SME manufacturers need support if they are to evolve. While the promise of digitalisation may sound enticing enough, for many businesses it feels like a giant step up for which they are not prepared.
While there are main players in manufacturing held up as shining examples of pioneering processes and practices, they seem a long way away from the realities of many smaller companies.
How can the concept of technological innovation and improvement be made more achievable for SMEs?
Asif Moghal, Senior Industry Manager at Autodesk, explains how offering personal, practical and skilled resources to support SMEs can enable them to take a decisive step towards their own manufacturing futures.
“SMEs need to see what the tangible value of digitalisation is, otherwise it risks appearing too remote. Translating the benefits of digitalisation into profit is what will get them really excited about the possibilities. But they first need to know how to take the first step.”
One key aspect may be not to view this as a revolution but an evolution.
“It’s not necessarily one big leap forward, but rather a series of incremental steps. The focus should be on driving top line growth, creating opportunities and adding value.”
Robotics and automation are vital elements in new manufacturing technologies, but they are by no means the whole story.
“While the benefits of digitalisation include functions that reach beyond shop floor production, and can affect and enhance processes all the way from design and manufacture to the end user experience and customer feedback, there has to be the right environment to drive innovation”
What will help SMEs create this supportive environment?
“Technology is an enabler, but highly motivated people collaborating effectively can make more of a real difference in taking technology forward.”
The Two-way Skills Benefit
“Innovation requires the right mindset. Even average technology can achieve far more if the people using it are driven to succeed by working well together.”
The Department of Education has a strategy for empowering future generations to grow an innovative economy in the UK that is focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Creating the resource of a highly skilled workforce is also an essential pillar of Autodesk’s Future of British Manufacturing initiative.
“It’s all about inspiring the next generation of design and manufacturing leadership.”
However, there is also a need to provide support and encouragement to current manufacturers at a grassroots level.
This is where the Digital Catalyst programme comes in.
“We’ve created a means of connecting industry to education in such a way that delivers dramatic results faster, which can put SMEs on the road to a dynamic future of their own making”
The programme provides an expert student placement for SMEs, lasting 80 hours, totally free of charge.
Both sides benefit. The SME gets a digital native to help them evaluate and implement the latest technologies. They may also practically apply them to specific projects.
The student gains real world experience while studying, and therefore will complete their course as a far more rounded individual, than if they had just followed the traditional educational process.
The Digital Catalyst Programme also sets up co-mentoring relationships between the SME engineers and students, where both sides can learn from and gradually upskill each other.
“Skills provide the bedrock to technological innovation. In this sense, digitalisation is as much a people issue as it is about manufacturing,” Asif concludes.
If you are a manufacturer, apply to the Digital Catalyst programme, here.
Alternatively, discover how CP Cases, a UK Design & Manufacturing SME, worked with a Digital Catalyst to improve a process that took them 180 mins down to just 15 mins.