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.
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 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.
Following on from our successful Sandpit event at Loughborough University, InterAct has funded five projects examining a range of topics concerning the manufacturing sector.
Developing a strategy that will shape the rebranding of UK digital manufacturing
Dr. Karl Warner – University of Glasgow
Dr. Nicola Bailey – King’s College London
Dr. Imtiaz Khan – Cardiff Metropolitan University
Dr. Anna Chatzimichali – University of Bath
Malek El-Qallali – University of Bath
Dr. Anastasia Kulichyova – Queens University Belfast
This project aims to highlight the most probable future scenarios for rebranding manufacturing that can help stakeholders attract the next generation of young talent towards a career in UK digital manufacturing by 2040. This is rooted in the ambition of making the future of the sector a place that attracts, includes, and supports young talent from diverse backgrounds and mindsets.
Recent research conducted by Make UK – a UK manufacturers’ association – found that only 2% of the average UK manufacturing workforce is below 30 years old. These statistics are concerning considering current labour market inactivity rates and the shrinking UK population.
These statistics have triggered further research, including a large-scale InterAct Perceptions of Manufacturing survey that investigated UK public perceptions of the manufacturing industry and its place of work. Based on UK-wide survey of 2,000 people, a powerful message coming out of the results is that younger generations identify UK manufacturing as a less desirable brand, with many people being primarily uncertain about manufacturing employment prospects.
Using a variety of innovative methods to gather insights on potential rebranding opportunities from employers, educators, industry experts, policymakers and young people, this project intends to co-create the most probable future scenarios that can help stakeholders attract the next generation of young talent. This will enable the creation of a cross-generational map of peoples’ experiences of UK manufacturing – both past and present – that visualises potential opportunities for attracting the next generation of young talent towards a career in UK digital manufacturing.
Informing empathy-led change management: Creating a measurable readiness health plan for the adoption of digital technologies in manufacturing
Dr. Mersha Aftab – Birmingham City University
Dr. Mey Goh – Loughborough University
Dr. Iryna Yevseyeva – De Montfort University
The project aims to improve the success of technology adoption in manufacturing organisations using an empathy-led approach to create a measurable readiness health plan for change management.
Whilst the value of digital technologies is well accepted, the UK is not adopting these technologies as quickly as our competitors. The Made Smarter Innovation People-Led Digitalisation (PLD) Centre has identified this as a challenge. They note that digitalisation tools are abundantly available and advancing at pace, but adoption rates could be higher, and it is not always clear what values these tools bring to an individual worker.
When trying to infer the adoption of technology by a person, it is important to consider what values they attach to the use of that technology. The difficulty is that most values are intrinsic, tacit, and non-transferable.
The Empathy-Led Change Management team aims to develop an initial version of a digital toolkit for businesses. This toolkit will be able to map and demonstrate the readiness level of the workforce in a company in real time. It will also support management to introduce the right strategies of people-led change at the right point of readiness, so the adoption is bespoke and ‘made to measure’.
Manufacturing a better future – exploring inclusive digital manufacturing
Dr. Marisa Smith – University of Strathclyde
Professor Nigel Caldwell – London Metropolitan University
Dr. Eun Sun Godwin – University of Wolverhampton
Dr. John Oyekan – University of York
Dr. Sebastian Pattinson – University of Cambridge
This project is investigating how the use of digital tools can enable a more inclusive workforce in manufacturing. They will be focusing specifically on demonstrating how to engage disabled people to participate in digital design processes. The outcomes will include insight into removing barriers to entry for currently excluded groups to the manufacturing workforce.
The current focus in manufacturing policy and practice on equality and diversity has been limited to gender and ethnic diversity. Although according to Scope almost a quarter (23%) of the UK working age population are disabled, the industry has lacked a real interest in the inclusion of disabled people.
The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has also remained consistently high, at around 30% for the past 10 years, with a pay gap of almost 20% for disabled workers compared with non-disabled workers according to the Together Trust.
In order to counteract and overcome these challenges, the overall objectives of the project are:
To collaborate disabled people to understand how they can participate in digitalisation and manufacturing:
To gain a first-hand account of disabled people on manufacturing and working within the manufacturing ecosystem.
To understand technology developers’ expert view on technical constraints and adjustments with current digital technologies that need to be considered for accessibility of disabled people.
To explore how disabled people interact with AI interfaces and examine how the technology can be adapted to address any design challenges.
To build on the current InterAct 2040 scenarios by providing additional scenarios on inclusive manufacturing embracing disabled people through inclusive digital solutions.
To show small manufacturing non-adopters of digital tools the benefits and relative ease of adopting inclusive digital tools.
The project will provide greater understanding of how the digital divide, as well as the disability employment gap, can be narrowed through the inclusion of disabled people into the manufacturing ecosystem.
Community co-created distributed manufacturing platform (COCODISMAN)
Dr. Elaine Conway – Loughborough University
Atanu Chaudhuri – Durham University
Dr. Usman Adeel – Teesside University
Jay Daniel – University of Derby
The aim of this project is to develop a blueprint for a co-created, distributed, community-based manufacturing platform in the UK with a business model to support its financial viability and scalability.
In many UK communities, there is apathy towards manufacturing, a digital skills divide, unemployment challenges and low engagement with disadvantaged or hard to reach groups. Equally, local manufacturers need to adopt digital technologies to remain competitive but face severe skills shortages.
Recognising these issues, the team behind COCODISMAN will be carrying out a scoping exercise to discover what community needs exist for digital skilling and local manufacturing. Using this information, they will create a digital platform which matches the needs with deliverables as they currently exist in the community. The ultimate aim of this process is to provide the link between community needs for products and skills and local manufacturing facilities with excess capacity.
The project objectives are to:
Understand the challenges which local communities face in getting objects repaired and delivered at reasonable cost, their perceptions about manufacturing as a career choice and acquiring the necessary skills to gain employment in the manufacturing sector.
Understand the challenges faced by local manufacturers in upskilling their employees while embracing digital transformation and in attracting a future workforce to manufacturing.
Understand the challenges faced by local councils in creating meaningful learning and employment opportunities for young people to enter the manufacturing sector and in supporting the elderly population in accessing manufactured goods and services.
Assess the potential of a digital platform in changing the perception of the community towards manufacturing, improving skills, reducing the digital divide and improving youth engagement in manufacturing.
Support sustainable and localized production.
The COCODISMAN platform developed and rolled out at the end of the project will form the basis for greater collaboration by the researchers involved with partners such as local county councils, local manufacturers, and industry representative organisations.
The role of consumers in driving UK manufacturing’s digital transformation
Professor Ana Isabel Canhoto – University of Sussex
Dr. Maren Schneider – Anglia Ruskin University
Dr. Ahmed Beltagui – Aston University
Ramin Behbehani – Brunel University London
Niraj Kumar – University of Essex
The aim of this research is to identify the factors that lead consumers to adopt new Everything as a Service (XaaS) models of consumption, and drive the adoption of digitally enabled, distributed models of manufacturing.
XaaS is a business model for consumers to pay for access to a product’s benefits rather than own it outright. XaaS may take the form of acquiring a product whose performance is remotely monitored by the manufacturer. Parts are replaced or instructions issued to the consumer, as needed, through a maintenance contract, to extend the useful life of the product, a XaaS ‘stewardship-model’.
Alternatively, XaaS may take the form of acquisition of a service, with the manufacturer owing the machine and monitoring its maintenance needs, remotely, intervening when needed to ensure continued provision of the service, a XaaS ‘usership-model’ of consumption.
There are numerous benefits to XaaS including reducing manufacturers’ incentives to make products obsolete in order to generate additional sales, reducing electronic waste, increasing consumer retention, increasing consumers’ access to the latest technology, improving the energy efficiency of household appliances.
The project will attempt to achieve the following objectives:
Analyse viable XaaS models for washing machines.
Identify the factors influencing consumers’ acceptance of XaaS for washing machines.
Test the impact of those key factors in driving demand for washing machines under the stewardship vs. usership models.
Develop recommendations to support the development and implementation of XaaS in UK manufacturing.
If you’re interested in getting involved with any of these projects, you can contact the project team or email us at email@example.com.
In 2021 Make UK1 outlined the need for manufacturing to attract skilled workers from all sections of society acknowledging the continuing challenges of the lack of diversity in the workforce. However, the current focus in manufacturing policy and practice on equality and diversity has been limited to gender and ethnic diversity. Although almost a quarter (23%) of the UK working age population are disabled2, the industry has lacked a real interest in the inclusion of disabled people.
The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has also remained consistently high at around 30% for the past 10 years, with a pay gap of almost 20% lower for disabled workers compared with non-disabled workers3. Moreover, in the UK, 32% of disabled people do not have basic digital skills4 and those with multiple disabilities are the most digitally disadvantaged. They often face barriers in basic access to the technology such as connection to Wi-Fi-network or finding and opening applications on their devices.
This inaccessibility of technology, together with rapidly growing digital capabilities, is exacerbating the digital divide between disabled and non-disabled people. There is also a strong business case to include more disabled people into work for innovation through diverse workforce. We know that diversity and inclusion have positive effect on firms’ productivity, innovativeness or quality5, so why has this been largely ignored by manufacturers?
Recent research6,7 found that efforts to improve the suitability of industrial manufacturing workstations or the use of Industry 4.0 technologies for disabled people have still been superficial, favouring the inclusion of workers with milder disabilities and missing the complex interaction between the socio-technical aspects of inclusion. Our research explores how digital technologies, alongside an inclusive managerial mindset and accessible business practices, can create inclusive digitalisation in manufacturing.
Our project, ‘Manufacturing a Better Future – exploring disability inclusive digital manufacturing’, embodies the principles of socio-technical systems view where the benefits of the new technology are optimised alongside the humanisation of work, by looking into how the technological and social aspects interact and emerge together. This approach is closely in line with the social model of disability8. Based on this view, it is often the social barriers such as inaccessible physical environments, the attitudes (prejudice and discrimination) and the inflexibility of organisational procedures and practices that exclude disabled people from work, rather than medical conditions.
At the end of this project, we propose that we will have a greater understanding of how the digital inclusion divide, as well as the disability employment gap, can be narrowed through the inclusion of disabled people into the manufacturing ecosystem.
Chaudhry, I. S., Paquibut, R. Y., & Tunio, M. N. (2021). Do workforce diversity, inclusion practices, & organizational characteristics contribute to organizational innovation? Evidence from the UAE. Cogent Business & Management, 8(1), 1947549.
Teixeira, E. S., & Okimoto, M. L. L. (2018). Industrial Manufacturing Workstations Suitability for People with Disabilities: The Perception of Workers. In Advances in Ergonomics in Design: Proceedings of the AHFE 2017 International Conference on Ergonomics in Design, July 17− 21, 2017, The Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, California, USA 8 (pp. 488-497). Springer International Publishing.
Mark, B. G., Hofmayer, S., Rauch, E., & Matt, D. T. (2019). Inclusion of workers with disabilities in production 4.0: Legal foundations in Europe and potentials through worker assistance systems. Sustainability, 11(21), 5978.
Oliver, M. (2013). The social model of disability: Thirty years on. Disability & society, 28(7), 1024-1026.
Rapid market changes call for demand-driven collaborations in manufacturing, which trigger supply chain evolution to more distributed supply structures.
This paper explores the system dynamics of the largest European aerospace manufacturer’s supply chain. The authors conceptualise a manufacturing ecosystem by observing the impacts of supplier development, digital platforms, smart contracting, and Industry 4.0 on demand-driven collaborations in time.
The research team offers further contributions to the literature on ecosystem strategy, particularly for regulated industries, by disclosing the role of demand-driven collaborations in supporting the ecosystems’ growth. This paper also provides manufacturing firms with an open-access tool to exemplify their ecosystem development and produce initial training datasets for AI/ML algorithms, supporting further analytics.
This research was conducted by Dr. Nikolai Kazantsev (IfM, University of Cambridge), Oleksii Petrovskyi (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), Professor Julian M. Müller (Seeburg Castle University, Austria and Erfurt University of Applied Sciences, Germany). 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 Nikolai Kazantsev.
The transition to sustainability coincides with an industrial digitalization. While this latest industrial revolution creates new challenges, it also revives historical ones encountered in previous transitions. Through two parallel systematic reviews, challenges are identified for the current digitalization transition and historical transitions: mechanization, electrification and computerization.
The aim of this research is to identify lessons from history that may help overcome the challenges of industrial digitalization. The paper provides illustrative examples of social factors that are either internal to a technology adopting organization or external, related to wider societal change. These factors suggest actionable insights that may support the adoption of Industrial Digital Technologies. The following videos and report introduce the project in more detail and provide a full accounting of their findings.
This research was conducted by Dr. Ahmad Beltagui, Dr. Brian Sudlow (Aston University) Dr. Miying Yang, Glen Jonata (Cranfield University), and Qinglan Liu (Exeter 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 discussion or questions about this project, please contact Ahmad Beltagui.
The competitiveness of industry in the UK is dependent on the rapidly growing digitalisation of manufacturers. Digitalisation provides the opportunity to drive the efficiency and innovativeness of manufacturers, and forms the basis for creating new business models. Yet, manufacturers are lagging in their investments into digitalisation and risk missing out on capturing the opportunities digitalisation offers. The below report, guide and video outline the specific challenges the manufacturing industry faces when making effective investments into digitalisation and identifies the key questions they should address to overcome them.
This research was conducted by Dr. Andreas Schroeder, Dr. Yang Zhao and Dr. Daniel Andrews (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 applications/collaborations, please contact Andreas Schroeder.
The term ‘ecosystem’ is derived from biology, capturing a system of entities interacting and depending on each other and reacting to outside challenges and requirements. Business ecosystems represent the intense relationships between interlinked multilateral, complementary actors or partners interacting for value creation (Adner, 2017; Hannah and Eisenhardt, 2018).
We define a manufacturing ecosystem as a subclass of business ecosystems where supply chain firms arrange demand-driven collaboration in all directions (e.g., with partners, buyers, and even customers), thus competing with large Tier-1 firms for direct manufacturing orders, gaining these orders, fulfilling them and capturing profits. This changes the topology of a hierarchical supply chain into a distributed manufacturing ecosystem, where Tier-1s do not arrange subcontracting of the awarded orders.
In the conventional supply chains, Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent most suppliers worldwide, accounting for 70% of jobs and generating up to 60% of value added (OECD, 2017). For example, the aerospace supply chain starts with the OEM, which places orders in a ‘Calls for Tenders’ (CfTs), organizes tendering processes (often leading to Tier-1s) and awards orders to the team that best matches the requirements. In this industry, SMEs can potentially provide components and services at multiple supply chain levels, but they often miss the scale, scope, standardization or technologies to play a more active role in tendering (Müller et al., 2018). Also, SMEs have reduced ability to act as suppliers due to powerful Tier-1 companies (Schirrmann & Drat, 2018).
However, what if demand-driven collaborations between SMEs are supported?
We simulate the application of Industry 4.0, Digital platforms, Smart contracts, and Supplier development programs (Kazantsev et al., 2022) and explore the growth of the manufacturing ecosystem from a conventional supply chain. We used system dynamics to simulate these changes and provide insights for manufacturing firms and policymakers about the desired level of support (Sterman, 2000; Akkermans and Wasserhove, 2018).
An interactive dashboard has been developed that allows the testing of ecosystem development:
1. Supplier development and digital platforms make marketplaces more transparent so that SMEs can see more calls for tenders
Supplier development programmes and digital platforms are needed to help SMEs identify more calls for tenders and potential partners for collaboration.
2. The collaboration experience and smart contracts reduce uncertainty levels and enable SMEs to submit more collaborative tenders
Participating in tendering would also enable SMEs to learn how to fulfil orders; therefore, allowing some quotas is helpful. The more firms collaborate on tenders, the lower the level of uncertainty in the market. New technologies, such as smart contracting, indirectly increase the number of submitted tenders and further support the development of a trustworthy business environment.
3. Technological support for contracting and coordination reduces the order execution queue and supports the growth of a manufacturing ecosystem
Insufficient contracting and coordination reduces order fulfilment efficiency and calls for digitalization (Kazantsev et al., 2023). Adopting smart contracting and Industry 4.0 increases the ability of SME collaboration to execute the awarded orders in time. Specifically, if we double investments into smart contracting and Industry 4.0 every year, the number of delayed orders grows until the 5th year but then starts falling. In the 6th year, 48 calls for tenders will be available (with a 15 % quota), seven orders out of which will be fulfilled the same year, and six orders from the previous year’s queue. In this case, the order execution rate reaches a plateau – executing all awarded orders. Year 5 is a breakeven point when order execution rate, delayed, and executed orders intersect.
Demand-driven collaborations play a critical role in unfolding manufacturing ecosystems. In the early stages of such transitions, investments in collaboration enablers are critical to support ecosystem growth. Thus, we recommend:
investing in supplier development and digital platforms as early as possible
enabling quotas for SMEs in tendering
increasing digitalization of contracting and coordination to support the efficiency of demand-driven collaborations
Adner, R. (2017). Ecosystem as Structure. Journal of management, 43(1), 39-58.
Akkermans, H., & Van Wassenhove, L. (2018). A dynamic model of managerial response to grey swan events in supply networks. International Journal of Production Research, 56(1-2), 10-21.
Hannah, D. P., & Eisenhardt, K. M. (2018). How firms navigate cooperation and competition in nascent ecosystems. Strategic management journal, 39(12), 3163-3192.
Kazantsev, N., Petrovskyi, O., & Müller, J. M. (2023). From supply chains towards manufacturing ecosystems: A system dynamics model. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 197, 122917.
Kazantsev, N. (2022). Supporting SME Collaborations in Low-Volume High-Variability Manufacturing. United Kingdom:The University of Manchester.
Kazantsev, N., Pishchulov, G., Mehandjiev, N., Sampaio, P., & Zolkiewski, J. (2022). Investigating barriers to demand-driven SME collaboration in low-volume high-variability manufacturing. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 27(2), 265-282.
Kazantsev N., DeBellis, M., Quboa Q., Sampaio P., Mehandjiev N., & Stalker I. (2023). An ontology-guided approach to process formation and coordination of demand-driven collaborations, International Journal of Production Research, DOI: 10.1080/00207543.2023.2242508
Müller, J. M., Buliga, O., & Voigt, K.-I. (2018). Fortune favors the prepared: How SMEs approach business model innovations in Industry 4.0. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 132, 2-17.
OECD. (2017). Enhancing the contributions of SMEs in a global and digitalized economy.
Schmidt, M. C., Veile, J. W., Müller, J. M., & Voigt, K. I. (2023). Industry 4.0 implementation in the supply chain: a review on the evolution of buyer-supplier relationships. International Journal of Production Research, 61(17), 6063-6080.Sterman. (2000). Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World McGraw Hill.
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.
Disruption, digital innovation, new business models… the world of manufacturing is changing rapidly, perhaps faster than ever before. To adapt and survive, businesses must anticipate changes, identify opportunities and make informed decisions.
So, how can you be ready for the changes that lie ahead? How can you pivot to be equally productive and sustainable, delivering progress with purpose?
The InterAct Future of Digital Manufacturing Ecosystems research team has put together a vital report that brings you the information you need, at your fingertips, outlining potential future scenarios and the associated opportunities for the manufacturing world.
Future of Digital Marketing Ecosystems – 2040 Scenarios
These scenarios map out four potential alternatives for the digital manufacturers of tomorrow, including:
Flexibility as Standard
Happy and Sustainable Workforce
Download the report to find out more about how the most useful measure of sustainable progress is total factor productivity, which accounts for inputs beyond labour – such as materials, energy and administrative time – to compare them against total outputs. You will also learn how these inputs can be measured against one another, and how businesses can begin working towards achieving them.
As the report shows, by considering the human factors behind digitalisation today, you’ll be much better placed to build true resilience into your business tomorrow.
This research was conducted by Dr. Wanrong Zhang, Professor Janet Godsell and Dr. Kamran Chatha (Loughborough 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 applications/collaborations, please contact Jan Godsell.
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 .
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 . 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 , 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 , industries  and countries . At the country-level for example, if the UK is to pursue its levelling-up agenda and overcome its regional  and international  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 , , .
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  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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
 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.
 Ciarli, T., Kenney, M., Massini, S., & Piscitello, L. (2021). Digital technologies, innovation, and skills: Emerging trajectories and challenges. Research Policy, 50(7), 104289.
 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.
 Office for National Statistics (2023) Regional labour productivity, UK: 2021