As we head towards the end of 2022, we think it would be fair to say that ever since COVID-19 became a global pandemic back in early 2020, the UK and the world have faced what seems to be an endless line of economic, geopolitical and environmental challenges.
And the one industry that feels the brunt of all of these challenges most, is the manufacturing industry. The industry that touches the lives of every person on earth itself, is also touched by all of the micro and macro challenges going on, whether at a local, regional, national or global level.
So what will 2023 look like for manufacturers?
MakeUK has just issued its Q4 Manufacturing outlook report and it’s fair to say, the picture it paints is one which will see 2023 carry over the challenges manufacturers have found themselves navigating for the past three years.
MakeUK cites the deteriorating economic conditions at home and abroad are exerting a vice-like grip on the sector, with increasing costs across the board, tighter fiscal and monetary policy and weakening consumer demand forming a perfect storm.
We’re going to refrain from using the nine-letter word beginning with ‘R’ that is banded around the media, almost in a way that spreads a ‘doom and gloom’ outlook. In our view, manufacturing is an industry that, overall, speaks quite positively and upbeat about the opportunities available at home and abroad. Sure, there are challenges, lots of them, but if navigated correctly, there are also opportunities to be had.
Manufacturers understand the challenges faced, they have been learning to live with them since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. From factory shutdowns, labour shortages, supply chain issues, and currency fluctuations to political instability, war, inflation and the subsequent impact on energy prices. With the exception of factory shutdowns, it is reasonable to say that many of these market challenges aren’t going away any time soon.
what can (and are) manufacturers do (ing) to offset the challenges?
Many manufacturers we speak to, recognise they need to ‘cut their cloth’ accordingly. An example of this is the level of Investment being made by manufacturers, which is highlighted in the MakeUK report.
The data shows that the overall level of investment is down as manufacturers look at pulling back on projects not deemed critical. Therefore, some big-ticket items, such as new machinery are off the table for now.
Instead of investing in one-off ‘big ticket’ items or projects, we are seeing manufacturers look at what they can do to get more out of their current resources. Whether upskilling their current workforce with the appropriate training or looking at smart technology that can help them understand, manage and optimise their production processes.
At a recent Advanced Manufacturing conference we attended, one manufacturer shared their advice about how manufacturers can utilise smart technology to help offset some of the current challenges faced.
“Start small, don't go for big-bang projects from the off. Look for the biggest benefit with the shortest payback period. Whatever digital project you look to incorporate in the factory, have a continuous improvement mindset”.
Improving productivity is the biggest lever manufacturers can pull
An article published by Forbes earlier this year highlights how ‘unplanned machine downtime’ (poor productivity) has a massive impact on a factory’s overall efficiency and profitability.
MakeUK also cited improving productivity as a top driver to make investments in their Q3 Manufacturing Investment health survey.
Productivity Improvement 'meets' Affordable and Accessible Smart Technology
Developing a solution to reduce lost manufacturing productivity caused by machine downtime is why Chris and Robin founded FourJaw and developed our machine monitoring platform.
Our plug-and-play machine monitoring software enables manufacturers (of all sizes) to know when a machine isn’t running and more importantly why it's not running by prompting operators to log the downtime reason.
This data is then presented in a management dashboard which among other metrics shows the top reasons for downtime, by factory, cell or machine. This insight is then used by management and the machine operators to look at their current processes and where appropriate adapt them based on the data captured.
When developing our machine monitoring platform, we found manufacturers that were using inefficient production processes with no machine monitoring in place typically have some or all of these traits:
- Lack of real-time visibility into operations
- Have a higher manufacturing cost per product
- Rely on manual, time-consuming and paper-based data collection, entry and sharing
- Have data that is often inaccurate which makes it difficult to identify where problems might be occurring
- Can’t confidently make commercial knowledge-based decisions
- Have numerous information silos where key data gets stranded
- Can’t get necessary spare parts when needed
- Experience low technician productivity and poor equipment reliability
- Pay more overtime than necessary to get work done
How can machine monitoring cut unproductive and unplanned downtime?
Even under normal economic conditions, part of your role and responsibility is to look for ways to increase factory efficiency and eliminate waste. It is likely you will want to:
- Improve production uptime
- Improve communication across the factory floor
- Understand what type of work is most profitable
- Understand which shifts are more efficient and why
- Know where and what process improvements will have the biggest impact
- Reduce production backlogs
- Plan resources more efficiently
- Enhance data quality so you can make an informed, confident decision
- Remove, inaccurate and manual paper-based processes
So whilst we can’t help directly with the political, economic and environmental challenges faced, we can enable you to gain visibility, gain control and continually improve your factory’s productivity and efficiency through our affordable machine monitoring platform. Putting you, your team and the factory in a much stronger position to navigate the market conditions and take advantage of the opportunities available.
We’ll finish by saying, whatever lies ahead in 2023 for your factory, please look at the productivity of your machines before anything else.