Increasing digitalisation, the growing skills shortage and the uncertainty of Brexit — British manufacturing has a lot to contend with. Despite this, the United Kingdom is predicted to break back into the top five manufacturing nations by 2021.

Contrary to widespread sentiment, British manufacturing is thriving. According to statistics by the EEF, the sector employs 2.6 million people, accounts for 44 per cent of exports and provides 13 per cent of all business investment. However, that’s not to say the industry is completely home and dry. Amidst upcoming political turbulence, manufacturers need to prepare.

Invest in technology

According to Martyn Williams, managing director at COPA-DATA UK manufacturers should plan for the worst-case Brexit scenario, but this could create challenges regarding current business models. “We’ve all heard about the importance of adopting new technologies, but this could become more difficult without the ease of open supply chains,” he said. “That said, manufacturers cannot stagnate.

“Investments in new technology should only be made once manufacturers have identified the top pains in their facilities. Frankly, these problems will exist regardless of whether Brexit occurs or not. For example, a manufacturer may find excess energy consumption is its biggest outlie, meaning implementing technology to reduce this wastage would be the best use of investment.

That said, identifying the best solution isn’t always simple. There has been a tirade of new technology on the market, much of which is veiled in technological jargon, sometimes making it difficult to comprehend. Rather than choosing the newest technology on the market, manufacturers must do their research, examine case studies and ensure they choose a reputable supplier before making investments.”

Adopt new service models

Deploying technology is an ideal way to manage pain points in manufacturing. However, technology can also boost profits by enabling new service models. This is particularly pertinent for investments in software platforms that can be integrated with the cloud.

“Industrial software with predictive maintenance, for instance, can provide original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with opportunities to monetise their service revenues,” Williams continued. “Let’s say a manufacturer of automated conveyors has implemented this software onto its machines. Using predictive analytics to monitor the typical lifecycle of a conveyor, the OEM can predict when the equipment is likely to require maintenance and take action to prolong its lifespan.

“Using this data-backed knowledge, the manufacturer can offer a servitised version of the product, thus generating more income. As well as growing revenue streams, adopting service models allows manufacturers to foster business with existing customers. Greater customer retention could become invaluable, depending on the volatile political circumstances occurring outside of the factory walls.”

Invest in skills

Inside the factory, Brexit’s potential change to free movement will have an impact on recruitment and skills. That said, the bigger challenge remains the same— the sector simply doesn’t entice enough young talent. “There’s a requirement for a massive expansion of schemes and initiatives to encourage people to join the industry, but that’s a challenge for the Government,” Williams explained. “During the upcoming period of uncertainty, manufacturers should take responsibility to invest and upskill their existing staff. This is particularly important as organisations invest in digital technologies to automate processes.

“Staff want to be certain that their skills remain valued, even in an increasingly automated environment. Inherently, employees want to be proud of what they do and pursue work which is meaningful. Lack of investment in this area will result in lost staff. During the ambiguity of Brexit, this risk isn’t worth the drain on time, resources and finances that recruiting new staff, and subsequently training them, will require.”

Britain’s manufacturing outlook may not be as gloomy as some reports may suggest. However, the sector should be preparing itself for a turbulent twelve-months ahead. Looking forward to 2019, manufacturers should continue pursuing their digitalisation goals, but must put a clear focus on investing in the right technology, creating business models for growth and importantly, maintaining and upskilling their valuable workforces.