Nick Hussey and Jonny Williamson
Manufacturers are adapting at speed and embracing the changing workplace
In just 12 months, COVID-19 has reshaped entire sectors and redefined what we understand ‘the workplace’ to be. As a result of the pandemic, the manufacturing sector finds itself at a crossroads: it can remain unchanged by the pandemic, or it can emerge galvanised with a renewed sense of innovation and collaboration as it looks ahead. Despite the challenges, we’re seeing strong evidence that industrial workplaces and workforces are adapting at speed and embracing change as they look to the future.
A new world of work for a new generation of recruits
While more digitally advanced industries were better prepared for the work-from-home culture shock brought about by COVID-19, the physical presence obligated by factory operations saw manufacturers struggle. Working remotely proved problematic, if not impossible, for many production roles and manufacturing productivity inevitably took a big hit.
Lessons have been learnt, but there’s room for improvement – particularly when it comes to talent recruitment and retention. The next generation of graduates will likely sway towards the most progressive, innovative and digitally enabled companies.
Any young person starting out on their career might well be choosing between a vibrant and innovative campus environment at one of the big tech companies or a role in manufacturing – where the role (in our opinion) is likely to be more engaging and rewarding, but the work environment is completely different.
Sheds and punch cards
All too often the word ‘manufacturing’ conjures up images of corrugated sheds in the middle of an industrial estate. We have to start realising that the employee experience matters more now, from the building in which you work to the technology platforms you use. It all makes a difference, and not just to young graduates.
As an industry, we need to make sure we're presenting young people with an exciting working environment and an engaging workspace, offering the flexibility that they appreciate and expect.
Investing in both product and people
A number of manufacturers are still in their business continuity phases, responding and resetting according to the challenge the pandemic has presented. Yet others are coping better. Why?
In short, it’s because they invested in transformative digital technology and their workplace experience before COVID-19 took hold. From the basics of collaboration and communication through to remote field service and operation – those who have invested in their workplace have been best placed to survive the immediate impact of the pandemic and now build for the future.
Reimagining the future of the workplace
Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to create an optimised, innovation-led, socially aware and truly sustainable manufacturing workplace (and broader sector) by 2025. Many organisations have already taken steps towards achieving such a vision.
BAE Systems, for example, is rethinking and renewing the way tech and people can work together. It’s blending advanced manufacturing tech with a digitally connected factory environment to transform engineering processes to make future military aircraft production more efficient.
Likewise, Philips and Unilever are leading the way on a global scale, while smaller companies like the UK’s Gripple and Lander Automotive are redefining what the future industrial workplace experience can be – addressing not just workplace technology but culture and the employee experience too.
Say hello to your new “robot” or “digital” colleagues
One example of this change is digital twins, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly clear. Even mainstream manufacturers are realising that the ability to perform a dry run of any change in process or method has huge benefits to operational dimensions – like efficiency measures, material costs and downtime.
Furthermore, the opportunity digital twins provide to liberate people to focus on adding real value to the business, rather than on mundane, routine tasks, has been proven to greatly improve the employee experience. A large industrial equipment manufacturer in the UK has been in operation since the 1970s, but today it is pioneering the use of digital twins, replicating every process to create a complete digital map of the factory. Any changes to either products or workflows are done digitally first, in order to reduce risk and costs.
By 2025, we expect a much greater proliferation of technologies like digital twins, robotics, automation and new extended reality tools like Microsoft HoloLens, playing a crucial role in the manufacturing workplace and in day-to-day working practices. In particular, the training and the transfer of skills, where Microsoft HoloLens, for example, is helping skilled industry veterans impart their knowledge to the next generation of workers.
Seize the potential of tomorrow’s manufacturing world, today
The future of the manufacturing workplace is brighter and more laden with opportunity than ever, provided manufacturers take steps – however tentative – towards a tech-first future today. Hear more about the future of manufacturing from Nick and Jonny, who talk to Avanade’s David Morgan, in this exclusive podcast.
About Nick Hussey and Jonny Williamson
Nick Hussey is Chief Executive Officer at The Manufacturer. Nick has 28 years’ experience in the publishing and events sectors and over 12 years in manufacturing having acquired The Manufacturer in 2008. He is a renowned commentator on the sector and draws upon an in-depth knowledge across multiple industries and the challenges and opportunities that the strategic leaders of manufacturing business face.
Jonny Williamson is Editorial Director at The Manufacturer and has been working as a journalist covering manufacturing, engineering and technology for almost a decade. He provides business owners and their decision-makers with the insights they need to run their operations more efficiently, profitably and sustainably.