Written by Dinara Davlembayeva
Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, digital transformation in Manufacturing had been slower than some sectors to realise full potential due to the high investment required, the lack of expertise and skills, as well as the challenges that it posed for existing technological and organisational structures. However, as the manufacturing sector was most disrupted by the pandemic on both the supply and demand sides, the barriers to the digital innovation in the sector were largely broken down.
Recent reports show that the percentage of manufacturing leaders prioritising digitalisation almost doubled (46%) compared to before the pandemic (27%). Digital transformation bypassed the years of progress – in months. Eecutives in manufacturing firms have now realised the benefits to be gained and are now more committed to the continuous adoption of innovative practices. Ongoing digital innovation has been changing the way in which companies think about what it is possible to do in the manufacturing cycle, starting from design to production and inspection.
To appreciate the seismic changes that manufacturing industry has gone through, Sphere Network organised a virtual conversation with Marianne Whitfield, Director of Development at MSP, about digital innovation in manufacturing.
Marianne has spent the last 25 years working in technology and product development and has extensive experience working strategically with government and large corporates. She joined MSP in 2018. MSP provides integrated metrology solutions to manufacturers across the globe to enable full automation and stable manufacturing cycles. The company develops innovative solutions to industry problems, based on decades of research and development and a unique understanding of the complex metrology that underpins the full part-production process.
As Director of Development, Marianne has leads product development teams and is responsible for the development, maintenance and delivery of products and exploiting the opportunities of emerging technologies. Marianne shared her experience on how MSP had gone through the COVID-19 Crisis, including the stages of distress, adaptation and acceptance. She discussed how digital technologies had impacted the company resilience during that time, and how MSP is looking to develop a whole new talent pool that will drive innovation throughout North Northumberland in the future.
For this company, which had never really worked remotely, the first stage after the breakout of the pandemic was a period of ‘distress’! In light of the changing environment, the company rapidly shifted to working from home, started gathering feedback from partners and other stakeholders about the way in which they had been adapting to the changes and analysed how those practices could be used in the practices of MSP. The next step was understanding customers and transformations in the market landscape. As some industries such as aerospace, became stagnant overnight, the company had to reorganise its capabilities. Taking advantage of furlough schemes, the divisions involved in non-viable industry sectors were put on hold. Apart from organisational restructuring, the company adapted products and services to shift to working remotely, which included changes in codes, and preparation of the remote support and maintenance team.
By August 2020, MSP managed to refactor products and adapt the business model. The partial lifting of social distancing restrictions gave the opportunity to get access to the innovation centre to test and pilot products to see how they could work in the remote environment. From the strategic perspective, the company had to look for opportunities and understand in which areas the company’s effort needed to be reconsidered. As manufacturing had been behind in terms of digitalisation, the importance lay in developing further strategies of automating the manufacturing process and making customers aware of the changes. The fears, which meant the industry lagged behind in the digital innovation race, were mostly erased. By January 2021, although a lot of people were still on furlough, MSP started working on a formal digital strategy, focusing on key strategic decisions, setting long-term goals in terms of product development and developing a roadmap to achieve them.
By July 2021, the company had accepted and adapted to the new conditions of doing business and a hybrid working environment, while some employees returned to their offices. In an attempt to understand how the industry was doing at that moment and what gaps could be filled, it was important to focus on lead generation, innovation and automation. As the lack of industry events had a toll on customer relationship management and acquisition, new lead generation channels started to be utilised. A lot more conversations with potential customers were carried out through social media and the website.
Whilst from the technical point of view, a lot of processes could be automated, virtual communication could not fully replace face-to-face relationship building. Therefore, the company started actively participating in industry events and conferences to build awareness, as well as understand prospective customers and new marketplaces. New opportunities opened up as a result of analysing the changes in demand around the world and not only in the UK.
Going forward, the company is focusing on three strategic priorities. Firstly, maintaining positivity, learning from experience and focusing on growth. As there is potential in manufacturing in terms of the green agenda and sustainability, which are not fully realised, the company can provide the software to help customers avoid waste and be more resilient. Secondly, encouraging the next generation into tech careers and innovation. The company has launched a number of initiatives and collaborations with local high schools. They are mutually beneficial for the company in terms of developing and sharing knowledge and for young people in terms of developing aspiration and on-the-ground experience. The third strategic direction is to push for change, rather than to stick with the status quo. Collectively and collaboratively, companies can understand where opportunities exist not only to survive through a crisis, such as the COVID-10 pandemic, but to make a difference in the industry.
- Manufacturing had been behind in terms of digitalisation before the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Pandemic broke down the barriers to digital innovation, which were seen as too high investment, the lack of expertise and skills, and the implications for existing technological and organisational structures.
- MSP’s journey through the pandemic included the stages of distress, adaptation and acceptance, which may resonate with the experience of many other companies in the sector.
- When adapting to the crisis, it may be important to focus on key strategic decisions, setting long-term goals and developing a roadmap to achieve them.
- The analysis of the changes in customer demand around the world may open new opportunities and markets that companies could potentially tap into.
- When going forward, three areas to focus on are: 1) growth, 2) encourage innovation and 3) push for change.
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