Top business challenges for manufacturers identified

Top business challenges for small to medium sized manufacturers are identified and matched to digital solution areas

Taking a radical approach to helping SMEs go digital, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge have released a catalogue of 59 digital solution areas which address many of the business needs of manufacturers.

The team from the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project compiled the catalogue after hosting workshops with 128 small to medium sized manufacturing companies.

The first of its kind, the catalogue identifies some of the common digital challenges that manufacturing SMEs are trying to overcome; grouped into four categories: Data capture and visualisation, Data analysis, Actuation, and Support systems.  The project is also developing pathways for inexpensive and easy-to-implement digital manufacturing solutions to these catalogue challenges.

SMEs often have more basic digitalisation needs than large companies, but according to Professor Duncan McFarlane [Shoestring Project Director], many of the available solutions are built and priced to be used at large scale:

Identifying common priorities amongst small to medium sized companies can help address the cost and knowledge barrier by providing direction for research and facilitating standardisation. Individual SMEs can benefit from the catalogue by quickly identifying potential digital solutions for their business and gaining a research-based overview of many of the available options. And for solution providers, the catalogue provides a "hot list" of future digital developments that can be expected to be of high relevance for potential customers.

Warren Services Chairman, Will Bridgman described the catalogue as a ‘gamechanger’ for industry, saying:

By addressing some of the common operational challenges we face, the catalogue lowers the need for deep technical understanding and provides a viable route towards digitalisation.

The comprehensive list was identified from data gathered from 128 SME manufacturing owners and decision makers.  99% of SMEs in the study rated at least one of the digital solution areas as being highly beneficial to their business.   The majority of the solution areas fall under operations (53%), which encompasses all activities that contribute to the main value a manufacturing company provides.

Thanks to a series of industry pilots, a number of companies have demonstrated that it is possible to design the solutions in this catalogue using low-cost components, thus addressing the financial resource barrier faced by many SMEs. For example, family-run manufacturer Buchanan Orthotics, which makes modular, bespoke and specialist footwear for clients including the NHS, have worked alongside Shoestring to explore how digitalisation can help improve productivity.

The company has successfully piloted a job tracking solution, which has “significant potential to benefit the company without the impact of major capital investment,” according to Ryan Currie, Buchanan’s Commercial Manager.

Where the company previously used a paper sheet to track orders through the system, low-cost scanners are now being used to digitise the location and status of jobs. This simple but effective solution demonstrates the combination of open source and other low-cost, off-the-shelf software technologies to collect and record typical manufacturing activities observed on a shop floor.

You can read more about the catalogue of digital solution areas and priority solution areas in this whitepaper produced by the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring programme’s research team.

If you are interested in finding out how your company or organisation can get involved in the Shoestring programme, or would like to know more, we would love to hear from you!

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