Major crises cause economic and social damage but they also inspire innovation. This was a major theme Digital Manufacturing Week, who themselves had to disrupt by holding the 6,000 plus attendee event completely online. For our startup based in Wales, the opportunity to tune in to an amazing line-up of speakers from across British manufacturing and connect with the community from the comfort of our own homes was bliss. It was our first time at the event and here are some of our highlights as to who is pushing the boundaries in manufacturing right now.
The Manufacturing Leaders' Summit took place from Monday to Thursday and bought talks and workshops from world-class manufacturers and supply chain leaders on a vast range of topics from sustainable manufacturing to operational excellence and the future of manufacturing. We were given insights into the innovation workings of Dyson, IBM, Rolls Royce, E.ON, Airbus, Ferrero and many more.
The mother of invention
Opening the keynote was Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE, President, CBI and founder of Cobra Beer. He highlighted how necessity is the mother of invention, which is to what we owe this acceleration in digital transformation. His own company, Cobra Beer, had two-thirds of their production wiped out when pubs and restaurants were forced to close during the lockdown.
Lord Bilimoria noted the accelerated levels of innovation during challenging times with distilleries switching to producing sanitisers, and hundreds of manufacturers taking on the ventilator challenge, delivering 20 years worth of ventilators in just 12 weeks.
Covid-19 has driven some amazing achievements in the manufacturing sector, and rather than focusing on the chaos it caused, we should look back on 2020 as the year that manufacturing showed the UK what it was capable of.
Richard Browning, CEO and chief test pilot of Gravity Industries gave one of the most innovative talks. Chris is the inventor of a human jet suit, and he shared his journey from what was initially just a personal challenge to accidentally creating a really valuable product with a range of unexpected use cases, including in the Royal Navy.
His goal was to reimagine human flight by pushing the mind and body and adding a minimal amount of equipment. He did this by relying on the brain for balance, the body as a flight structure, and adding some thrust. His videos tell an incredible story which is worth checking out in more detail here.
Up and coming inventor and role model for women in STEM Ruth Amos shared her inspiring story of how she stumbled into the world of engineering and almost didn't stay because she felt she didn't belong. She accredits meeting great mentors across the sector helped her realise how important it was to pursue a career in engineering and she is proud to be that role model to others. Her YouTube channel, Kids Invent Stuff brings inventions to life and is a key tool in engaging children in manufacturing at a crucial age.
Amber Case a Cyborg Anthropologist (that's someone who studies the relationship between humanity and technology) discussed how to make technology "calm". It is the idea that technology shouldn't require all of our attention, just some of it and only when necessary. Calm technology can engage our peripheral attention instead of absorbing it all, e.g. a smart light that changes colour to reflect the weather forecast, removing the need to engage with a screen. To find out more about the 8 Principles of Calm Technology visit calmtech.com.
Beating the odds
Chris Garthwaite, CEO of CGA Experience talked about digital transformation in the eyes of the consumer. In 2019, 70% of digital transformation projects failed, amounting to £900 billion wasted. Chris believes that by taking the customer perspective, and understanding the desired outcomes, we can improve that success rate dramatically. His approach is to explore a combination of perspectives, i.e. your production needs and the needs of your consumer in order to deliver true value.
Ethics pay off
Astrophysicist Jessica Leigh Jones delivered a keynote on ethics in manufacturing. She highlighted some key points that make the manufacturing industry unique and exciting, but pointed out how each one had a flip side that could lead to unethical behaviours.
She made the point that as standards of living and disposable income rise, more and more people are considering ethics and values which are becoming a core part of their buying decision behaviour. This translated to businesses with high ethics and integrity outperforming other businesses by almost 11%. It literally pays to be an ethical company. Jessica's company have developed an ethical framework for manufacturers which you can find out more about here.
The Perfect Storm
Dr Andrew Sentance delivered a keynote on the economic prospects for manufacturing and financial policy and decision-making. Autumn and early winter can be a turbulent time for the economy, but other current stressors include coronavirus and lockdowns, Brexit, and the US presidential elections. He discussed how these things have combined to create the perfect storm and gave us a deeper view on how they might pan out.
Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Engineering shared some of the key learnings from observing those who have been at the heart of 'rapid innovation' during the pandemic and how these can be applied to boost resilience post-pandemic to create an inclusive economy. Processes which came about as a necessity during the pandemic can be applied to post-pandemic operations to create resilient companies. Key learnings included;
- Power of purpose
- Importance of people
- Government and authorities.
Dr Sillem also highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion to attract a wider range of workers to the industry, which has a positive impact on innovation, too. You can find out more about the Academy's inclusive resources here.
Disruptors and Emerging Tech
Chris Courtney, the Challenge Director for Made Smarter discussed the goals of the initiative and some of the integrated innovation programs before passing over to George Belias to discuss in more detail the new Manufacturing Accelerator and how it's going to work. Nicole Ballantyne from the Knowledge Transfer Network Manufacturing took over to explain how these initiatives came together to create a supportive network for UK manufacturing.
The Made Smarter Emerging Technology Show gave an opportunity for startups in manufacturing to pitch and network. There was a vast array of solutions from additive manufacturing to robotics and automation all showcasing emerging innovations.
We had the opportunity to pitch to investors and had our own virtual stand where we networked with the community. You can access our manufacturing resources here.