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InterAct partners with GW+Co to start change in manufacturing perceptions

Recent InterAct research from the Strathclyde University based ‘Future of Work’ team has highlighted the major issue of UK public perception of the manufacturing sector. In the emerging ‘war for talent’, perceptions are essential to providing a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of the sector and the desirability of working in manufacturing. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’, but ultimately they significantly shape the workforce of the future.

In an effort to start changing the narrative around manufacturing, InterAct has partnered with expert creative change consultants GW+Co to deliver an online workshop for manufacturing leaders on 23rd May. The session explored the underlying issues for manufacturing, address the myths of modern branding and introduce ways for you to enact meaningful change within your business.

An image of online workshop participants.

Attendees had the chance to work with GW+Co’s CEO, Gilmar Wendt, to learn about his innovative approach to tackling the brand and perception challenges of their own organisations, including:

  • How three manufacturing businesses have changed perceptions by aligning their people with brand, culture, and strategy.
  • Tools and approaches that deliver successful brands by tapping into the existing skills and knowledge within a business.
  • Training in a technique developed by GW+Co that helps businesses to identify the pitfalls specific to their business, and documents outcomes in a way that ensure project success and team cohesion.

If you are interested in learning more about the perception challenge facing the manufacturing sector, read our recent reports, which will be joined later this year by further work on practical guidance for rebranding.

You can listen to a summary of some of the key takeaways from the report by Dr. Robert Stewart for ManufacturingTV below

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InterAct joins Innovate UK’s Made Smarter Innovation Showcase

On the 5th June, Innovate UK’s Made Smarter Innovation Showcase took place at Smart Factory Expo.

For the past four years, Made Smarter Innovation Alley at Smart Factory Expo has been a key platform for connecting technology companies with manufacturers, however this year it had a strong focus on celebrating the incredible achievement of organisations the industrial challenge (ISCF) has supported.

The event was an opportunity for the dynamic display of cutting-edge companies and academic organisations. The showcase highlighted success stories where organisations have leveraged the Challenge’s support to become leaders in areas like carbon abatement, resilience, and productivity and people running through the heart of the Showcase.

Smart Factory Expo saw over 13,000 attendees across the 2 days who explored over 200 exhibitions. Made Smarter Innovation hosted over 30 organisations, including InterAct, on their stand.

Made Smarter Innovation supported a number of engaging talks across the Smart Factory Expo theatres:

InterAct also had the chance to showcase the latest animated videos from the ‘Insights from History’ project, highlighting the important lessons for innovators that can be drawn from past industrial revolutions. You can watch the full series on our YouTube channel.

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InterAct delivers message of human insight driven digitalisation at MACH24 and Future of UK Manufacturing Conference

On 16th April, InterAct Co-directors Professor Janet Godsell and Professor Jillian MacBryde joined audiences from across the manufacturing, digital technology, policy and academic communities at MACH24 and the ‘Future of UK Manufacturing’ Conference to discuss the strides InterAct is making to deliver new human insights into the digitalisation of manufacturing.

MACH24 is one of the UK’s largest manufacturing focused trade shows, bringing together over 500 exhibitors – all eager to showcase their latest cutting edge, innovative products and services across many sectors. InterAct was present for three days this year, with a stand in the Engineering Supply Chain Show where researchers and InterAct staff had the chance to engage with dozens of businesses.

The ‘Future of UK Manufacturing’ conference is an event organised by High Value Manufacturing Catapult, EPSRC and the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge, which brings together leaders from academia, government and industry. This year’s line up of speakers included: Sarah Sharples, Chief Scientific Advisor for the Department for Transport, Katherine Bennett CBE from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Benjamin Nicol from the Advanced Manufacturing team at the Department for Business and Trade, and Professor Jillian MacBryde, InterAct Co-director and Vice-Dean of Strathclyde Business School.

Visiting the events at the NEC, Birmingham and Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield respectively, Professors Godsell and MacBryde delivered talks focusing on the scope of the InterAct Network’s projects, our growth over the past two years and the exciting forthcoming research outputs.

Discussing her session at the ‘Future of UK Manufacturing’ conference, Professor MacBryde said: “It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to be here with so many voices from across the industry, policy, and academic divide, all discussing how we can drive forward a bold vision for the future of manufacturing in the UK.

We are conducting a lot of really valuable work concerning the integral role of people and human insights in the digitalisation process, and it’s been great to have the opportunity to deliver a overview of what we’re doing to such a receptive audience. The discussions we’ve engaged in here today will definitely help to inform our research going forward.”

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Made Smarter Centre for People-Led Digitalisation launches call for papers

To improve productivity and efficiency the manufacturing sector has regularly looked to evolve its systems and embrace new technologies. More recently the pace of change has intensified as we see the emergence of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, digital twins, advanced analytics, cobotics, and smart manufacturing. Learning from past challenges, particularly in the 1980s when the adoption of robotics faced obstacles due to insufficient consideration of human factors, centres like the Made Smarter Innovation: Centre for People-Led Digitalisation have recognised the important role that people play in the adoption and acceptance of new technologies.

Although digital technologies have the promise of creating significant economic, environmental and societal benefits, they also have the potential to substantially alter the future of work – the jobs people do and how people work. The world is currently at a crucial decision point – what do we want the future of work to look like?

Taking a people-led approach to digitalisation aims at improving the outcome of the adoption of digital technologies. This is achieved through prior explicit consideration and planned appropriate action that prioritises human needs and working patterns in the design and implementation of digitalised work systems.

The team at People-Led Digitalisation are seeking to publish innovative research which explores the human element of digitalisation, be that in the design of digital technologies or the implementation of digital technologies within a manufacturing environment.

They are welcoming original research, reviews, impact and industrial case studies, from the perspective of improving manufacturing performance such as (but not limited to); increased productivity, reduction in environmental impacts, re-imagining manufacturing jobs, people-led digital change. The following top-level themes should be used as a basis:

• The future of work in manufacturing to 2030 and beyond,
• Stakeholder engagement in digital change,
• Digital skills,
• Industrial Digital Tools for good work,
• Metrics of success in digitalisation projects,
• Enablers and barriers to the adoption of digital technologies,
• Readiness for digital change,
• People-led approach to design of digital technologies.

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InterAct ‘Future of Work’ team publishes new report on perceptions of manufacturing

The InterAct ‘Future of Work’ team consisting of Dr. Robert Stewart, Professor Jill MacBryde, Professor Colin Lindsay and Carolina Marin Cadavid (University of Strathclyde) have published a new report drawing from their 2023 survey of UK public perceptions of manufacturing. ‘Making Things Work’ – Perceptions of Manufacturing is an insightful examination of the survey findings that looks at issues such as:

  • Whether people still value (and how positive they feel about) manufacturing in the post-industrial economy, and their awareness of manufacturing in the media
  • What people associate with manufacturing work and jobs, and what qualities they are looking for in jobs that need to be reflected in job offers to attract talent
  • The perceived quality of manufacturing jobs for those currently working in (or familiar with) the sector and whether people would encourage others to enter the sector
  • How new manufacturing technologies are likely to change future jobs and careers in manufacturing
  • How can the sector best attract emerging young and ‘untapped’ talent

Discussing the report findings, Dr. Robert Stewart said: “In the ‘war for talent’ perceptions matter because they provide a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of the sector and working in manufacturing. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’ but ultimately this matters more to many of the people we interviewed than employers and industry stakeholders.

However, if you are wondering how people in the UK look at the sector, or how employers should be best positioned to attract people into manufacturing, ignore them at your peril.

Our results throw up some surprising and interesting findings that we hope will offer insight to, and spark further investigation from, academics, employers, industry stakeholders and UK policy makers.”

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Supply Chain Superwomen boldly draw the future

By Helen Armstrong

“Companies need to figure out now how to survive in the future by selling less.” That was the message Professor Janet Godsell conveyed to female supply chain executives at Supply Chain Superwomen. The event, organised by Supply Chain Media to mark International Women’s Day, proved to be a unique opportunity to share supply chain challenges and visualise future scenarios in an open atmosphere.

Female supply chain executives gathered from across Europe at a hotel at Schiphol Airport on 8 March to attend Supply Chain Superwomen. For many of the 45 participants, normally outnumbered by their male colleagues, the event proved to be an eye-opener as they suddenly realised how many women hold top positions in their field. Supply Chain Superwomen was an opportunity to support each other as role models and to encourage more women to run for top jobs.

Diversity leads to higher profitability

“We need to attract more women into supply chain,” said Martijn Lofvers, founder and chief trendwatcher of Supply Chain Media and chair of the event. “Not only do we have to enlarge the supply chain talent pool, we also know that diversity leads to higher profitability as it brings more insight, better decision-making and it drives innovation.”

According to a recent Gartner and Awesome report the percentage of women in the supply chain workforce in 2023 was 41%, compared with 35% in 2016. Just 34% of first line managers are female, falling further to 31% at senior management level and 26% at senior vice president level. “The percentage of women in supply chain is rising, but it’s not fast enough and requires more action by the talents themselves, their managers and HR managers. It is also imperative for the talents to have a supporting sponsor,’’ said Lofvers.

Building future scenarios

With the focus of the event on innovation, Professor Janet Godsell, dean of Loughborough Business School, UK, was invited to lead a workshop on building future scenarios to stimulate the delegates to think out of the box, to start a journey and to make a bolder first step.

“Women need to be brave in organizations to make disruption,” she said. “Since the industrial revolution we have pursued consumption-driven economic growth based not on what we need but on what we want. Now we recognize that this is destroying the planet, hampering social equity and widening the gap between rich and poor,’’ said Godsell.

Surviving with less sales

‘‘Today we are at a pivotal point and we need to make a fundamental change in the way we pursue growth in order to better balance the environmental, social and economic cost of growth. Looking to the future we have to consider the challenges, the trade-offs and the opportunities. Companies today have to work out how to survive in the future by selling less.”

With that in mind, the workshop based on backcasting, a visual approach to scenario-building by creating postcards, stimulated discussion, decision-making and most importantly drawings that depicted the future, in this case 2040. “Backcasting tries to shake people out of their current mind-set and to get them thinking differently about how a digitally-enabled supply chain can look,” explained Godsell.

Dragon’s Den

Earlier in the day three start-ups were invited to enter the Dragons’ Den and deliver their pitches: Lox Solution, which coordinates all carriers during the last-mile delivery, The Climate Choice, an intelligence platform that collects and audits data to enable scope 3 decarbonization, and Winddle, a supply chain collaborative platform to create ecosystems.

The delegates were invited to spend their money – poker chips in this case – on the start-up that had most potential to help them with their supply chain challenges. While all three were relevant, managing sustainability was the biggest issue for many. Consequently, the winner was Lara Obst of The Climate Choice.


This article was originally published by Supply Chain Movement.

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InterAct partners with Made Smarter Adoption for ‘Technology Transfer Workshop’

As part of Leicester’s Innovation Festival, InterAct partnered with Made Smarter East Midlands (MSEM) to host the latest in their series of Technology Transfer Workshops titled, ‘Increasing Productivity through the Adoption of Digital Technology’ on 9th February, 2024.

The InterAct and MSEM teams gathered a sizeable audience of manufacturers to hear from four Industrial Digital Technology (IDT) providers about solutions designed to assist SME’s with increasing productivity, and the InterAct funded, human insight focused research that can help to support successful implementation.

Attendees had the chance to learn about best practice for adopting new manufacturing technology, minimising implementation time, and maximising upside. Our guest speakers drew on a wealth of expertise to discuss the risks, key challenges, and considerations in adopting digital technology.

Presenters sharing the technologies on offer included:

  • Phil Tonge and Mark Lees of TQC – discussing their design and supply assembly automation, robotics, and testing equipment services.
  • George Slater of FourJaw – examining the how manufacturing analytics technology can use new and existing operational information to power data-driven production planning and strategy.
  • Vignaes Rajesh and Chris Pavelin of Sensopart – delivering a presentation on optical sensors and vision-guided robotic solutions.
  • Nicola Ballantyne of MESTEC – explaining the benefits of MESTEC’s integration of a manufacturing execution system with a traditional ERP framework to integrated front and back office functions more effectively.

Participants then had the opportunity to hear from two InterAct funded researchers from the University of East Anglia, Dr. Dimitrios Dousios and Dr. Antonios Karatzas about their work on application of digitally servitized business models for SME manufacturers. Their online tool offers decision-makers the means to diagnose the contextual and organisational conditions of their business and determine the suitability of digital servitization business models. You can access their full report and toolkit here.

The event concluded with a panel discussion featuring technology providers and InterAct researchers, discussing the challenges associated with digital implementation and improving productivity within the sector, followed by a general networking session and showcase opportunity for businesses and Made Smarter investments.


Made Smarter East Midlands – ‘Technology Transfer Workshops’ are a dynamic series of events dedicated to empowering manufacturing Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the East Midlands. Presented by Made Smarter East Midlands, these workshops are specifically designed to show how the adoption of digital technology can help manufacturers solve everyday challenges and capitalise on new opportunities. To find out more about how Made Smarter Adoption can help you, and keep up to date with upcoming events, visit their website.

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UK automotive industry vulnerability revealed in new research findings

The UK faces being left behind in the electric vehicle revolution, economists have today warned.

Researchers have called for urgent policy intervention and a focused effort to ensure the UK’s automotive industry remains a critical pillar of the British economy.

The report, entitled Powering the Future: Aligning Economic Policy for Automotive Sector Resilience in the face of Critical Material Challenges, offers a comprehensive analysis of the UK’s EV industry.

Researchers Jun Du and Oleksandr Shepotylo, from Aston University’s Centre for Business Prosperity, found that the UK is in a weak position to capitalise on the EV revolution and immediate market opportunities – and such is the pace of change, the opportunity won’t wait for policy makers to catch up.

The UK is currently heavily exposed through its critical dependency on battery imports, with imports exceeding exports by 10.5 times.

Germany continues to lead the global market in the value of EV exports, whilst China now leads in terms of the number of EVs exported.

The UK’s position is further weakened by the resilience of the EU as a formidable EV market. The EU has made efforts to tackle the dependency on China for its battery imports by investing in production capacity in areas such as Poland, coupled with EU interventions such as the Green Deal which provides a simplified regulatory environment, faster access to funding and skills and supply chain development. 

Moreover, the UK relies on sourcing materials from the rest of the world outside of the EU, coupled with higher prices making compliance with regulations more challenging.

The report warns that the UK risks a continued critical dependency on battery imports while its EU competitors are reducing the risk. 

Strikingly the report shines a light on the level of Government intervention in the EU, US and China, all have coherent industrial strategy that capitalise on the shift to Net Zero, whilst the UK does not, favouring a reactive sticking plaster approach, such as the short term extension of Rules of Origin deadline with the EU. Whilst this provides respite to the UK the risk is that the gap with its competitors widens.  

Jun Du, Professor of Economics at Aston Business School, said: “Cultivating a resilient and competitive UK automotive industry demands policy ideas that align with the ever-evolving dynamics of the global electric vehicle market.

“Our research highlights the weakness of the UK’s current position and outlines the strategic interventions urgently needed to fortify the UK’s interests and navigate the transformative landscape of the electric vehicle revolution.

“The implementation of these recommendations can effectively cement the UK’s leadership position in the realm of electric mobility, ensuring enduring growth, competitiveness, and innovation.”

The report outlines a three-point plan for automotive sector resilience. This crucial roadmap sets out the steps the UK must take to fortify its presence in the global EV market. 

The recommendations strategically target global opportunities in the EV revolution, advocate for the optimisation of trade policy, call for strategic investments in EV battery production, emphasise the imperative of crafting a future-ready industrial strategy, and underscore the significance of continuous monitoring of global value chains.

For further information, contact Professor Jun Du.


This press release was originally published by Aston Business School.

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InterAct features in latest Midlands Engine ‘State of the Region’ report

The Midlands Engine Observatory’s State of the Region 2023 report is now available to read, this edition features a spotlight on the practical partnership between Midlands Engine and the InterAct Network as part of the Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems project.

Each year since 2019, the Observatory has gathered together a wealth of data to provide a snapshot of how the Midlands is faring and where the key opportunities lie.

The 2023 report details a challenging twelve months across the Midlands and the UK.

The report is split into two sections, based on the business plan published by the Midlands Engine earlier this year.

The first half explores how the region fared in terms of our key economic drivers: increasing productivity; innovating across sectors; building infrastructure for growth and increasing investment.

More in-depth stats are presented in a thematic deep-dive section covering the Midlands Engine’s five key themes: Green Growth; Advanced Manufacturing; Food & Agri-tech; Med-tech and Life sciences and New Market Opportunities.

InterAct is pleased to continue working with Midlands Engine as the Network moves into it’s final year of research. Following the sucessful development of the Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems ‘Scenarios 2040’ report, InterAct will be hosting workshops focusing on the agri-food and medical technology sectors followed by in depth case studies of three midlands based manufacturing firms outlined in the report.

Discussing planned collaboration, InterAct Co-director, Professor Jan Godsell said: “At InterAct, we’re committed to working with businesses
to help shape and co-develop our research to achieve the greatest benefits for regional and UK wide manufacturing.

By focusing our case study on the Midlands, we have a unique opportunity to support the thriving industrial base here and enable them to establish future systems of digital manufacturing – creating more resilient and prosperous supply chains which will enhance the productivity of the region and provide a blueprint for wider applicability to the rest of the country.”

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Future of the Economy ‘Discovery Day’ held at AMRC Factory 2050

InterAct researchers from the University of Sheffield based ‘Future of the Economy’ team led by Professor Vania Sena hosted the first of their Discovery Day events at the AMRC Factory 2050 on 16th November, 2023. Opened in April 2017, the venue is a fully reconfigurable assembly and component manufacturing facility for collaborative research, capable of rapidly switching production between different high-value components and one-off parts for prototyping and research and development.

This half-day workshop offered InterAct stakeholders from across the manufacturing and industrial digital technology sectors a chance to be introduced to part of the core mission of the Future of the Economy workstream.

The Discovery Day delved into the significance of advanced manufacturing zones, particularly in regional development, primarily focusing on South Yorkshire. The practical implications of these zones, the decision making behind them, and the strategy used was examined in detail by guest speaker Joseph Quinn of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA). He shed light on the transformative potential of these zones in terms of job creation, economic growth, and innovation.

Joseph Quinn presents on the work of the SYMCA

Professor Sena explained to participants the initial findings of the team’s research and understanding of the multifaceted impacts of investment zones on the future of the UK economy. They then had the chance to pose questions understand the challenges and opportunities in advanced manufacturing, a theme intrinsically linked to the economic landscape and outlook.

Following this session, attendees were invited to take part in a tour of the exciting and innovative facilities within the AMRC Factory 2050. Putting into context the overall mission of InterAct to help facilitate the introduction of new industrial digital technology into manufacturing, visitors were able to engage with a variety of cutting edge technologies with input from the AMRC staff.

Attendees examine one of the industrial technologies on display at the Factory 2050