September 3, 2020

The Future of Manufacturing

Despite turbulence across the sector in the first half of 2020 as businesses attempted to navigate the initial impact of COVID-19, manufacturing is arguably stronger than ever – and the UK public agrees.

In the last few months, manufacturing has had to step up to play an integral role in providing for the NHS to help its keyworkers meet the pressures of the pandemic – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Research commissioned by Cadence Innovation Marketing[1] in early May 2020 found that three in four UK adults believe more strongly in the importance of UK manufacturing as a result of its response to the global crisis. In the latest of the consultancy’s Attitudes to UK Industry polls, it found that more than seven in 10 adults believe that UK manufacturing has risen to the challenge of COVID-19. This is great news for the sector, as it prepares to head into a ‘new normal’, but what does it mean for its long-term future? We expect manufacturing will emerge from 2020 stronger than ever, and here we explain why.

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The importance of UK manufacturing
As lockdown measures in the UK continue to ease and there’s an attempt to move towards business as usual, it comes with a stark reminder that many elements of our society might never return to what we once knew as normal. Manufacturing isn’t exempt. In the last few months, the sector has battled against and worked with every challenge thrown at it. The global supply chain has seen disruption of an unprecedented scale, assembly lines were halted or cut, many industries closed and workforces were temporarily laid off. Yet what this has shown, if we didn’t already know it, is that we’re working in a sector crucial to the survival of the UK economy. It’s now about how we use our learnings and apply them to the long-term future of manufacturing.

The pandemic impacted modern manufacturing in a way never felt before. While some have faced an uphill struggle to meet unprecedented demand, for others demand dramatically dropped and it brought pressures in other ways. In fact, manufacturing is instrumental for our prosperity and the fact it stepped up when the prime minister requested the urgent production of vital medical equipment is only testament to this. UK manufacturers have risen to challenges never seen before now.

Automation to reduce infection risk
However much the sector relies on its machinery and technology, there’s a huge need to protect the people who operate them and make the decisions. Manufacturers will have to bear in mind how rules around social distancing and safety measures, alongside the nervousness and apprehension now felt by employees, will affect duties and output. As is the case across any sector, employers will have to ensure staff health and productivity, which will inevitably lead to increased use of automation. Vital in manufacturing, automation has long-helped businesses meet huge demand – but it could now be key to the sector’s comeback. Automation and robotic technologies can limit human handling of goods – alleviating workforce fears – and may even be critical to productivity and growth as it creates opportunities for the digitally capable and could enable remote engineering support.

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