The future of British manufacturing: beyond Brexit

January 13, 2020 //By Lee Sullivan
Britain was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, but the nation’s manufacturing future is often blighted by Brexit woes. According to a report by The Guardian, British factories suffered a sixth consecutive month of falling orders in October 2019.

During the three-and-a-half-year ordeal so far, Brexit negotiations have inflicted long-lasting damage, complicating supplier relationships, reducing access to talent and causing some manufacturers to up sticks and leave. Deploying new technology is regularly hailed as a method to protect manufacturers during turbulent periods; improving productivity, cutting costs and increasing profit. That said, the current climate is more likely to cause manufacturers to hold onto their capital, as opposed to invest in new tech. However, to suggest manufacturers have only recently started to adopt technology would be misleading.

Industry has been using Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software, robotics and other automated hardware for more than three decades. The problem is that many manufacturers do not regularly upgrade these tools to ensure they are equipped with the latest technology.

Coinciding with this use of technology, manufacturers have long used lean manufacturing methodologies to improve profitability. This practice usually focuses on minimising waste created during manufacturing — whether that is waste related to inventory, overproduction, human resource or energy. But current lean strategies might not be enough during these turbulent times.

The methods to implement this methodology are advancing exponentially. In fact, alongside quality management systems, lean manufacturing systems top the list of important technology investments in The Future of Manufacturing: 2020 and Beyond report by Industry Week.

The first step of lean implementation is to evaluate problems. This requires analysis of a huge number of variables. For example, a brewing facility would have separate processes for malting, fermentation, carbonating, bottling and labelling its beers —to name just a few. Manually collecting production data from these processes could be incredibly time consuming, which is why SCADA software is often used to collate this information automatically.

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