Masterclass... February 2016

Tim Lawrence

Tim Lawrence
Tim Lawrence

Manufacturing is moving out of the factory as digitisation brings big changes and challenges

Tim Lawrence, head of manufacturing at PA Consulting Group

PA engineers help companies to improve their long-term profitability. Often that means helping them develop their capacity to introduce new technologies, manufacturing processes and systems to improve efficiencies and innovate. The PA experts work with large OEMs through to small firms and start-ups across all sectors, from consumer goods and healthcare to aerospace and automotive. 

It’s an exciting time to be an engineer in manufacturing – or to come into it. We see additive manufacturing as moving from prototyping into the mainstream over the next five to seven years.

We are designing fewer tools as large pieces of equipment and more digital manufacturing systems. This requires the different skillsets of science, engineering, IT and operations to work much more closely together.

The benefits will be much greater responsiveness and flexibility in manufacturing. You won’t need to spend time retooling, you will be able to deliver different products, customise them and control stock levels much faster.

Digitisation will also enable a world where manufacturing does not need to happen within the four walls of a factory. Instead, with additive manufacturing and digital files, it can happen across the whole supply chain – in the warehouse and in retail spaces for example – with 3D printers that can make parts as they are needed or personalise products. Once you take the tooling outside the factory, you open up lots of opportunities.

Smart everything and the internet of things also have a role to play. There are certain technologies in this area that are further ahead than others. Enterprise Resource Planning and other business systems, for example, will look very different as business models evolve and the boundaries between physical and digital products continue to blur.

So you need to start thinking about how you want your business as a whole to develop in the long term, and about manufacturing as happening end-to-end. Engineers will need to work with a broader perspective on technology. Additive manufacturing will be used across lots of different sectors, and mechanical engineers will increasingly need to work in a more holistic way, with things like electronics and food science.

People need to be trained to use this new technology. Manufacturing solutions will be more intelligent and there will be software platforms that need operating. We’ve had a skills shortage, so now we need to start training up engineers and encouraging others back to manufacturing.

There will also be more competition. The field will level up – the cost of capital will fall and you will be making things for the local market. We’ll see a lot more small organisations blossoming.

We are at the start of the journey of putting these technologies into a coherent manufacturing solution, but their impact will be massive. Lean and offshoring are part of the landscape, but there is a step change coming. Manufacturing – are you ready for it?

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