SME manufacturers must take a strategic approach to capitalise on technology adoption

Manufacturers are risking wasted time, money and effort adopting digital technology without a strategic plan for digital transformation, research by Made Smarter North West Pilot has revealed.

A survey exploring the awareness, attitudes and approach to digital technologies of 201 SME manufacturers found huge appetite and motivation to introduce new digital tools into their operations.

Three quarters (75%) of respondents claimed to have adopted new technology in the last three years, compared to 12% who have never made the investment.

But the survey also highlighted the lack of a strategic approach to adopting technology.

More than half (55%) of manufacturers admitted technology was not part of their future vision and growth plan. This was highest among micro-businesses (60%).

Further probing found that business leaders were more likely to upgrade existing technologies to maintain continuity rather than to improve productivity. 

The research suggests too few are approaching the opportunities and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a planned, strategic manner.

Donna Edwards, programme director for the Made Smarter North West pilot, says the answer to a successful digital transformation is a holistic approach.

“What is clear from our survey is that manufacturers recognise that digital tools and technology are essential to remain competitive, cut costs, increase growth, and enhance the customer experience, and without capitalising on the opportunities digital technology offers, they risk getting left behind,” she said.

“But it is also clear that too many makers have employed technology without the technical understanding of which areas to focus on first – which leads to disparate, disconnected equipment, and increases the risk of wasted time, money and effort.

“Whilst digital tools enable opportunities, it’s how we choose to use these that determines their success.”

Despite the clear appetite for technology adoption, barriers remain. The survey found the biggest were insufficient capital (50%) and a need for guidance (44%).

Many businesses also cited a lack of time as a reason why they hadn’t obtained business support or funding. 

Made Smarter was designed to overcome this by helping manufacturers to navigate through complex technology advice and decisions. 

The initial registration with Made Smarter only takes five minutes. A three-hour digital transformation workshop will identify core challenges, provide a bespoke digital manufacturing roadmap, and pinpoint other ways that Made Smarter can support a maker’s digitalisation. This includes a pioneering leadership programme, digital technology internships, specialist advice to support workforce and skills development, and funding support for technology projects.

Edwards added: “Before implementing technology, makers need to consider whether they have a culture of innovation, the right skill sets, good digital leadership, and the buy-in and support of the team. Then they need to identify the most effective technologies to overcome their operational challenges and create a digital transformation roadmap to help them achieve their goals.

 “It is this holistic approach to digitalisation offered by Made Smarter that will help SME manufacturers move forward progressively and sustainably, and capitalise on the opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

 Made Smarter has helped hundreds of businesses in Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, to boost growth, productivity, efficiency and create high value, well paid jobs of the future.

 Businesses working with Made Smarter are solving their challenges across a range of manufacturing functions, through the adoption of a range of industrial digital technologies, including Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Additive Manufacturing and Robotics.

 Glyn Jones, Service Delivery Director at BAE Systems and Chair of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group, said: “Using technology, manufacturers will become faster, more responsive and more efficient. This will play a vital role in delivering the recovery we so badly need in the wake of the pandemic and ensure our place at the heart of future manufacturing. 

“The restrictions COVID-19 placed on all businesses have challenged us to make the previously impossible, now possible. Technology sceptics have now become champions. So-called ‘traditional’ industries have demonstrated a forward thinking mindset. 

“Overcoming challenges has been as much about how we think differently as introducing new technologies, but one has to come with the other to be successful.” 

The key findings from the survey feature in a new report explores the difference that Made Smarter’s North West Pilot programme is making to manufacturing SMEs in the region two years after its launch, the impact of technology adoption on their businesses, and how the tools are supporting their resilience. 

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