Damian Hennessey talks about stemming the tide of growth …
There is no doubt that the rise of 3D printing and big data technologies will transform the way businesses manage logistics and production over the next decade and government support for this vital area for growth and innovation will help to drive this transformation.
Manufacturing, like other industries, is undergoing a digital revolution. New business models are being built around customer demand, production speed, and enhanced software programming. Recent developments in digital technology have led to exciting opportunities, embracing advanced manufacturing techniques in which software and hardware converge for faster production times and rapid prototyping. This rise of ‘digital manufacturing’ across Europe will empower the digital economy by allowing a whole new generation of ‘makers’ to bring their ideas to market at speeds never before experienced.
Advances such as rapid prototyping, for example, can provide manufacturers with the versatility and mass-scale production they need to remain competitive. Here, ideas created via a CAD screen can quickly become reality through the use of automated CNC (computerised numerical control) machining, advanced injection moulding and 3D printing techniques, allowing the production of prototype components within a couple of days.
It’s important to accept just how customer demands have changed, and that speed to market is now everything. To keep up with this accelerating pace, manufacturers need the right support and encouragement to find ways of achieving the fast product times customers demand, without compromising quality.
This manufacturing revolution will require highly skilled workers to drive it forward – the best engineers and designers, armed with the best possible STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) qualifications.
According to a recent government report, the manufacturing industry will need to employ a further 80,000 people in managerial, professional and technical positions by 2020, many of whom will require a STEM qualification. However, despite a 17% increase in A-levels in STEM subjects since 2010, it was revealed that only around a quarter of current engineering and technology graduates will go on to work in manufacturing after leaving higher education.
We need to consider, therefore, what can be done to encourage greater uptake of STEM subjects, and highlight manufacturing as an attractive option for graduates. There has never been a better time for those with STEM talent to shine, and find roles that demand their much sought-after skills. The government, education system and manufacturing industry must unite to improve awareness of the need for STEM skills and career opportunities available within manufacturing.
Only by investing in, and encouraging the next generation of talent can we help the industry to ‘digitally connect the dots’ and make British manufacturing competitive on a global scale.
Damian Hennessey is Director of Proto Labs where he has worked for over a decade. He has successfully built the commercial function and now leads Europe’s largest sales team for Proto Labs. A qualified engineer by profession, he combines technical and industry expertise to deeply understand the requirements of Proto Labs customers.