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Hiring, innovation and skilled engineers in focus as manufacturers aim for recovery

In association with Protolabs

'There’s never been a better time to embrace automation and new ways of working'
'There’s never been a better time to embrace automation and new ways of working'

At the time of writing, the UK is going through a rapid, but slightly turbulent recovery – companies are hiring and consumer demand is rising, but there have been some supply-chain hiccups along the way.

For the manufacturing industry this represents both a challenge and an opportunity as it seeks to bounce back – yes, it might be harder to find the right staff or to get products to customers, but there’s never been a better time to embrace automation and new ways of working.

Our annual survey of engineers in the manufacturing industry bears that out. We polled 152 engineers from across the UK, working in everything from automotive to energy. We’ve seen over the past year how the pandemic has rewarded companies that were nimble enough to adapt, and, just as it was in 2020, responsiveness is rated as one of the most important factors in success. But this year it’s been knocked off the top spot in that list – 42% of people chose ‘investing in the right talent’ as the most important factor, which serves as recognition (perhaps long overdue) that hiring the right people matters. The increase in remote working seems to have had a delayed effect on attitudes – after holding its position in 2020, geographical proximity was only chosen as the most important factor by 3.8% of respondents.

Manufacturing Insights stats 1

There’s been an increased focus on the importance of innovation – the hope being, perhaps, that we can invent our way out of some of the problems facing the world. More than 40% of respondents said their companies plan to invest in manufacturing in the next 12 months, up from 30% a year ago – although that may also be a function of budgets beginning to loosen as the economy opens up again after the pandemic. 
Manufacturing Insights stats 2

We again asked respondents to choose the five words they most associated with manufacturing – last year, it was robots and automation, but interestingly this year ‘engineering’ shot up the list, which highlights the obvious point – you can’t automate without skilled engineers to plan the right processes. Exactly 50% of those we surveyed said they expected automation in their businesses to increase moderately or more in the next 12 months.  
Manufacturing Insights stats 3

Last year, manufacturing engineers were fairly cool on the impromptu digital transformation going on in offices (and living rooms) across the country, and the rollout of 5G. The mood remained the same this time, but some saw the benefit, particularly for remote working. “Speed of transfer of design concepts and communication, as the greater bulk of work is carried out virtually and remotely,” wrote one respondent, while others pointed to the potential for remote monitoring – integrating 5G into Industry 4.0 is exactly the kind of innovation that will be vital on the bumpy road ahead.

Manufacturing Insights stats 4
Want to hear more about the results? Make sure to join the online Manufacturing Insights session at 1pm on Wednesday, 24 November, when Protolabs, Professional Engineering and Lydia Amarquaye from the IMechE will be discussing the findings of the survey.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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