics Replacing Humans

Many workers in the manufacturing sector are anxious that robots take over their jobs, and their worry is not unfounded.  According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 1.5 million people in England may lose their jobs to automation.  However, a study by the World Economic Forum predicted that while automation would displace some jobs, it would also create new ones.  Investing in robotics also enables companies to redirect their skilled employees to more crucial roles.

But what’s with industrial robots? Unlike humans, who lose focus when exhausted, robots do not get tired. Thus, using robots reduces the risk of human error and workplace injury while maintaining product quality. They also help identify potential problems by detecting abnormalities and flaws that human eyes are unable to spot. Robots can take over tasks that are dirty, dangerous and difficult or the 3 Ds of manufacturing.  Examples of such are carrying heavy loads, doing repetitive manual work, and those that expose workers to hazardous chemicals.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, using robots could increase industrial efficiency and help the sector grow.  Presently, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming faster and easier to deploy.  The future of manufacturing in the UK is indeed changing, and for the better.