In February 2023, the InterAct team based in the Business School at Strathclyde University conducted an online survey asking the opinions of a representative sample of 2100 people across the UK what they think about the attractiveness of modern manufacturing jobs and careers. Their survey is topical and timely, offering academics, policy makers, trade bodies, industry commentators and employers a fresh and stimulating in-depth insight into public opinion about working in this sector at the present time and in the future.
They are primarily interested in what factors shape people’s views on UK manufacturing but we know very little about how people of different gender, ages and ethnicities look at the sector and as a potential career destination of ‘choice’. We know that manufacturing may be associated with some older perceptions of repetitive and insecure job but Industry 4.0 (advanced digital manufacturing) potentially changes future jobs and careers in the sector with a bigger emphasis on having people with innovation, problem-solving, creative and digital skills. To achieve this (and competing against other industries), advanced manufacturers will have to broaden the appeal of the sector to younger or mid-career workers, and people in under-represented groups such as women and minorities.
They asked the UK public questions on some key issues and big debates: the importance of the manufacturing sector for the wider UK economy; the ‘quality’ of manufacturing jobs; and about what work may look like in the years ahead. Will some manufacturers have to give more thought to how they invest in people and support worker engagement, wellbeing and skills? Will new advanced digital manufacturing technologies offer more interesting and rewarding jobs and careers? Alternatively, will more technologies, robotics and AI just generate concerns about jobs, downskilling and security?
These are all key questions that will resonate with a range of audiences. Our survey will stimulate debate, not just about what people think of UK manufacturing today and what factors help shape their interest, uncertainty or antipathy, but what may lie ahead when the emerging worlds of SMART factories, co-bots and augmented reality are drawing ever closer to our workspaces.
The team is looking to stimulate some further debate on the Future of Work in manufacturing. They welcome comment and opinion from a range of industry stakeholders: academics, policy makers, employers and trade unions.
In 2022 we launched our biggest funding call yet, offering a total of £400,000 of research funding to split among proposals from the InterAct community.
We were delighted with the response we received, competition was very strong and many teams submitted excellent project proposals. Unfortunately, though we wish we could fund all of them, we could only resource some of these. The nine proposals we elected to finance are:
Battery Passports: Readiness of the UK Battery Manufacturing Sector, Ecosystem Opportunities & Implications for UK Industrial Policy
Melanie King – Loughborough University
Paul Timms – Loughborough University
“We both come from a Systems Engineering background and we wanted to look at a pressing issue in the form of battery manufacture from a broader ecosystem standpoint.
“A major element of the push for a net-zero world is the adoption of sustainable energy solutions, particularly for things like electric vehicles. Battery technology is a key component of this and it needs to be done right, such that the development of early solutions doesn’t preclude future opportunities and capabilities.
“We want to find out how ready UK manufacturers are to adopt product passport systems and technology into their business models. As a major trading partner, it is important businesses are aware of, and able to achieve standardisation with EU requirements to ensure they can continue to export products.
“Digital product passports are a really interesting technology that can provide increased efficiency, new business models and servitisation opportunities. They enable proactive maintenance, improved customer service and the possibility of greater circularity in business models which offers us exciting ways to achieve impact.”
The potential of coworking spaces to contribute to geographically distributed manufacturing activity and regional levelling up in the UK
Felicia Fai – University of Bath
Mariachiara Barzotto – University of Bath
Phil Tomlinson – University of Bath
“This project came about as a result of our team’s shared interest in regional development and particularly the levelling up agenda within the UK.
“The development of co-working spaces was already underway before the onset of Covid, but the impact of the pandemic on remote working practices has accelerated this shift. There has been recognition that co-working spaces offer some separation between home and work for those practicing remote work and offer opportunities for social connection and networking. We wanted to further explore this trend, especially light of their growth in suburban areas as people moved out of cities in response to the pandemic.
“Traditionally remote working has been seen by many in the manufacturing sector as impractical given the requirements of physical production, but there are many back office, support, and engineering functions that could be facilitated through co-working spaces. We also plan to examine the impact of ‘maker spaces’ which offer flexible use machinery suitable for early stage testing, fabrication and training to allow more agile manufacturing.”
Exploring remanufacturing practices and business models in the Aerospace Industry: insights from SMEs
Michael Rogerson – University of Surrey
Rachael Lamb – University of Nottingham
Eun Sun Godwin – University of Wolverhampton
“Our project will be examining the circularity of SMEs’ business models in the UK aerospace industry, specifically targeted towards remanufacturing. In practical terms this means examining the actual processes involved in supply chains and factories, the processes involved in reclaiming materials and recreating new products from existing products. Sometimes this means transitioning them into fuel or melting them down for component elements.
“Net-zero targets play a part in this, but the regulatory obligations aren’t pushing these practices as yet. What we want to get across is that business involvement needs to be ahead of likely requirements as a strategic imperative.
“The impact of aerospace industries on climate is a conversation that’s already prominent in the public domain. There is a temptation to see these corporations as distinct from the general public, but they are made up of people who are part of the general public and will likely share these sentiments. We hope that we can highlight the competitive advantage to businesses that being a leader here can offer.”
EVBatteries4Planet – Developing smart capabilities for sustainable and ethical EV battery supply chains
Luciano Batista – Aston University
Jun Du – Aston University
Oleksandr Shepotylo – Aston University
Nestor Lopez – KPMG
“There are several problems with producing the rare metals for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Most notably, there is a growing difference in supply and demand levels, as demand rapidly increases, with car manufacturers racing to adhere to emissions regulations. There are also concerns around serious political instability in some major rare metal producing countries and the environmental impacts of large scale mining operations. This is causing a practical and ethical bottleneck in the production process.
“We want to look at the provenance of resources in use and find ways to encourage recycling and reuse of materials to achieve a sustainable supply chain.
“We want to see how digital technologies like blockchain can be used to help address the problems by creating visibility in global supply chains.”
Industrial digital technologies for UK SME exporting manufacturers
Hanh Pham – University of Leeds
Chee Yew Wong – University of Leeds
Richard Hodgett – University of Leeds
Neil Harriman – Oxford Innovation
David McKee – Slingshot Simulations
“We are delighted to have received this award from InterAct to undertake this project investigating ‘Industrial digital technologies for UK SME exporting manufacturers’. We are aiming to develop a decision-making model for manufacturers’ adoption and utilisation of industrial digital technologies to enhance competitiveness in international markets both as a conceptual model and through web-based applications.
“We anticipate industrial digital technologies will be a game changer in global production networks in the next two decades and UK SME export manufacturers need to prepare to be ahead of the game.
“We hope the outcomes will be used by manufacturers, especially SMEs, as well as digital solution providers, UK policymakers and support agencies to enable an effective transition to the next stage of industrial development.”
Empirical investigation of the role of pairing industrial digital technologies and resource efficiency towards net zero
Taofeeq Ibn-Mohammed – WMG, The University of Warwick
“Our proposal is about investigating the challenges and barriers to adopting and implementing digital technologies to facilitate resource and energy efficiency.
“A lot of previous work has focused on how technology can drive supply and demand side efficiencies. Instead, we want to find out what barriers industry is facing and how these can be mitigated to improve technology uptake. We’re planning to interview key stakeholders from the sector to see if their thoughts mesh with our own findings and get practical, hands-on insight.
“We want to analyse the interconnected nature of these challenges to determine which are the most critical, and if certain key challenge resolutions will have a wider, cascading success across supply chains. This means looking across the board at manufacturing sub-sectors to see if the challenges faced by individual producers are generally applicable to different businesses.”
RESTRAIN: Socio-cultuRal bEhaviour of end-uSers To specific cybeR-threAts In maNufacturing
Muttukrishnan Rajarajan – City University of London
Rajkumar Roy – City University of London
Katy Tapper – City University of London
Paul Hide – Amdea
Jim Fairbairn – Megger Ltd.
“Cybersecurity in the manufacturing environment is a growing area of interest and concern. With the increased adoption of digital technologies, manufacturing is becoming a major target for cyber attacks. One of the biggest vulnerabilities in this regard is human behaviour and attitudes towards cybersecurity.
“Since the pandemic, manufacturing has gone through a huge digital change which has opened up new avenues of attack. What we want to know is, how do we manage behavioural change to ensure cybersecurity improvements and use psychological models to plan new ways to adapt to these changes.
“We will be working with the cyber-resilience centres across the country to establish how the findings of this research can impact the wider manufacturing sector across the UK.”
Standardization and new technology adoption in the housing supply chain: Lessons from the 1930s
Christopher Spencer – Loughborough University
Paul Temple – Consultant (University of Surrey)
“Our contribution to InterAct lies in exploring how Britain’s historical experience of technical standards adoption in the 1930s – particularly those associated with new and emerging technologies – has important lessons for the current and future adoption of industrial digital technologies (IDT).
“We will evaluate the strategic role of the British Standards Institution (BSI) on the housing supply chain during the 1930s. This exploration will be contrasted with the situation today, where the housing supply chain is complex, and for which there is a clear need for increased forward-looking planning and coordination regarding the increasing adoption of IDT and associated IDT standards.
“The project will result in a significant amount of new knowledge in academic, industry and policymaking circles that is relevant to IDT adoption, based on significant historical evidence and contextualisation.”
Business Model Innovation and Digital Servitization in UK Manufacturing Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.
Dimitrios Dousios – University of East Anglia
Antonios Karatzas – University of East Anglia
“Servitization is the provision of products and services in an integrated bundle that can create and sustain value. One issue is that almost all the of existing research in this area has been focused on large firms, with very little focus on SMEs. Meta analysis and systematic reviews have confirmed there is a gap in research done to date.
“Why is this important? SMEs are facing an increasingly competitive, unstable environment with major negative impacts spilling out from energy crises, conflict, and the pandemic. We’re offering our assistance and research insights to help them become more stable and complete by adding service elements to their package offering.
“We’re looking to create infographics, video tutorials, and a roadmap for SMEs to understand their competitive position and to learn how they can use these advanced business models from larger firms to improve competitiveness.
“99.3% of manufacturing firms in the UK are SME’s, but at the moment we don’t understand the boundary conditions that can vary wildly between firms in different stages of their development. By introducing a servitization toolkit, we are providing a hands-on kit of actionable insights that can set them on the road to improvement.”
Designed as a way to facilitate the transformation of human insights gleaned from existing research into outputs providing actionable business intelligence to industry and policymakers, this call offers applicants up to £18,000 of funding to enable this.
Discussing the funding call, InterAct Co-director Professor Janet Godsell said: “We know there is lots of excellent research out there examining the sorts of themes we’re looking at with InterAct. What we want to achieve with this funding opportunity is to spark the creativity of researchers who have carried out this work and provide them with the resources to turn their valuable insights into the kinds of formats that are going to best resonate with those groups that can make use of them.
We want to give people some creative freedom with this, for example researchers may wish to develop reports, videos, apps or website content to name a few ideas. We’re excited to engage with the wider academic community and see what proposals they come up with.”
Opening on Tuesday 24th January 2023, the call will be accepting applications until Friday 21st April 2023.
The InterAct team once again joined a host of manufacturers and digital technology providers from across the UK at this year’s Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool, as part of Digital Manufacturing Week 2022.
Bringing together all the technologies enabling the digital manufacturing revolution under one roof, the Smart Factory Expo provided an opportunity to develop the ongoing collaborations between InterAct’s research programme and the wider sector stakeholders.
Featured among a great array of expert speakers, InterAct Co-directors Professor Jan Godsell and Professor Jillian MacBryde participated in important talks and discussions on the future of manufacturing, what adaptations are needed and how the workforce must change to ensure the industry’s continued success.
Examining the way we talk about manufacturing as an industry, Professor Godsell said: “We need to talk about manufacturing in words people can connect with. Its about providing us with the things we need, when we need them, at the lowest cost, but in a sustainable way”.
This theme was further explored through a collaboration with Made Smarter, prefacing upcoming work from Professor MacBryde’s ‘Future of Work’ research team, creating a wall for attendees to share their own perceptions on what manufacturing is.
As InterAct continues to explore exciting themes around the future of UK manufacturing, we look forward to meeting and interacting with more stakeholders to build the network.
The InterAct ‘Future of Work’ team based in the business school at Strathclyde University are conducting a survey of UK Manufacturers about New Technologies, Agility & People.
Led by InterAct Co-director, Professor Jillian MacBryde, the ‘Future of Work’ research group is seeking to better understand the ways in which we work, how technology will impact the future of these practices and how businesses can adapt to cope with a rapidly shifting competitive environment.
We often hear about how new manufacturing technologies will shape and transform jobs in the sector. Part of the challenge facing many UK employers is trying to understand how these new technologies help productivity. The team want to know how the jobs and skills of today blend into new job and people practices that sit alongside emerging technologies. This survey offers you an opportunity to share your opinions and experience of working within the sector.
The Future of Work group are looking for senior representatives of UK manufacturers to take part in a short 15-minute survey about how their organisation uses these new manufacturing technologies to shape their people practices and facilitate innovation and productivity.
If you would like to hear more about the background of the survey or discuss taking part, please contact project researcher Dr Robert Stewart (email@example.com).
If you would prefer an electronic paper copy of the survey or would prefer to take part in a telephone interview, please send a text to 07901841087 and a member of the team will be in touch.
The survey is completely confidential. Your opinions and your responses are secure and we do not disclose or identify you or your company in any reporting.
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.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org – to access our free research and consultancy services.
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.”
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.”
The InterAct Network has now launched the first funding call for research proposals relating to Systematic Reviews of available literature in two topic areas within the overall Network aims.
The InterAct team launched the opportunity on Wednesday 26 January to an audience of academic and industrial guests via Microsoft Teams. Available in recorded format on the Network YouTube channel, the event addressed the application process and overall themes of the Systematic Reviews, which are:
What can we learn from historical and/or international perspectives on industrial development and evolution?
What impact will the changing nature of business cases have in enabling the adoption of industrial digital technologies?
Researchers from across the UK are invited to submit proposals for the £60,000 funding grants available through an application pack downloaded from the InterAct website.
InterAct co-director, Professor Jan Godsell said: “We’re really excited to be getting our first call underway and seeing how the social and economic science community chooses to engage with the topics we’ve provided.
“This is a great opportunity for researchers to build their career and portfolio, whilst producing outputs that can help to impact the future course of the Network, manufacturing businesses and policy.”