Balancing traditional and modern processes

May 1, 2019

Ben Gilhespy, from the Engineering and Manufacturing Network (EMN), gives an overview of the regional business scene and the balance that companies face between doing what they’re used to and trying to adopt a more innovative approach to business development

As the largest, fastest-growing cross-sector manufacturing network in the North East, with more than 300 member organisations, EMN reaches into some incredible businesses – many of which are breaking into international markets.

These companies highlight what a fantastic region we live, work and do business in and backs up our belief that we’re a global leader within the fields of engineering and manufacturing.

Our network’s reach is broad and includes businesses across a diverse range of sectors, including traditional engineering, chemical, digital, electronics and many more, all of which are seeing demonstrable improvements to their businesses by investing in new innovative processes.

However, unless there is a drive for improvement then a business will often continue to do what it has always done. In many cases successfully, but there’s always a risk that future time industry passes them by.

That said, we should never overlook the need to maintain some form of foot in the traditional engineering camp and keep the skills for fear of them being lost forever. So how to balance the traditional with the modern?

An approach we adopted to demonstrate to a business the benefits of getting traditional and innovative methods of processing right is with the use of a live case study. Here, the improvements to traditional engineering were broken down into activities to show how rewards could be achieved – even with smaller businesses where investment opportunities are limited.

The case study was hugely successful and raised many interesting questions around positive, but cost-effective, first steps on the ladder of advanced manufacturing.

It also highlighted a significant responsibility on our region’s larger manufacturers to showcase the steps they are taking to innovate and improve manufacturing processes into their supply chain.

This has to be done by opening their doors and, while maintaining necessary confidentiality, taking the opportunity to show the huge leaps forward that can be made in products and processes by implementing new technologies.

Another obstacle is that smaller businesses don’t necessarily have the budgets to explore innovative processes and products without expecting to see significant return on investment, which is understandable.

In many cases improvements are not as attractive on paper as they are once witnessed first-hand in action, where tangible benefits can be seen and appreciated.

Improvements can’t be bought ‘in a box’ and in every case the business needs to identify changes that can practically be made and what expected outcomes will be.

That said, some processes are fine the way they are and not everything will necessarily need to be changed for improved processes.

There is also a need to recognise that while there is apprehension to engage with certain aspects of advanced manufacturing as it could have impact on ‘old fashioned’ jobs, this need not be the case. Many of our businesses engage in processes that are described as advanced manufacturing but are complimentary to traditional roles, perhaps reducing risks to personnel or making processes more fluid and therefore improving productivity and ultimately the bottom line.

EMN works with both manufacturers and suppliers, which allows us a unique opportunity to assist businesses in their journey to a more productive and innovative future.

Engineering and Manufacturing Network