<img src="https://secure.leadforensics.com/133892.png" alt="" style="display:none;">

Recently we attended Smart Factory Expo in Birmingham, the largest UK festival of advanced manufacturing and engineering of the year. We saw several cutting-edge innovations in hardware, software, and solutions, and joined many discussions about current industry challenges and how they can be overcome. 

In this blog, we summarise our key takeaways from the event and what manufacturers can expect for the rest of 2024 and beyond. 

Getting to grips with artificial intelligence

AI and data were the themes for several sessions, with manufacturers discussing how they can use, implement, and maximise both. According to The Manufacturer’s 2024 Momentum Report, 63% of manufacturers understand that AI will change the future but are unsure where to start in their own business. 

Charles Wright, Director of Data and AI at Columbus, spoke about how manufacturers can simplify their AI approach, providing insights into how a simplified, product-based strategy can significantly improve adoption rates. Some key takeaways from Charles’ session were: 

  • AI is accessible and achievable for all levels of manufacturing operations
  • Understanding the AI product lifecycle is crucial for effective implementation 
  • Identifying the right adoption strategies can lead to successful AI deployment, despite the daunting statistics of AI project failure 

For further information on our data and AI solutions and services, read more here

There were also discussions around how manufacturers often find themselves in "pilot purgatory", where they’ve identified use cases for AI and carried out a proof of concept or pilot, but nothing further ever materialises. Some of the ways manufacturers can avoid falling into this AI void lie in a product development roadmap that can help organisations scale out.  

The key is to aim for early success – identify areas in your business that are already built for AI success and where there can be real impact value. An experienced AI implementation partner can provide manufacturers with AI proofs of concept and pilots, leaving organisations with something tangible to build on. 

In our manufacturing webcast series, our Columbus experts discuss how manufacturers can integrate AI and machine learning into their organisations.

You can watch the first episode below. 


Increasing risk of cybersecurity 

While manufacturers have been busy connecting their systems and increasing data granularity across their plants and factories, there has been a lack of attention to the dangers connected systems can pose in a cyberattack. With only 1% of manufacturers expressing a lack of concern about this critical topic, it's likely a contributing factor to the manufacturing industry being the most targeted sector for cyberattacks for the third consecutive year. 

Some of the reasons why cybersecurity isn’t currently top-of-mind include: 

  • Focus on production efficiency – The continuous drive to meet production targets could be deprioritising cybersecurity investments 
  • Lack of awareness – There appears to be a lack of understanding regarding the specific risks attributed to cyber-attacks, hindering the adoption of necessary protective measures 
  • Overreliance on legacy systems – Many manufacturing plants are still using legacy systems that weren’t originally designed with cybersecurity in mind. Retrofitting these systems with modern measures creates both significant financial and technical challenges 
  • Lack of tailored solutions – The general consensus among manufacturers is that cybersecurity solutions are generic and not specially tailored to the unique needs of the manufacturing sector, which is hindering adoption 

Meeting sustainability challenges 

UK manufacturing stands at a pivotal crossroads, where sustainability is no longer just a buzzword but a business imperative. This was highlighted in one of the sessions at the event by the fact that 39% of manufacturing companies believe climate change and net-zero ambitions will become more of a priority over the next three years. 

Ian Kingstone, Director of Strategy & Growth at Columbus, spoke at the event about how accelerating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting and initiatives can help unlock unprecedented business growth and innovation. 

By properly focusing on ESG, manufacturers can go beyond regulatory compliance and gain competitive advantages such as greater collaboration, better attraction and retention of top talent, staying in tune with consumer trends, and uncovering new market opportunities. 

 Read more from Ian Kingstone about ESG reporting in the manufacturing industry here.

Columbus at Smart Manufacturing and Engineering Week

Building a strong organisational culture 

The primary concern among manufacturers regarding their workforce was organisational culture and the challenge of establishing a culture that supports innovation, collaboration, and employee wellbeing. Ioana Hera, Head of Improvement at Rolls-Royce, discussed what Rolls-Royce had been doing to address this.  

Ioana highlighted the importance of starting small and not being afraid to fail, while remaining accountable for any changes undertaken. She also emphasised the importance of supporting employees throughout the process, answering the "what’s in it for me?" question from the start, and maintaining constant communication. 

The overriding message was that by bringing the right set of stakeholders together, manufacturers can layer and craft transformation initiatives that the entire business will embrace, rather than having changes pushed upon employees with little engagement. 

The future of the manufacturing industry 

Smart Factory Expo was a brilliant two-day event with lots of interesting discussions about what's happening in the industry and what's ahead. AI is certainly a hot topic at the moment, with businesses still trying to figure out how it can best be utilised in their organisations.  

Sustainability and eco-consciousness are also emerging as key trends, while cybersecurity could become a major issue for manufacturers if significant steps aren't taken soon. The Manufacturer predicts that it will take a severe cyber incident affecting a major manufacturer to shock the industry into action. 

Manufacturers are sometimes perceived as slow adopters of leading technologies. However, Smart Factory Expo highlighted that manufacturers are more than willing to embrace technologies that can demonstrate tangible outcomes such as process improvements or cost savings.  

Smart Manufacturing and Engineering week entry sign

Watson-Marlow is just one example of a manufacturer that recognised it needed to undergo a significant transformation project to drive business growth and get closer to its customers. Alongside this, Watson-Marlow appreciated the need to engage in change management within the project, helping lay the groundwork for the main initiative and ensuring a solid foundation for successful implementation. 

The result? Improved data quality, accuracy, and pipeline visibility, plus several other future plans to improve the organisation as it continues to grow. Watch the full project story by clicking on the button below. 

Read the Watson-Marlow case study

Alternatively, you can learn more about our manufacturing solutions and services here.


Discuss this post

Recommended posts

By taking ESG reporting seriously, you go beyond giving stakeholders like consumers, financial associates, and governments the information that they want. ESG reporting offers industries a range of competitive advantages.
Effective ESG reporting is rapidly becoming a key influencer in business performance management strategies as manufacturers realise its impact on the bottom line and value creation for stakeholders. Sixty percent of UK businesses are already setting long-term ESG targets, but there’s much more to it than this. In this blog I'll explain how easy it is for manufacturers to use ESG data accelerators to fast-forward their ESG reporting strategies, unlocking new business growth opportunities.
Manufacturers have long been reducing waste and improving product yield and quality by rolling out lean and Six Sigma methodologies. However, due to the complexity and quantity of production activities for most manufacturers, it’s often challenging to identify where they can optimise their processes. This is where implementing new technology can help. Here, we explore five benefits of introducing manufacturing-specific solutions within your operations and how it’ll improve your financial efficiency.
The wheels of the fourth industrial revolution, "Industry 4.0", keep turning — and the manufacturing industry has not been left behind. The industry's future is bright even after the significant blow it got from COVID-19.
Traditionally, manufacturers could stay competitive by offering the most innovative products or using the latest technology. While these still play a role in ensuring your business stays ahead of the competition, more and more customers (particularly in B2B) are also looking for convenient experiences.
right-arrow share search phone phone-filled menu filter envelope envelope-filled close checkmark caret-down arrow-up arrow-right arrow-left arrow-down