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Resources

How to write better grant applications – webinar

This session, led by InterAct Co-director Professor Jan Godsell and featuring successful InterAct grant applicant Dr. Andreas Schroeder examines examples of successful applications, developing opportunities for networking/feedback, and through sharing our knowledge of navigating the administrative processes associated with funding calls.

Find out more about how you can develop better funding proposals and more effectively tie your research in to the overall aims and objectives of InterAct and Made Smarter Innovation.

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Resources

Open Funding Call – Q&A Webinar

Hear from InterAct Co-directors, Professors Jan Godsell and Jillian MacBryde, as they discuss the specifics InterAct Open Funding Call and answer numerous questions pertaining to the call.

The InterAct Open Funding Call is a single Commissioned Research call with a budget of £400,000. There will be up to eight awards, with no minimum value for a request, but the maximum that shall be awarded to any single project is £62,500 (at 100% FEC), of which 80% will be funded by InterAct (i.e., £50,000 maximum funding for a single project).

Projects are welcomed from a broad range of economic and social sciences, that will create ‘actionable insights’ to support the delivery of the five Made Smarter Innovation challenge objectives.

Full details of the funding call are available on our funding opportunities page.

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Resources

Open Funding Call – Launch Webinar

Hear from the InterAct Network team as they discuss the specifics InterAct Open Funding Call in this launch webinar.

The InterAct Open Funding Call is a single Commissioned Research call with a budget of £400,000. There will be up to eight awards, with no minimum value for a request, but the maximum that shall be awarded to any single project is £62,500 (at 100% FEC), of which 80% will be funded by InterAct (i.e., £50,000 maximum funding for a single project).

Projects are welcomed from a broad range of economic and social sciences, that will create ‘actionable insights’ to support the delivery of the five Made Smarter Innovation challenge objectives.

Full details of the funding call are available on our funding opportunities page.

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News

InterAct visits Siemens for National Manufacturing Day

The InterAct team, in collaboration with Make UK and Midlands Engine, recently launched a joint research programme – ‘Digital Future of Manufacturing Ecosystems’. The project aims to identify the ‘Vision 2040’ for the UK manufacturing industry and develop digital roadmaps to support the transition.

Our partners Make UK are spearheading the effort to broaden the appeal of manufacturing careers and build excitement around the industry. On Thursday, 7th July, they held National Manufacturing Day 2022. This annual celebration is a day for companies to open their doors and generate national recognition of the manufacturing sector.

InterAct, as a Made Smarter Innovation funded network, joined this effort with our first Discovery Day event, focused on the ‘Digital Future of Manufacturing Ecosystems’.

We welcomed guests from across the academic, manufacturing and digital technology sectors to join us at Siemens‘ factory in Congleton, Cheshire. Attendees had the opportunity to take part in a guided tour of key workstations within the factory environment and hear from Siemens staff about the benefits of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in a business environment.

InterAct Co-director and Principal Investigator of the Digital Future of Manufacturing Ecosystems, Professor Jan Godsell further elaborated on the innovative work of her team in regards to supply chains and digitalisation in the manufacturing environment.

Participants were then encouraged to discuss the importance of incorporating new research in industry, developing new ideas and building mutually beneficial relationships.

Professor Godsell said: “I’m pleased to have welcomed such an engaging and varied audience for our first Discovery Day. It’s fantastic to see how much the InterAct community has grown in the months since the programme’s foundation.

“I’d like to thank Siemens for their kind offer to host this event at their premises, where we’ve been able to showcase the practical benefits to businesses of engaging with researchers to help develop their future plans.

“We hope to carry forward this positive momentum into the coming months and years, working closely with our partners at MakeUK and Midlands Engine to shape the future of manufacturing ecosystems. I’m looking forward to welcoming many more new faces at our next events and I hope our community will continue to engage with the programme.”

If you have extensive experience in manufacturing operations, supply chain management, circular economy, sustainability, or industrial digital technology and would like to contribute to the work of the ‘Digital Future of Manufacturing Ecosystems’ team, then consider taking part in our expert interviews.

Contact Frances Zhang: w.zhang4@lboro.ac.uk to find out more about participating.

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InterAct Blog

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Future of Work

Professor Robert Stewart

A host of publications in the grey and academic literatures herald the emergence of smart manufacturing and the digital transformations brought on by new waves of technological innovation. In manufacturing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or 4IR) is the overarching socio-technical term, sometimes used to describe the changes arising from these emerging digital technologies and practices.

Smart manufacturing combines the automation of tasks, the digitisation of processes and co-ordinating platforms of digital networks alongside technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Like the previous three Industrial Revolutions that used steam to mechanise production, electricity to power mass production, and electronic advances in information technology to automate production, smart manufacturing represents a systematic step change. This is because of the scale and complexity of integrating various advanced digital technologies (ADTs) and digitised data in manufacturing production and distribution systems.

Some of the most cited technologies include the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber-physical systems, big data analytics, cloud (and quantum) computing, additive manufacturing, 3-D printing, advanced robotics, augmented reality and blockchain technology: a landscape that is emerging and evolving through innovation, synergy and combination.

For manufacturers there are strong digitalisation incentives: longer product lifecycles, increased operational visibility, reduced costs, optimised production cycles and direct relationships with consumers. Digital servitization is the process of providing bundles of products, services and tools (e.g. big data) for greater customer value. Fuelled by cloud computing, IoT allows the multiple interconnections of (unique) ADTs, while sensors and rendering devices provide a digital intelligence to generate real-time data and actions. These along with big data analytics and platforming enable a shift to Business-to-Customer (B2C) models: greater market reach, faster product to market cycles, more brand control, opportunities to give added-value digital intelligence to products and the collection of customer usage data to inform design and product improvements interfaced with e-commerce platforming.

Digitalisation is depicted as an (yet) uncharted blue-sky horizon of technological development whose haze blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds: a fusion of technologies that will shape manufacturing sectors, workforces, jobs (their content, design, regulation and protection) and business models in the coming years. For manufacturers, the future script is one of opportunity and uncertainty: continuing and rapid product innovation as companies vie to integrate and develop their digital toy boxes of tools, products and markets.

Smart manufacturers will have to blend ADTs with the digital skills and unique attributes of people to lever their productivity gains. Typical of publications in the grey literatures, Deloitte offer an idealised vision of the types of high-skill, high-tech white-collar graduate-level jobs and roles that smart manufacturing will generate in the very near future. These stand in stark contrast to the often-stereotypical images of older, dirty, risky, and repetitive blue-collar factory jobs that can sometimes haunt images of the sector.

Deloitte outline six prototype jobs and three of these are described as examples: the Digital Twin Engineer who can ‘virtually’ look inside physical assets, systems and structures to optimise design, performance, predict maintenance and improve customer experience; the Robot Teaming Co-ordinator who trains people and bots to work collaboratively; and a popular example often cited in the literature, the Smart Factory Manager, with responsibilities for production, quality control, inventory, connectivity and analytics. Common to all these roles is the use of sophisticated co-ordinated ADT systems, AI and the support of co-bot teams working alongside people at different levels of production and distribution.

Against the backdrop of this digital toolbox meze there is no shortage of some very familiar challenges for work and employment. Automation is strongly associated with job polarisation and the decline in the share of mid-pay mid-skill jobs observed throughout leading western economies in recent decades. Digital production processes and platforming are usually negatively linked (especially in the retail and hospitality sectors) with job (and role) fragmentation and an increase in (the sometimes precarious) work that differs from the standard relationship of permanent, full-time and secure employment (i.e. ‘gig economies’).

Some of these issues may seem very distant from Deloitte’s clean, slick and precise white-collar smart manufacturing settings outlined above, in job design, smart manufacturers will still have to be savvy enough to address the issue of how to attract talent and create meaningful work: higher pay, access to employee benefits and work that is interesting. There are still several broad workforce challenges to be faced: work architecture, workforce skills and (re)training (attracting and retaining digital talent), and what this means for human resources, organisational and job/task design (and processes), strategic organisational leadership, capabilities and cultures. Working in smart manufacturing will also have the potential to raise concerns about greater data-driven employee monitoring and exposure to physical and psychosocial risks arising from constant connectivity and the overlap of work and non-work time.

A strong theme in the literature are the demands for high-skill smart manufacturing workforces with digital and ‘soft’ skills. A recent World Economic Forum study highlighted that the top 10 skills for the next decade include what we think of as essential human skills – critical thinking, creativity and people management – alongside technical digital skills. ‘Essential’ human skills are the things that cannot be automated (yet). This puts the emphasis on retraining existing manufacturing workforces, building ‘soft’ skilled workforce capacities and more widely, being able to attract and retain ‘digital people’ talent. To support the latter, there may be markedly better opportunities created in high-tech smart manufacturing settings for equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives around working time flexibility and the labour market integration of specific groups, such as women and those with more domestic care responsibilities and health issues. Also, as products, services, workforces and supply chains become increasingly connected, this results in new chains of value creation increasing the potential for more employee-led innovations, and distributed leadership to create more opportunities for change and building capacities for improvements to products and customer services.

A major workforce challenge in transitions to smart manufacturing will be fears about job substitution and the destruction of jobs (automageddon) by the rise of the bots (and their new co-bot allies). Automation has always been the harbinger of apprehension about its consequences for jobs and aggregate levels of employment: the jobs that people can do, the tasks they will perform and the new key skills that workers will have to acquire. This is a popular image of automation even though technology also creates many new jobs.

Historically, labour markets have always accommodated and absorbed automation. Technology complements workers skills and increases their task performance, while eliminating those manual and repetitive tasks that are easier to automate. Although technology has historically had little adverse impact on aggregate employment, this still masks some underlying processes of job destruction and creation in particular sectors and groups of workers. Initially, automation complemented low-skill work. Later, it substituted for it while complementing middle and high-skill work. Today it complements high-skill work but often substitutes for middle-skill work. It is reasonable to expect that these technology-related effects in smart manufacturing will rhythmically evolve, emerge and once again change in the future.

A significant limitation of current debates in automation and smart manufacturing is that it is very difficult to predict future levels of employment given the relative recency and quality of existing studies that are trying to map events that are still emerging in ‘real time’. There is still a great deal of speculation and uncertainty about what will happen as smart manufacturing sectors emerge, grow and develop. The Babbage Repot makes it clear that smart manufacturing is largely concentrated in larger sized companies in ten developed economies who tend to be those who make the greater share of new technology patents, investments, adoptions and implementations. Equally important but relatively understudied, are questions about how smart manufacturers influence the design of work and jobs, and which tasks/skills can be substituted, complemented or augmented. The mechanisms by which smart manufacturing technology complements/ arguments jobs and tasks are not well understood, nor the strategic decisions that companies’ make around technology investments. In this sense, there are interesting issues about workforce engagement and dialogue: and how smart manufacturers anticipate, plan and strategically balance decisions about technological investment alongside workforce issues.

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InterAct Blog

Distributed leadership as a route to innovation and productivity in advanced manufacturing

Professor Colin Lindsay

New ways of working and leading in manufacturing

Advanced technologies such as robotics and AI, and other forms of digital innovation, open up important new opportunities for the transformation of work in UK manufacturing, with potential benefits for employees in terms of job quality and wellbeing, and for businesses in terms of improvements in productivity and innovation performance.

However, there are concerns that these benefits may not be fully realised if manufacturing businesses fail to innovate their leadership and people management practices to empower people to deploy technologies in an agile and effective way. Our research for the ESRC InterAct Network is working with manufacturing businesses to explore exactly these issues; what sort of changes in work organisation, people management and leadership are required if manufacturing employees across teams are to contribute to driving innovation and productivity?

One important clue as to what’s needed in leadership development might be provided by an emerging evidence base on the impact of ‘distributed leadership’ practices. 

Distributed leadership and empowering people to innovate

One potential constraint on innovation in organisations is the concentration of leadership roles and authority among a small cadre of senior managers. That’s why in a range of organisations, especially in public services such as education and healthcare, there is growing interest in the value of an alternative approach of distributed leadership: “an approach to leadership that endorses work practices that combine knowledge, abilities and skills of many individuals… creating opportunities for leadership to emerge from individuals at all grades and levels within a team or organisation”.  For example, Professor Graeme Currie and colleagues have argued that effective distributed leadership has been, and will continue to be, crucial to healthcare systems’ responses to the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s interesting that much of the current research on the challenges and opportunities of distributed leadership focuses on public services and other service sectors, with somewhat less interest from those studying manufacturing innovation. This is despite the fact that some of the seminal research on distributed leadership focused on its impact in manufacturing – more than thirty years ago, David Barry’s important research on so-called ‘bossless teams’ identified both opportunities in supporting team innovation performance and challenges where team members lacked the skills and resources to lead effectively. David Teece’s seminal work on dynamic capabilities – “the firm’s ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external resources to address and shape rapidly changing business environments” – is another cornerstone for our research. It is notable that Teece and colleagues also cite distributed leadership as an important practice for dynamic and agile organisations in manufacturing and other sectors.

So, what sort of practices might be required for effective distributed leadership, and what are the potential benefits and risks for manufacturers?

Scoping the potential for distributed leadership as a route to innovation

InterAct Network researchers will be working with leading manufacturers in the coming months to explore what works in effective distributed leadership. But we already have some clues from existing research. Where distributed leadership has contributed to productivity and innovation, organisations have tended to make workplace investments to: develop leadership skills and identify succession pathways; re-design job roles to enhance autonomy; and create protected time and real or virtual spaces for leaders at different levels to collaborate and share ideas. The evidence suggests that these practices might be important, but also that context is crucial. Distributed leadership needs to be calibrated carefully to reflect the needs and capabilities of each organisation.

There are also potential challenges associated with promoting distributed leadership that need to be addressed, including: the risk of a fragmentation of accountability and unclear decision-making; gaps in leadership skills and capabilities; and limits to the time and resources available to people at different levels to participate in leadership activities.

A key theme for our InterAct research in the coming months will focus on how, and how effectively, some of our most innovative manufacturers adopt more distributed models of workplace and organisational leadership; the challenges and limits to such practices; and impacts in terms of job quality and innovation performance.

If you represent a manufacturing organisation and would like to share and learn from good practice in leadership and people management for innovation, join the InterAct Network today.

If you would like to access our free research on leadership and people management for innovation in manufacturing, contact: colin.lindsay@strath.ac.uk.

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News

InterAct co-hosts international webinar on HRM dynamic capabilities

The InterAct team, in collaboration with colleagues at the ESRC PrOPEL Hub, recently hosted a webinar with keynote speakers Dr Paula Apascaritei and Professor Marta Elvira of IESE Business School, Madrid. The webinar: “Navigating uncertainty: How HRM dynamic capabilities contribute to organisational well-being and performance” was chaired by Professor Colin Lindsay of Strathclyde Business School and the InterAct team.  

Dynamic capabilities have been defined as a firm’s ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external resources to address rapidly changing business environments. This means that dynamic and resilient organisations are defined by their capacity to sense and articulate opportunities and threats, seize opportunities, and reconfigure tangible and intangible assets to transform ways of doing business.

How can HRM contribute to dynamic capabilities? Dr Apascaritei and Professor Elvira shared their research on what ‘HRM dynamic capabilities’ might look like in innovative businesses. First, their research points to the need for an HR function that supports ‘knowledge-building’ within and across teams, for example though the creation of real and virtual spaces for employees and managers to collaborate and learn together. Second, they pointed to value of ‘socially integrative’ HR practices, noting the importance of supporting people in different roles to build relationships with colleagues, customers and partners. Lastly, Dr Apascaritei and Professor Elvira pointed to the value of HRM that supports ‘reconfiguring’ capabilities, with an emphasis on cross-skilling and flexible working practices that fit with the innovation priorities of businesses, including in digital manufacturing.

Much of this discussion chimed with ongoing research being conducted by the ‘Future of Work’ team at InterAct. We are working with manufacturing businesses to identify ‘what works’ in people management and learning to maximise the potential of employees at all levels. If you represent a manufacturing organisation interested in learning from and sharing good practice in work organisation and people management for innovation, contact Professor Colin Lindsay – colin.lindsay@strath.ac.uk – to access our free research and consultancy services.

Watch the full video here.

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News

InterAct launches Storytelling Fellowship

The InterAct Network’s latest funding opportunity is now accepting applications. The Storytelling Fellowship programme is designed to help build storytelling capacity and skills among successful applicants, allowing them to deliver more effective impact from their work.

The Storytelling academy team is led by Professor Michael Wilson, Antonia Ligouri, and Research Assistants Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner of Loughborough University. This team are experts in the art of digital storytelling, combining their extensive experience to develop an engaging programme of professional development.

The programme aims to use stories to make actionable insights generated from business and research more accessible to end users, the InterAct network, and society at large.

Discussing the project, Professor Wilson said: “This continuous flow of stories between our core stakeholder groups offers opportunities for knowledge exchange and community building, ensuring that evidence from academia and industry both feeds into, and is informed by, policy.

We’re excited to be involved in the InterAct Network, contributing this key part of the programme, as we attempt to bring an innovative approach to how research and subsequent insights are disseminated.”

If you are interested in participating in the InterAct Storytelling Fellowship, you can read further information and apply here.

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InterAct Blog

The Future of the Economy

Professor Vania Sena

The Future of the Economy is one of the three substantive research streams of the InterAct programme.

Digitalisation is central to the new generation of manufacturing systems and processes. The diffusion of new digital technologies creates distinctive challenges to firms and organizations, in terms of the adoption of new technologies as well as the management of transition.

Digitalisation may disrupt existing firms while accelerating new venture creation and change the existing industrial structure. Eventually, this will affect the structure of the wider economy and it will be shaped according to the needs and benefits of digitilsation across industry.

It is the aim of our Future of the Economy workgroup to investigate these impacts and generate actionable insights that will allow businesses to prepare for major changes to the way the manufacturing sector operates.

Our focus is distributed between three key areas:

Digitalisation, diffusion, and high growth

Crucially, digital technologies can help reconfigure capabilities within companies and across industries. Eventually this may alter all aspects of the UK’s industrial fabric by reshaping the drivers of high growth. However, so far, there is limited understanding of how this will happen. There is an expectation that the digitalisation will alter the structure of the knowledge networks of the UK economy, and this will change the nature of linkages among sectors. If so, what new linkages will emerge and how can we map them? How does knowledge diffuse across industries? What are the new channels of diffusion?

Digitalisation, industrial structure, and social mobility

We know digital technologies may lead to the emergence of ‘superstar’ manufacturing firms. However, this not the only consequence of digital transformation. Crucially, the combination of new technologies and trade openness has led to rising job polarisation, wage dispersion, and regional divergence. It is argued that new digital technologies may have a similar negative impact, in particular for women and marginalised groups.

What is the impact of digitalisation on social mobility and how can the existing trends be offset? Importantly, what institutions need to be in place to maximise social mobility and inclusivity? In this respect education and training are key factors that can offset these trends.

Evidence from many countries suggests that dedicated centres of innovation linking industry stakeholders can help develop new programmes for re-skilling. The UK already has some of these types of facilities which could be better exploited to galvanise industry-wide change. This is essential so that digitalisation may lead to local technological diversification. As such, if marshalled within a broader coordinated national policy response involving all stakeholders, digital technologies have the potential to help society make significant progress on societal challenges such as inclusivity as well as social mobility. 

Digitalisation, the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, and trade

Digital transformation creates tensions on the shape and the geography of the economy. Although often overlooked, these changes can be highly disruptive, as new generations of digital technologies replace and reshape industries, altering the geography of production as a result. Enhanced manufacturing performance can potentially help the ‘Levelling Up’ of many regions and indeed UK evidence already suggests that there are long-term local productivity advantages to the early adoption of digital technologies.

The fact that the levels of patenting activity, and particularly ICT-patenting activity, of the UK’s major manufacturing regions tends to be no more than ‘moderate’ by European standards further emphasises how important the rapid take-up of these digitalisation technologies is for the ‘Levelling Up’ Challenge.

SMEs are often at a financial as well as a technical disadvantage to deploy new capital-intensive technologies; at the same time, UK manufacturing is also more exposed to Brexit than other sectors, a trade shock which will impose significant costs to UK industry over those in other countries.

We want to address these two research questions:

  • How can the diffusion of digital technologies in UK manufacturing contribute to the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda?
  • How will the UK’s trade structures change in response to the manufacturing sector’s uptake of digital technologies?

The projects under the Future of the Economy workstream will examine the likely effects of digitalisation in manufacturing the context of the wider inter-industry, inter-regional, and international linkages evident in UK manufacturing. This will allow us to measure the impacts of digital transformations at the sectoral and regional scale and to consider the impacts of different digital-adoption scenarios across industries.

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News

InterAct joins the manufacturing community at MACH22

The InterAct team joined representatives from across the manufacturing sector at this years MACH exhibition to showcase the work and aims of the Network.

Exhibiting at MACH as part of the Made Smarter stand from Wednesday 7th to Thursday 8th April, we had the chance to share our vision for the future of human insights in manufacturing with a wide range of new stakeholders.

The InterAct exhibition presence was accompanied by a talk from Co-director, Professor Jan Godsell, who shared her thoughts on how supply chain innovation could help businesses to ‘build back better’ in the wake of COVID.

This talk encompassed the creation of new business models, that decouple consumption from production, the need to break the traditional linear view of supply chains, keeping products in their highest value state, and reuse, repair, and remanufacturing.

Professor Godsell said: “We can no longer think of manufacturing and logistics as separate considerations. Businesses need to develop their planning to design products, processes and supply chains concurrently.

“It is vital that the business solutions that we decide to adopt today, align with the needs of a truly sustainable, productive future. If your organisation is looking to make a change in the way you approach business cases, then look out for the results of our first Systematic Reviews.”