How can a company design and make products better? How can it empower its people to do higher value work, boost productivity and allow the company to grow?
Our weekly The Art of the Impossible podcast discusses aspects of digital transformation with experts at design and manufacturing companies, explore how to leverage technologies, processes and people to do what you do better, and make the impossible possible.
Asif Moghal, Senior Industry Manager, hosts manufacturing leaders from a range of companies, including ambitious SMEs, exploring how they are tackling today’s challenges in the design and manufacturing business. The first three cover:
- How digital transformation is reshaping manufacturing – Guests: William Bridgman, Chairman at Warren Services, and Chris Greenough, Chief Commercial Officer at SDE Technology
- Inspiring the next generation of digital leaders – Guests: Nick Hussey, CEO of The Manufacturer, and Jason Cole of Jonathan Lee Recruitment
- What is innovation? – Guest: Matthew MacLennan, mechanical design engineer at Steve Vick International
Getting the digital transformation journey off to the right start
Digital transformation can sound complex – but it can be achieved in small steps.
Will Bridgman, Warren Services’ Chairman, and Chris Greenough, Chief Commercial Officer, SDE Technology, stripped away the buzzwords and focused on the companies’ goals: the primary one is, often, to grow the business. Driving efficiencies, removing waste, saving costs and boosting productivity are common ways to achieve it.
In addition, many SMEs want to empower their people to do more stimulating, high value work. Good, meaningful data is at the heart. It allows people to drill down and make better decisions.
Bridgman says that companies must ask: what is the biggest problem they want to solve? Once identified, he recommends they apply the right digital tools. For instance, the growth of home working under Covid-19 has shown SMEs they have access to a global engineering workforce. Why not employ an engineer in the US or India to keep the business working 24-7?
But where to begin Greenough’s message is “Start by doing something”. He recommends building a roadmap of the business process flow from the start to the end goal, marking which stages don’t add value. “Don’t over-plan. If you get it wrong first time, learn and try something else”, he adds.
Finding the next generation of digitally empowered manufacturing leaders
Leadership is critical to companies’ success – but how do we nurture outstanding “digital leaders”? Asif Moghal; Nick Hussey, CEO of The Manufacturer; and Jason Coles, a senior recruiter at Jonathan Lee Recruitment discussed the issue in the second podcast.
Hussey emphasised the importance today of the servant leader, who is responsible for how their people perform and are treated, social impact and sustainability, and shareholder value – the “triple bottom line”. Today’s automotive sector is driven by much more inclusive executives, for example. Immersion and communication achieve better buy-in from the organisation and a stronger sense of truth, Coles said. Agility is necessary. Good leaders must adapt to a digital world that has adapted to lean, just-in-time (JIT), and globalisation of supply chains. They need to delegate, have faith in their teams to implement the digital technology they do not understand.
The search for future digital leaders must fall outside the typical recruitment process. Engineers are great problem-solvers but not always great managing directors, Hussey observed. Firms could promote non-engineers to director level, to bring fresh perspective and new skills. Leaders must look outside their own plant and visit other production facilities, other non-manufacturing businesses and attend conferences, to gather best practice.
“Just-in-time design” – from innovative idea to business model
In the third podcast, Matthew McClennan, mechanical designer engineer at Steve Vick International, shares an insightful view of the often-nebulous concept of innovation. Steve Vick decommissions and repairs gas pipes; it faces a myriad of technical challenges to keep gas supplied while replacing the pipework.
McClennan said innovation is misunderstood as a single, breakthrough event, like the first powered flight or the iPhone. In fact, it’s about failure and the combination of numerous new, often flawed, ideas. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, accumulated decades of failed attempts to realise his ambitions but people still tend to think of the MacBook or iPhone as the single innovative thing he made.
Companies have been through JIT manufacturing and now need “just-in-time design”, because manufacturing is becoming decentralised and agile, like rapid prototyping.
Innovation is also about collaboration, timing and luck. The Wright Brothers didn’t beat the competition to the first powered flight because they were better; they gathered information from their peers, shared their own ideas and learned more from others’ mistakes.
The big pharmaceutical companies have gone through an incredibly accelerated, forced innovation process in the Covid-19 global vaccine race.
“Innovation can be stressful, and ugly and scary. Most people are averse to it, people are reluctant to change,” McClennan adds. But innovation is also about doing something simple, a bit differently.
The Art of the Impossible podcasts, offering insights with inspiring business leaders, are now freely available on the Autodesk website, Acast, Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and Amazon.