Categories
InterAct Blog

Workshop insights: International Perceptions and Megatrends of Manufacturing

I recently attended a workshop on international perceptions and megatrends in manufacturing. Hosted by Aston Business School, it featured various experts and practitioners sharing their insights on the current manufacturing landscape and the strategies required for its positive future. The research team (Dr Guendalina Anzolin, Dr Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete, Dr Dalila Ribaudo and Yanan Wang) included researchers and practitioners from Aston Business School and the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge. The research is funded by InterAct, a network led by the Economic and Social Research Council and Made Smarter UK.

Initial findings from the research

During the event, the project team shared some initial findings from their research. This has involved a systematic review and expert validation, with a specific focus on how manufacturing is discussed in contexts where digital technologies have been adopted, and widely addressed at the policy level. The analysis encompasses the following countries: Canada, Germany, Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The results emphasised the different connotations manufacturing holds for various demographics and how manufacturing, ranging from robotics to engineering systems, varies in definition based on individual perspectives. There is an observed dichotomy in public perception of the sector, ranging from antiquated views of dirty factories to a modern, automated image. Consequently, while the industry still captures public interest and is deemed essential, there are disparities between generations in understanding its significance.

Furthermore, the research has found familiarity with the sector positively influences opinions, indicating a gap between the familiar and unfamiliar regarding job quality perceptions. The discussion also emphasised the shift of countries from manufacturing to services and explored the importance of a robust manufacturing base for sustainable growth. Gender dimensions and the impact of COVID-19 perceptions on the industry’s role in innovation were also explored.

External speakers

The external speakers included Professor Fumi Kitagawa (City-REDI), Ollie Burrows (West Midlands Growth Company), Stewart McKinlay (National Manufacturing Institute Scotland), and Alain Dilworth (Made Smarter UK) shared initiatives and challenges faced in different regions. From the UK’s creation of the ‘Catapult’ technology and innovation centres focusing on manufacturing-related R&D and emerging technologies, modelled on the German Fraunhofer Institutes, to regional strategies focusing on net-zero, automotive innovation, and the intersection of technology with manufacturing, various initiatives are driving growth and sustainability.

Insights

Insights highlighted a stark disparity between perception and reality, with challenges like labour shortages, health and safety concerns, and the need for upskilling the workforce. Additionally, a Senior Policy Manager at Make UK, highlighted upcoming narratives for the manufacturing sector, especially in the context of elections and economic resilience. Emphasizing net-zero goals and a push to increase manufacturing’s GDP contribution. There was consensus that an overarching industrial strategy is needed focusing on skills, supply chains, and technological advancements.

The workshop offered a comprehensive view of global manufacturing perceptions, challenges, and the need for a strategic shift in how we perceive and position the sector. Addressing misconceptions, advocating for skills development, and aligning policy with industrial strategies emerged as critical themes for the future of manufacturing. As industries navigate an ever-evolving landscape, bridging the gap between perception and reality will be pivotal for sustained growth and innovation in manufacturing worldwide.


This blog was written by Dr Chloe Billing, Research Fellow, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham and originally published online by the University of Birmingham.

Categories
InterAct Blog

Rethinking manufacturing: It is everything, everywhere, all at once

In a world where perceptions shape industries and policies, understanding the narrative surrounding manufacturing is crucial. InterAct has recently published a report which analyses the perceptions of manufacturing in the United Kingdom and compares it with six other countries.

The report “How to make manufacturing charming again? It is everything, everywhere, all at once”, authored by researchers from Aston University and the University of Cambridge, examines the factors that influence these perceptions and tracks how the UK public’s perception has evolved over time.

The aim of the report is to support InterAct research on the future of manufacturing by providing insights into attitudes to manufacturing and industrial strategies, and how manufacturing is discussed in other countries, particularly where digital technologies have been adopted.

Public perceptions of manufacturing across countries and over time

Although governments remain hesitant to explicitly champion “industrial policy”, the renewed commitment to manufacturing, as evidenced in the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Plan, underscores its pivotal role in national economies which is increasingly acknowledged by policymakers.

The multi-country review, encompassing the UK, Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the US, revealed more positive perceptions of manufacturing in Germany and the US compared to the UK. However, perceptions within the UK have shown improvement. In 2001, the British public believed that the country could thrive without manufacturing. In contrast, by 2023, 93% of the public believe that the manufacturing industry is essential to economic growth and resilience.

Across countries, including the UK, a consistent trend persists; younger people exhibit the least interest in pursuing careers in manufacturing. The prevailing perception, widely held among teenagers and young adults, is that the industry is predominantly male and lacking diversity compared to other sectors. Additionally, manufacturing is perceived as being poorly paid, repetitive, and not requiring high-skilled labour. These misconceptions pose significant challenges in attracting new talent to consider the manufacturing sector as a viable and rewarding career path.

Understanding the policy and perception nexus

Industrial and innovation policies play a significant role in shaping public perceptions, which can sometimes differ from reality. Terms like “advanced manufacturing” increasingly highlight the high-tech nature of the industry. National strategies also underscore manufacturing’s role in economic growth, innovation, and regional development.

Women tend to be underrepresented in manufacturing, especially in high-tech industries. For instance, in the UK, women account for 26% of the manufacturing workforce, and their representation is even lower in high-tech sectors such as automotive and aerospace. However, gender disparities within the sector remain largely unaddressed across policies, reflecting a notable blind spot.

Megatrends reshaping manufacturing

Megatrends reshaping manufacturing, such as environmental sustainability and digitalisation, persist as top priorities in industrial and innovation strategies. The interrelation of such megatrends is also becoming an area of interest in policy making. In addition, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions have led to an increased emphasis on resilience, national security, value chain reconfiguration, and technological sovereignty.

These shifts in priorities and the continued focus on digitalisation and environmental sustainability have broadened the scope of activities and value chain segments within manufacturing. Notably, there is a growing emphasis on areas such as design and recycling, and the blurring boundaries between manufacturing and services.

Addressing challenges and charting a new path

This latest InterAct report highlights the evolving perception of manufacturing, emphasising the intrinsic link between policy and public perspectives. It highlights manufacturing’s multifaceted role in economic growth, innovation, and social inclusion, while also indicating pathways for improvement.

The report provides four recommendations in moving forward:

  1. Systematic collection of data (yearly or every 2 years) about how the public perceives manufacturing and the role of the digital and green transformations in shaping perceptions.
  2. Leveraging the manufacturing observatory, outlined in the UK Advanced Manufacturing Plan, to constantly monitor policy developments across different contexts. This includes how manufacturing and related terminologies are defined and portrayed.
  3. Setting measurable targets and initiatives aimed at enhancing diversity in manufacturing.
  4. Providing education and career information about manufacturing from the early stages.
Categories
Report Resources

Perceptions of Manufacturing: How to make manufacturing charming again?

Overview

This report presents insights into how manufacturing is perceived, the factors shaping this perception, and how this perception has evolved in the last decade. The findings draw upon a systematic review of academic, grey and policy literature across seven countries: the United Kingdom (the UK), Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States (the US).

The report is the main output of the InterAct-funded project “How to make manufacturing charming again? It is everything, everywhere, all at once”. The aim of the report is to support InterAct research on the future of manufacturing on an international scale by providing insights into attitudes to manufacturing and industrial strategies, and how manufacturing is discussed in other countries, particularly where digital technologies have been adopted.

This research was conducted by Dr. Guendalina Anzolin (IfM, University of Cambridge), Dr. Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete (IfM, University of Cambridge) and Dr. Dalila Ribaudo (Aston University). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions or potential collaborations, please contact Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete or Dalila Ribaudo.

Download “Report - UK and international perceptions of manufacturing”

Perceptions-of-Manufacturing.pdf – Downloaded 582 times – 1.17 MB
Categories
Report Resources

The potential of coworking spaces to contribute to geographically distributed manufacturing activity and regional levelling up in the UK

Overview

Working from home, or telework, has been rising in the past 20 years, but large-scale adoption of this practice was never really embraced by the majority of UK employers. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic ‘flicked a switch’ overnight, and all workers who were able to work remotely were compelled and facilitated to do so, through digital technologies.

Whilst many people who worked from home during the pandemic, many others found themselves with a lack of appropriate workspace, or experienced a sense of social isolation. As the pandemic subdued, patterns of work have evolved into more complex patterns of hybrid working.

The benefits and disadvantages of working remotely remain in this dichotomy of place – home or the office – yet new workspaces, such as coworking spaces (CWSs) offer a third option. Indeed, the growth of coworking spaces has grown significantly across the world since the pandemic, not only in cities, but also in the suburbs, towns and rural villages.

Other countries (across Europe and the USA) have recognised the potential of CWSs, to help deliver economic growth and develop places beyond their core cities. They have begun to develop explicit policies to support remote working from these places. However, there is a noticeable absence of this type of discussion in UK policy and the question is, why? Are they not popular in such areas of the UK, are they different to city-based CWSs, in what ways? What are the implications for the areas they are located in?

Our pilot study of CWSs in a number of provincial areas in England examined what CWSs in these areas look like, what they do, what are their governance structures and the potential they hold for raising entrepreneurship and business growth beyond core-cities. We interviewed owners, managers and users of CWSs; Chambers of Commerce, local councils, local enterprise partnerships. We made observations of a variety of CWSs types, business models and identified the range of their activities they undertook to support their local areas. We listened to how they were faring, their relationships with each other and other local bodies. Our findings are summarised in two reports. Whilst designed to sit as separate briefs, there is complementary in what they cover, and benefit from being read together.

The first report “The rapid rise of rural co-working in England: sharing experiences for mutual learning” is a briefing for industry. It identifies the activities undertaken across a range of CWSs and collates them to provide insights and suggestions to other CWS owners and managers about the best practices we observed, so that these might be considered by those who do not currently adopt them and strengthen the role of their CWS to its local economy further.

The second report “The potential of coworking spaces to stimulate local growth outside of major cities” is a briefing to local and national policymakers. It identifies more specifically, the contribution CWSs can make to various levels of community: the community within the CWS, the local business community around it, and the wider social community in which they reside. It also identifies areas in which the government could offer more support. The potential value CWSs bring to each level of community means they deserve to have greater attention from local and national policymakers as they grapple with how to stimulate local growth and prosperity across the UK.

This research was conducted by Dr. Felicia M Fai, Dr. Mariachiara Barzotto and Professor Phil Tomlinson (University of Bath). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions or potential applications/collaborations, please contact Felicia Fai.

Download “Report - The rapid rise of rural coworking in England: sharing experiences for mutual learning”

Industry-briefing-Co-working-spaces-1.pdf – Downloaded 2419 times – 707.21 KB

Download “Report - The potential of coworking Spaces to stimulate local growth outside of major cities”

Policy-briefing-Co-working-spaces-2.pdf – Downloaded 2032 times – 1.48 MB
Categories
Conference Resources

InterAct Conference 2023

As we embark on the next stage of our industrial evolution, digitalisation will shape the future of our economy, manufacturing ecosystem, and workplace. Digital technologies can enable us to create the future we want and move beyond consumption driven economic growth.

Our challenge is to create a digital manufacturing future that meets our net-zero ambitions, whilst being resilient and productive. Thus, ensuring that everyone has the things that they need, at a price that they can afford, without damaging the environment or society.

To create the digital manufacturing future we want, we first need to know how that can be achieved, we need to explore the possible and work together to realise these goals. In order to combine our expertise from the broadest range of perspectives around this common goal, we need to InterAct.

How did the InterAct conference benefit attendees?

  • Gaining actionable human insights into the future manufacturing environment.
  • Networking and building relationships with cross-sector experts interested in creating a positive, forward-thinking vision for UK industry.
  • Building narrative development skills to enhance the reach of messaging in the digital environment.
  • The opportunity to take part in a collaborative workshop on the theme ‘How do we create the digital manufacturing futures we want to see, together’.
  • Engagement with a panel of highly regarded speakers from the world of manufacturing, policy, and academia during an interactive Q&A session.

Speakers

We were delighted to welcome a roster of world-leading speakers, who shared unique insights and perspectives on their areas of expertise in relation to the theme of ‘Creating the digital manufacturing future we want’.

Our speakers were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds across industry, policy, think-tanks, and academia. Together they represent a diverse collection of voices that we want to draw into the wider conversation about what it will take to build a future that delivers for everyone.

Download “InterAct Conference sketches”

InterAct-Conference-Sketches.pdf – Downloaded 1336 times – 6.17 MB

Peter Cheese

Keynote Speaker

Chief Executive – Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Peter is the CEO of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development. Since January 2019, he has been co-chair of The Flexible Working Task Force, a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities, to increase the uptake of flexible working. He is also Chair of Engage for Success and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

Peter writes and speaks widely on the development of HR, the future of work, and the key issues of leadership, culture and organisation, people and skills. In 2021, his second book ‘The New World of Work’ was published, exploring the many factors shaping work, workplaces, workforces and our working lives, and the principles around which we can build a future that is good for people, for business and for societies. 

Prior to joining the CIPD in 2012 Peter was Chair of the Institute of Leadership and Management, an Executive Fellow at London Business School, and held a number of Board level roles. He had a long career in consulting at Accenture working with organisations around the world, and in his last seven years there was Global Managing Director for the firm’s human capital and organisation consulting practice.

He is a Fellow of the CIPD, a Fellow of AHRI (the Australian HR Institute), the Royal Society of Arts, and the Academy of Social Sciences. He’s also a Companion of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the Chartered Management Institute, and the British Academy of Management. He holds honorary doctorates from Bath University, Kingston University and Birmingham City University, and is a Visiting Professor at Aston University.



Ben Armstrong

Keynote Speaker

Executive Director – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Industrial Performance Center

Ben Armstrong is the executive director and a research scientist at MIT’s Industrial Performance Center, where he co-leads the Work of the Future initiative. His research and teaching examine how workers, firms, and regions adapt to technological change. His current projects include a working group on generative AI and its impact on work, as well as a book on American manufacturing competitiveness. He received his PhD from MIT and formerly worked at Google Inc.



David Rea

Speaker – Future of the Economy

Chief Economist – JLL

David is Chief Economist EMEA at JLL, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate services companies. At JLL, David advises the firm’s leadership and its clients on how the economy is evolving and the impact it will have on real estate. Prior to JLL, David spent six years as Chief Economist at Jaguar Land Rover and also led the company’s work to prepare for Brexit. He has previously held other economist positions at Capital Economics, RBS, and the Bank of Sierra Leone.


Professor Vania Sena

Speaker – Future of the Economy

InterAct Network – Future of the Economy: Principal Investigator
Chair in Entrepreneurship and Enterprise – University of Sheffield

Professor Sena’s first degree was awarded with laude by the University of Naples, Federico II, Naples, Italy; her postgraduate studies in Economics were carried out at the University of York, UK, where she was awarded both the MSc and the DPhil in Economics.

Her research focuses mainly on productivity growth, both at the micro and macro level with an emphasis on innovation, human capital and intellectual property. Her most recent research looks at the relationship among innovation activities,trade secrets and total factor productivity. She is a member of the Operational Society General Council and Board. She has been a visiting fellow at Harvard University, MA and at Rutgers University, NJ.

Vania is leading the InterAct workstream ‘The Future of the Economy’, which is examining the impact that the uptake of industrial digital technology in manufacturing will have on the wider economy and the implications of of this.


Dr. Adrienne Houston

Speaker – Future of Work

Company Director – Eurovacuum

Dr Adrienne Houston is Company Director at Eurovacuum Products Ltd. She is a Mechanical Engineering specialising in high vacuum and low pressure compressor systems and vacuum evaporator for the biogas, chemical and pharmaceutical industries.  

To complement her professional work, Adrienne is a keen promoter and champion of women in engineering, diversity and inclusion. In 2019 she was appointed by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the role of Diversity and Inclusion Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham. She is a board member at the Research, Information and Knowledge committee at the Engineering Professors Council and Honorary Visiting Design Professor at the School of Engineering, University of Leicester. 


Professor Jillian MacBryde

Speaker – Future of Work

InterAct Network Co-director
Professor of Innovation and Operations Management – University of Strathclyde

Jill MacBryde is Professor of Innovation and Operations Management at Strathclyde University where she is also Director of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship. Jill is Co-Director of the ESRC Made Smarter Network Plus, InterAct network, which aims to bring insights from the social sciences to support the innovation and diffusion of digital technologies that will result in a stronger, more resilient, manufacturing base.

The theme throughout Jill’s work is operations management in changing environments and her current research projects include productivity in manufacturing, the impact of Covid on UK manufacturing, and the future of manufacturing work. Jill also works with policy makers and the public sector. She is currently a member of the Innovate UK/ESRC Innovation Caucus and a member of the Innovate UK Future Flight Advisory Board.


Matt Tootle

Speaker – Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems

Senior Business Analyst – Aerogility

Matt is an energetic and passionate leader who joined Aerogility with over 16 years’ experience in defence aerospace, primarily within support engineering and manufacturing. Matt’s specialisms include capturing and shaping complex customer requirements, designing and developing deliverable solutions and translating technical problems to non-technical individuals. Matt has extensive experience working with international customers and colleagues to deliver value to their operations. Matt’s current role sees him working across a variety of sectors to deliver innovative, model-based AI solutions to enable customers to better operate, sustain and optimise platforms, services and infrastructure.


Sue Williams

Speaker – Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems

Managing Director – Hexagon Consultants

Sue Williams is a strategic and focused Supply Chain Director with over 25 years’ experience in multiple industries including automotive, aerospace, defence and FMEG as well as aftermarket and aftercare support.  Sue’s specialisms include supply chain design and modelling, inventory planning, demand management, S&OP and supply planning.  Sue has worked with organisations such as Jaguar Land Rover, Dyson, GKN and Meggitt among others, to deliver sustainable, high value change to their supply chains.  Sue was also the Head of Supply Chain for the Vaccine Taskforce, responsible for supply chain risk and resilience and the inbound modelling and planning for the vaccine supply.


Martin Bach

Speaker – Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems

Martin Bach’s background is in process engineering and manufacturing management.  He has extensive business management experience in the UK, Europe and the US, running a wide range of businesses in the automotive and industrial sectors.  Most recently he was Managing Director of Cooksongold, the UK’s leading supplier of jewellery making materials and products.


Professor Janet Godsell

Speaker – Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems

InterAct Network Co-director
Dean of Loughborough Business SchoolLoughborough University

Jan Godsell is Dean of Loughborough Business School and Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Strategy at Loughborough University. Her work focuses on the pursuit of more responsible consumption and production through the alignment of product, marketing, and supply chain strategy with consumer needs. Jan’s work focuses on the design of end-to-end supply chains to enable, responsibility, sustainability, resilience and productivity.

Jan is the workstream lead for ‘The Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems’. This will examine how to develop more sustainable manufacturing business models, supply chains, and the role of innovative digital technologies (IDTs) in facilitating this shift.


Ved Sen

Keynote speaker

Head of Business Innovation – Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) UK

Ved is passionate about the impact of technology on business, culture, and society. He enjoys speaking and writing about technology and the future. He writes a weekly innovation newsletter, and is a regular speaker at industry forums. He has been a guest lecturer at the HSE Ireland Masters in Digital Healthcare Programme in Dublin for the past 3 years, and a regular speaker on AI and future systems.

Ved works as the Head of Business Innovation for Tata Consultancy Services UK. His primary focus is to help drive future thinking conversations with clients in solving tomorrow’s problems. He has been working with and advising senior clients across retail, travel, education, healthcare, financial services, public sector, and other businesses. Ved runs an innovation team in London and is leading the design and set up of Pace Port London. Currently his work spans areas such as reinventing social care for the elderly, connected homes and environments, and urban mobility, Generative AI, and more. Over the past 20+ years, Ved has been working on emerging technologies, and their adoption into organisations. An avid writer and regular speaker, Ved’s book “Doing Digital” was released in January 2023, and he writes a regular innovation newsletter.  


Fhaheen Khan

Panellist

Senior Economist – Make UK

Fhaheen Khan is a Senior Economist at Make UK, the manufactures organisation. His role primarily focusses on monitoring and evaluating the economic performance of manufacturers, which is published in a quarterly outlook report. In addition, Fhaheen’s role covers a myriad of topics relevant to manufacturing to advise Government bodies to develop policy with a focus on tax, investment and the business environment and is a regular commentator on public statistics.


Ben Farmer

Panellist

Deputy Director – Made Smarter Innovation Challenge

Ben is the Deputy Director of the Innovate UK-led £300 million Made Smarter Innovation Challenge; a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the development and novel application of industrial digital technologies.

Prior to this, Ben held positions at HiETA Technologies, Airbus Group, University of Bath and Cobham. He is also founder of Added Lightness, a technology strategy consulting business, and Atherton Bikes, which brings together multiple-world champion and world cup winning athletes with the latest composite and additive manufacturing technologies.

Ben holds a degree in Materials Science and Engineering and an MBA from the University of Bath, a PhD in Materials Science and Metallurgy from the University of Cambridge and is a Chartered Engineer.

Categories
InterAct Blog

How can we attract the next generation of young talent into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040?

Our exciting new project aims to develop a strategy to inform the rebranding of UK digital manufacturing to attract the next generation of talent into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040.

In May 2023, the team members met at an InterAct research sandpit hosted by Loughborough University, which was held with the aim of developing research projects to accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies in UK manufacturing.

During the sandpit, it became clear that our interdisciplinary team shared a passion to make UK manufacturing a place that attracts, includes, and supports young talent from diverse backgrounds and mindsets. However, recent research conducted by MAKE UK reports only 2% of the average UK manufacturing workforce is currently below 30 years old [1].

Additionally, a recent InterAct 2023 survey on UK perceptions of manufacturing has found that younger generations identify UK manufacturing as an unattractive brand with uncertain employment prospects which is problematic for attracting ambitious and creative digital talent [2]. These negative perceptions in part could be attributed to older generational memories and experiences of physically demanding manufacturing jobs that fuelled the post-World War II economic recovery. Accounting for the rise of today’s digital labour market [3], these negative perceptions and experiences of UK manufacturing are likely to shape children and grandchildren’s career choices. This all adds up to a generational problem in UK manufacturing which is deep-rooted in the cross-generational experiences of what UK manufacturing once represented and the extensive and diverse career opportunities that are available today and will be realisable the future.

These preliminary findings paint an unsettling picture for UK manufacturing, especially when digital transformation has become a strategic priority for companies [4], industries [5] and countries [6]. At the country-level for example, if the UK is to pursue its levelling-up agenda and overcome its regional [7] and international [8] productivity gaps, then attracting young, digitally literate, and productive workers into well-paid, high-skilled manufacturing careers would seem an intuitive and rational approach. However, academic research continues to report that a major barrier for the digital transformation of older firms in various manufacturing sectors is the legacy of underperforming business models, inefficient workplace practices and traditional organisational structures [9], [10], [11].

These organisational legacies also raise the challenge that new digital competitors – such as the big technology firms and technology start-ups – are perceived to attract younger talent and the career aspirations of Generation Z [12] through creative workplace practices, new organisation designs and innovation cultures. 

Therefore, to address this problem, our project intends to co-create the most plausible future scenarios for rebranding UK digital manufacturing to help stakeholders attract the next generation of young talent into manufacturing careers by 2040. As our project is exploratory in design, we will interact with a range of policy makers, educators, employers, and university students to gather insights on how to attract young people into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040. This will be conducted through six work packages that range from data mining four generations of manufacturing data held by the UK Office for National Statistics to interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders including business owners, industry bodies, technologists, policy makers, educators and students that are passionate about supporting the co-development of UK digital manufacturing.

We will also work with Strategic Innovation Ltd – a technology and innovation consultancy with a passion for sustainability – on a key output which will be the co-creation of a cross-generational map of peoples’ lived experiences of UK manufacturing. This will include both past and present experiences and will visualise potential rebranding opportunities for attracting the next generation of young talent into digital manufacturing careers by 2040.

By providing stakeholders with a visualisation of the future, our project will initiate  the development of a strategy for digital manufacturing careers that can play a central role in the UK’s economic and social development at home and overseas by attracting top talent into these roles.

If you or any colleagues would like to participate in our project, please contact Karl Warner, our Principal Investigator at karl.warner@glasgow.ac.uk for further information.  


References

[1] MAKE UK (2021) Manufacturing Our Recovery Through Inclusion (https://www.makeuk.org/insights/reports/manufacturing-our-recovery-through-inclusion)

[2] InterAct blog (2023) Future workforces: job quality & perceptions of UK manufacturing

(https://interact-hub.org/2023/05/23/future-workforces-job-quality-perceptions-of-uk-manufacturing/)

[3] Digital Skills & Jobs Europa (2023) The Rise of the Digital Labour Market (2022)

(https://digital-skills-jobs.europa.eu/en/inspiration/research/rise-digital-labour-market-2022)

[4] Sousa-Zomer, T. T., Neely, A., & Martinez, V. (2020). Digital transforming capability and performance: a microfoundational perspective. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 40(7/8), 1095-1128.

[5] Ciarli, T., Kenney, M., Massini, S., & Piscitello, L. (2021). Digital technologies, innovation, and skills: Emerging trajectories and challenges. Research Policy, 50(7), 104289.

[6] Senna, P. P., Roca, J. B., & Barros, A. C. (2023). Overcoming barriers to manufacturing digitalization: Policies across EU countries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 196, 122822.

[7] Office for National Statistics (2023) Regional labour productivity, UK: 2021

(https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/regionallabourproductivityincludingindustrybyregionuk/2021)

[8] Office for National Statistics (2023) International comparisons of UK productivity (ICP), final estimates: 2021

(https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/internationalcomparisonsofproductivityfinalestimates/2021)

[9] Warner, K. S., & Wäger, M. (2019). Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long range planning, 52(3), 326-349.

[10] Jones, M. D., Hutcheson, S., & Camba, J. D. (2021). Past, present, and future barriers to digital transformation in manufacturing: A review. Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 60, 936-948.

[11] Ates, A., & Acur, N. (2022). Making obsolescence obsolete: Execution of digital transformation in a high-tech manufacturing SME. Journal of Business Research, 152, 336-348.

[12] Barhate, B., & Dirani, K. M. (2022). Career aspirations of generation Z: a systematic literature review. European Journal of Training and Development, 46(1/2), 139-157.

Categories
InterAct Blog

Industrial metaverse for manufacturing systems: hype or future reality?

Our project aims to provide a coherent interdisciplinary summary of established knowledge from academia and practice on the application and potential benefits, barriers, and risks of a metaverse in manufacturing, mainly focusing on bridging technical and social insights.

Metaverse is expected to provide numerous benefits, particularly in production process optimisation, employee induction and collaboration. The most surprising research finding so far is just how varied the definitions of metaverse are. For our study, we define industrial metaverse as” a sensory environment that uses extended reality to blend the physical and digital worlds to transform how businesses design, manufacture and interact with objects”.

The existing industrial cases reveal technological barriers such as immaturity, lack of sufficiently strong communication networks and sustainability concerns. Other cases include cybersecurity risks like cyberattacks and data protection/privacy issues. The social barriers include jurisdictional and legislative difficulties, lack of cooperation between companies necessary to achieve interoperability and the need to change worker and user mindsets. 

Figure 1. Industrial metaverse as a new interface to the products’ manufacturing system

Although the data suggests immersion as a driving force of the metaverse[1], a full immersion can not be achieved without impacting the senses and feelings of a user. For example, in sensory marketing, similar impacts (experience stimuli) are used to trigger purchasing intention (Dewey, 1925; Schmitt, 1999), however, in the physical reality. Hence, we envision a similar trend in the digital world, where an industrial metaverse will extend the numeric and graphical data (such as reports) into coherent immersive experiences that will also affect feelings, Figure 2.

Figure 2. Industrial Metaverse as a combination of senses stimuli

Our conceptualisation efforts aim to prototype an industrial metaverse that activates several senses (sight, sound, temperature, and smell) and test how the extended experience triggers actions.

“Highly promising results are expected for the intersection of resilience and sustainability,” said Nikolai. “For example, based on the sensory marketing research that positions smell as the strongest attractor for purchasing decisions, we aim to virtualise the production conditions with sight, sound, temperature, and smell and enhance experience stimuli in the metaverse. We think it will better inform purchasing choice and support the demand pattern for clean energy, ethical production, and fewer emissions along supply chains.”

After the first results of the systematic literature review, we wish to explore the feasibility of the extended reality to shift decision-making towards more expensive but more sustainable decision-making along the manufacturing value chain[2]. Over the following months, our research aims to exemplify our concept using a scenario based on food manufacturing system for chocolate production. To do so, we will integrate the popular Augmented Reality platform with audio, temperature and smell generator devices to extend the experience for a policy-maker, manufacturer or customer making a hard choice between a cost-efficient vs. sustainable manufacturing system. This prototype will be used as a sensory dashboard for an extended representation of material sources, production conditions, carbon footprint and energy sources to better inform the stakeholder about the impacts of their decision.

“Carbon emission, working conditions, and energy consumption remain underexplored in the real world but visible in the metaverse. Hence, the metaverse can be used to raise awareness about manufacturing systems.”

Yet, It is unclear if being informed on carbon emissions in real-time will impact manufacturers’ use of their machines and shift the regulation imposed by policymakers. For example, would the smell of burning Amazon forests shift a consumer’s decision-making closer to more expensive sustainable purchase better than the printed carbon footprint number on the product package?

Figure 3. Industrial metaverse as a sensualisation of real-time data sharing   

The project has an open innovation philosophy, so we wish to create a discussion space around the metaverse application for manufacturing and are open to collaboration with the InterAct researchers and the industrial community.

To disseminate the findings, we plan to run a public event involving technology providers, industry, academia and stakeholders from the local public administration at the end of 2023.


References

Academic

Dewey, J. (1981). The later works, 1925-1953 (Vol. 3). SIU Press.

Schmitt, B. (1999). Experiential marketing. Journal of marketing management15(1-3), 53-67.

Petit, O., Velasco, C., Wang, Q. J., & Spence, C. (2022). Consumer consciousness in multisensory extended reality. Frontiers in psychology13.

Industrial

https://www.radiantvisionsystems.com/blog/creating-full-sensory-experiences-future-ar/vr/mr/xr

https://www.ericsson.com/en/6g/internet-of-senses

https://www.bitstamp.net/learn/web3/extended-reality-virtual-reality-augmented-reality-and-more/

https://www.designnews.com/augmented-reality/metaverse-will-engage-all-five-senses


[1]64% of industrial cases describe metaverse as a realistic user experience

[2] The team is considering to apply for further funding via the newly launched Impact Booster Competition of Made Smarter Innovation Challenge

Categories
InterAct Blog

Toyota, you and a “human centric” digital manufacturing future

The Interact tagline was carefully crafted when Made Smarter and ESRC stumped up the money to make this network a reality. That tagline being: “pioneering human insight for industry” with the spoken aim to create a “network that aims to bring together economic and social scientists, UK manufacturers, and digital technology providers to address the human issues resulting from the diffusion of new technologies in industry”.

Yes, yes and yes again – this is what drew me to interact in the first place. It makes perfect sense when you think about it; in our factories, to make things, you need to bring machines, materials, and a method of doing it together with people. People are the glue that make the 4Ms work in harmony. And yet, walking the halls of Smart Factory conferences – the exhibitor wares on show are 95% things or data.

IoT, Sensors, robots, cobots, AI and data analytics are all critical, in tandem with people. We need to concurrently invest in skills to get the best out of these innovations, especially if we want a long term functioning society to manage this nascent 4th industrial revolution, without unrest and social upheaval.

Ponder for a second on any investment you make in a manufacturing business. The following are likely to be true:

Somebody has to research the market

Somebody has to talk to vendors

Somebody has to negotiate and buy it

Somebody has to commission it

Somebody has to programme it

Somebody has to maintain it

Somebody has to load and unload it during the shift

Somebody has to change the kit over or update the programme/parameters

Somebody has to respond to it when the Andon goes off

Somebody has to act on that

Somebody has to interpret the data that comes out of sensors

Somebody has to troubleshoot

Somebody has to problem solve and…

…a number of people have to find kaizen to keep you competitive.

‘Somebody’ might be multiple people for each of these activities. What is clear is that ‘Somebody’ needs to considered alongside the physical and data innovation that Industry 4.0 has to offer. InterAct are, comfortingly, working in that space.

This raises an important question about where manufacturers should invest in digital manufacturing. Investment always warrants head scratching as capital dollars/pounds/euros and yen are scarce, but thinking is free. The mantra I’d advise you to adopt underpins the model below. Invest where you SHOULD, not just where you CAN.

This requires pausing, thinking and coming to the CapEx table with a business problem to solve – low productivity or persistent specific quality issues for example. Having said that, the lean start-up principle of creating proof-of-concepts means we can place multiple bets (run trials) on various technologies, as long as we treat them like little experiments to learn whether they’re worth investing in further.

A smart way of thinking about all of this is the Toyota style thinking that I experienced on my last two trips to Japan. They think of it as a numerator and a denominator. The numerator represents the equipment you use to create value that your customers will buy. The aim is to improve the equipment work. The denominator represents the people working in the manufacturing business and asks whether we can improve people’s work.

Within this model, the categories to invest time and resources in are those that:

For the Equipment – “predict problems” or detect “early symptoms” of problems (both of these are likely Safety, Quality or Delivery related)

For the People – “eliminate low value added work” (like walking around checking things at the start of the shift or the admin burden of logging results/performance) or “reduce variation in standard work” (as an example, think 2 setters on opposite shifts changing the same machine from part A to part B, but the first setter takes twice as long)

The real gold to be mined is in the 2 bubbles that serve both. Digital manufacturing done well can “visualise issues” that are hidden to the human eye or our current data harvesting and sensor inputs. Rather nicely, if you listen hard enough to the data, it can identify the next, best kaizen to take you forward.

The idea is this; if you focus on both Equipment and People you’re going to open up a bigger benefit by improving both the numerator and denominator. That sounds very much like competitive advantage to me. As Eddie Jones (yes, the former England Rugby coach) said in his recent book on Leadership “The only reliable advantage we’ve got is to learn faster than the opposition”

InterAct is the best game in town, looking into the future to secure the role of human skill in our bright digital future. Get involved, you can either snooze your way to 2040 and then stand, blinking into the sunlight, complaining about the outcome. Or you can help shape and secure the UK’s place in manufacturing’s coming world order. Interact is moving into an exciting phase in 2023/24 where the research bears practical fruit. There are various ways to get involved, and you can keep up to date with all the latest news and opportunities here.

For more information about Sempai and the support they provide to employers, please click here.

Categories
Future of Work Resources

Perceptions of manufacturing – survey findings infographics

The InterAct Future of Work team carried out a survey of 2107 members of the public to find out more about the wider perceptions of the manufacturing industry and manufacturing jobs. Their early findings have been summarised in a series of infographics available for download below, and explored further in a series of blogs from Dr. Robert Stewart.

This work was conducted by Dr. Robert Stewart, Professor Colin Lindsay and Professor Jillian MacBryde (University of Strathclyde). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions and information about this research, please contact Robert Stewart.

Download “Perceptions of manufacturing - survey findings infographics”

Future-of-Work-Survey-Infographics.pdf – Downloaded 3153 times – 1.84 MB
Categories
InterAct Blog

Future workforces: advanced manufacturing & Generation Z

Forget some of the negative media hype and concern that you sometimes see from some social commentators and employers about Generation Z (Gen Z). Unlike us Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, Gen Z are the first truly ‘native’ digital generation, more tech savvy, nurtured on constant access to new technologies and more likely to be comfortable in the newly emerging worlds of digital manufacturing[1]

The high digital literacy of Gen Z offers many benefits for advanced manufacturers. They are more multi-skilled and able to execute (simultaneous) work tasks and roles across different digital platforms, while being more readily plugged into virtual and augmented realities[2]. As a workforce, they will be great for advanced manufacturing in the years to come; very likely to tell you that your technology and IT might not be as cutting edge (or confusing) as you thought. If this is not enough, given the right in-work supports – from ‘onboarding’ and beyond – they will allow manufacturers to create better value from problem solving, innovation, and creative roles using their digital toolboxes.

In many ways, the entry of Gen Z to the labour market is ideal for advanced manufacturers adopting new technologies, and their great potential to further change workplace people practices and business models. However, as in all happy(ish) marriages between the needs of employers and younger people’s lifestyle interests and skills, both partners may have some underlying issues that will make an effective relationship based on new technologies difficult to sustain unless they both work at it.

There should be no doubts about the high demand for digital skills in advanced manufacturing. Employers need to understand some key elements of Gen Z thinking and to build this into their recruitment and retention strategies. Ongoing staffing shortages, the seemingly blurring pace of digital and technological change, ‘quiet quitting’ and some issues with workplace upskilling have all helped to accelerate industry demand for digital and multi skilled workforces.

These changes have pitched advanced manufacturers into the ‘talent war’ to attract, retain and develop the most skilled and capable young people. Attracting and keeping the best talent, however, is highly competitive and many industries (including manufacturing) are reporting skill shortages and high levels of unfilled vacancies[3]. Very simply, manufacturers without the right set of people capacities (and practices to support these), digital skillsets, and multi-skilled workforces will struggle to capture and use those advanced technologies to help them compete and innovate.

These labour demand and supply issues pose some interesting questions about how UK manufacturers should be competing for Gen Z talent in terms of job quality. A downside? Well like Millennials they are very values driven and possibly sensitive to your image as an employer on social media. Image matters for the new generation. For advanced manufacturers, one major challenge is the problem with some of the wider UK manufacturing sector. This comes with some powerful historical baggage.

Manufacturing is sometimes be seen by young people in the UK and US as an old-fashioned industry, low paying and male-dominated, offering large numbers of dull, insecure, and dead-end shifts in factory jobs[4]. Forget those images you may have in your head about the emerging SMART factories of the near future, this legacy persists, particularly among the older population segments who remember it and whose opinions may negatively shape their children and grandchildren looking for jobs and careers in today’s labour market. They are not flattering perceptions of a sector looking to recruit ambitious and creative digital talent or even broaden its appeal among older or mid-career workers, or people in under-represented groups such as women and minorities.

On a positive note, these perceptions are very unlikely to match the reality of many or most modern advanced manufacturing settings, particularly in big multinational companies and those who‘ve adopted and transitioned into digital technology. These settings offer (less monotonous) more interesting, exciting, highly technical and financially rewarding work. The recruitment messaging needs to dispel the old legacy of your sector, show the augmented reality, the AI of the bots, the predictive and the multi-purpose data analytics, and whatever metaverse you can conjure.

Apart from showcasing exciting, innovative clean tech, what else should manufacturers be doing to better attract and retain Gen Z talent? There is no shortage of commentary on what Gen Z expect in the workplace, so let’s take three of the more important issues that often feature in wider discussions about them: values, diversity, and flexibility. Helpfully, all of these things connect with each other.

We know that an employer’s image, brand, reputation, prestige, mission, vision and values really matter in recruitment, commitment and retention. Its’ not just about pay, it really isn’t. Values make a big difference in competitive labour markets with restrictions on supply. Potential recruits and employee’s want to know something about your identity and values: how these resonate through your products, people practices, and culture.

Ideally, younger employees want to share in the positive impact and success of your business, be ‘proud’ to work for you and share that in their social media networking and posts. This means that the backstory (and the ‘future-story’) of who you are as an industry, sector and employer is a key part of attracting and keeping the brightest, the capable and the digitally skilled. You can be as sceptical (or ‘boomer’) about this as you like but realising the importance of the ‘image’ and what you stand for, and how you show and tell people your story is something that. For example, big UK-based multinational manufacturers who compete across international markets understand very well. It works.

Your values should set the tone for a whole series of complimentary policies and practices at work that help young people see meaning and purpose in their work. For advanced manufacturers, investing in people, developing their skills and caring about their wellbeing play very well to younger and early career audiences who will still be unsure about their place in the labour market.

A focus on Net Zero and the principles of the circular economy has a strong appeal to the wider social values of many young people keen on environmental messaging and actions around reducing waste and your carbon footprint. Employer values tell people what you care about: whether you look at your workforce as individuals and people; whether you care about their wellbeing and development; and whether you really are asking them to help make ‘useful’ products and have processes that are helping to make a more sustainable world.

Employer values and practices also feed into areas like diversity and being clear about your recruitment messaging. Why is diversity important? Well it isn’t about the numbers of women in your workplace, or those coming through the STEM pipeline. Research shows that gender diversity in manufacturing leads to greater innovation and profitability, and the benefits of having women in leadership positions are even greater. In other words, the implications of diversity (and more representative workforces) seem to be reasonably clear. The more diverse you are as a workforce and the more this is represented in the higher strategic decision making levels of companies, the more you will be likely to be able to harness these different views and experiences, produce better products more geared to different customer segments and better innovate than your competitors.

You can disagree about the need for diversity but the figures tell a different story. Manufacturers need to be much more proactive (and transparent) about equalities, diversity and inclusion at work, particularly when it comes to gaining ‘fair opportunities’ for career progression. Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous UK cohorts and there has to be a bigger focus on minorities, and on women.

Only around two-thirds of manufacturing firms currently have an EDI strategy or even an intention to develop one and not surprisingly, minorities only make up 5% of boards and women only 18%[5]. Both groups still largely occupy supporting administrative and clerical roles, or in HR and marketing: far removed from key areas of senior management, making executive decisions and having a strategic influence in their firms. On these figures alone, you would be doing well to describe manufacturing as offering modern, equitable and progressive working environments. For Gen Z talent looking for employers who mirror their personal and social values around racial, ethnic and gender equality, these numbers will make depressing reading.

So how do you address this? At the very least, sense-check or independently audit the recruitment messaging to make sure you are maximising your appeal. In terms of the career progression of women and minorities there are also a few useful ways of addressing some of the internal cultural barriers that they face in moving into senior management roles: mentoring and sponsoring. To some these approaches are probably not as ‘bombproof’ as deciding promotions out with the lads on the golf course, but they are likely to be more effective in helping the business keep good talent.

One popular (post-pandemic) way of addressing the diversity issue concerns giving people greater flexibility at work, through re-designed shift schedules and working from home. Easier said than done for production staff than their non-production co-workers. There are certainly strong hints in the literature that greater flexibility and hybrid working (with some task autonomy) is very well suited to Gen Z workers. Perhaps too suited! Hybrid models bring positive wellbeing benefits for workers, allowing women to balance work and domestic schedules. However, we need to be cautious about visibility at work and that out-of-sight working from home does not translate into out-of-contention workers when it comes to promotions and rewards.

In short, there are sound reasons for believing that Gen Z will be ready-made for advanced manufacturing. To capture the benefits, advanced manufacturers need to understand this audience. They must ensure messaging, imagery and marketing addresses some of the more unhelpful legacy images of their sector, treat their own values and story seriously, and deliver on EDI and flexibility.

Read the first entry in the the ‘future workforces’ series: ‘advanced manufacturing & Generation Z’.


References

[1] Francis, T. & Hoeful, F. (2018) ‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies. McKinsey & Company.

[2] Gomez, K., Mawhinney, T. & Betts, K. (2022) Understanding Generation Z in the Workplace. Deloitte US.

[3] For example, The Manufacturer (2022) We need a super solution for fixing manufacturing talent issues (https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/we-need-a-super-solution-for-fixing-manufacturing-talent-issues/)

[4] For example, Deloitte (2017) A look ahead: how modern manufacturers can create positive perceptions with the US public. (https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/manufacturing/us-public-perception-manufacturing-study.pdf)

[5] MAKE UK (2021) Manufacturing Our Recovery Through Inclusion (https://www.makeuk.org/insights/reports/manufacturing-our-recovery-through-inclusion)