Calling manufacturers of all shapes and sizes: the fourth industrial revolution is coming – here’s how to thrive

Being small cannot be an excuse for being a late adopter. Small should mean agile, not slow. Andrew Churchill, executive chairman, JJ Churchill explains how manufacturers of all sizes can take advantage of new, connected technologies to improve processes, drive down costs and make the most of their data.

For manufacturers, technology is moving fast. We welcome it. As businesses, we are about driving change. New technology is what makes us successful.

But there are risks. The fourth industrial revolution, brought on by new disruptive technologies, real-time data and connectivity, creates a great need to compete, otherwise we will fail the next generation. And it is the next generation who are best equipped to thrive in this environment.

Invest in people

Don’t just invest in software and hardware – invest in people. We find in our business that staff who have the right mentality and skills to work in this world have often gone through the apprenticeship process. If you’re planning to be in business in five or ten years’ time and you’re not taking on apprentices who are digital natives, then you’re short-sighted.

Look ahead, plan ahead – get ahead

It’s vital to develop and stress-test a five to seven-year strategic plan – invest against this, rather than shorter-term tactical imperatives. The big themes in this plan should be to invest to drive value from your data, improve processes and drive global cost-competitiveness.

Of course, there are many technologies to embrace. Manufacturers need to understand additive manufacturing, robotics and autonomous production, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, analytics, advances in materials science and much more. But what draws these developments together is data. Increasingly, manufacturers have an ability to collect data and are learning that it can do so much more than telling you whether your machine is working. Data can predict maintenance and product deterioration before anything happens to disrupt your supply chain.

Data analytics levels the playing field

In a major industry report by Columbus, experts from automotive, retail and food and beverage manufacturing backgrounds all highlighted their efforts to turn data into actionable insights as a key step to digital transformation. Like many of these firms, as we continue to achieve rapid growth we also require new capabilities to improve in-house data analytics and access to real-time, accurate data for more informed decision-making.

Mapping productivity every step of the way

Companies are often excellent at collecting data, but it’s what you do with it that counts. By using data analytics, at JJ Churchill we have been able to cut our cycle time for one of our products by 40 per cent. The immediate benefits of this include reducing cost per part and increasing capacity, which adds up to higher productivity. To better compete on the world stage, this is essential. We are also investing in a fully robotic, closed-loop manufacturing cell and are planning to deploy a new enterprise resource planning platform to improve productivity in the supply chain.

Digital transformation in manufacturing is improving process capability and productivity in existing systems. But it is doing much more! It is reducing time to market through faster prototyping and product optimisation. It is facilitating the global supply of product and services, irrespective of geographic location. It is the future.

About the Author

Andrew Churchill is executive chairman of JJ Churchill, a family-owned aerospace precision engineering business based in the UK. He sits on the board of EEF: The Manufacturers’ Organisation, and his many industry roles include being an advisory panel member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Trade and Investment.