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How can the region’s manufacturers keep up with new technologies?

Culture and skills are the biggest barriers to technology adoption, according to manufacturing and digital experts.

Digital-tech companies are keen to amplify the ‘humble brilliance’ of the Sheffield City Region’s manufacturing sector, but say the biggest obstacles are often cultural rather than technological. This was one of the key themes of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s (AMRC) latest Digital Meet Manufacturing (DMM) event, held in collaboration with The Developer Academy. This event summary offers up some useful things to consider if you are a tech company working with the manufacturing industries, or if you are looking to up skill your workforce to take on new technologies.

DMM is the AMRC’s campaign to connect our digital community to manufacturing businesses. The ‘Breakfast & Bytes’ session at Kollider in Sheffield, in partnership with Barclays Eagle Labs, focussed on how to upskill workforces and explained the funding available for the adoption of Industry 4.0, with presentations from software developer Razor, large-scale engineering company Tinsley Bridge and Sheffield City Region Skills Bank. Businesses were told what help is out there to digitise their organisations and advised that not upskilling their workforces leaves them in danger of being left behind by the industry.

“There are three big digital challenges for manufacturers: culture, skills and persistence,” said Alex Kelly, IT manager at Tinsley Bridge.

“Going digital allows us to become more agile, but there are some big barriers. Even getting wireless internet onto our shop floor is extremely difficult, with our CNC machines and miles of cables, so we have to design the software with that in mind.

“Then there is the massive skills gap between the office and the shop floor; we introduced tablets and some of our shop floor operators were scared of them. So a large part of the battle to digital adoption is pushing people to update their skills – that and culture go hand in hand.”

Sheffield Digital member Razor develop software and design systems for businesses, with a recent move into the manufacturing sector inspired by an introduction from the AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult. CEO Jamie Hinton said, “Our challenge is not so much developing the technology; it is understanding people, changing perceptions and delivering software in such a way that they accept it.

“Moving into manufacturing has been massively challenging, but hands-down so much fun. There is a humble brilliance of manufacturers in South Yorkshire and we can amplify their capability.”

Ben Atha, founder of The Developer Academy, added, “Companies need to start investing in digital skills, otherwise they will get left behind.

“Digital transformation can be expensive and you may encounter unwilling staff, but perpetual innovation can spread the cost and it is important to give people the know-how to take advantage of new technologies.”

Access training to upskill your workforce

Sheffield City Region Skills Bank launched in April 2019 to provide employers with access to high-quality training and funding for skills development which supports business growth.

“We are extremely keen to help companies across all sectors, including manufacturing and construction, to upskill their workforce, and this includes the adoption of digital technologies,” said Wendy Dodson, Senior Programme Manager at Sheffield City Region. “We don’t want the Sheffield City Region to be left behind.”

“Right now, we see many manufacturers requesting training for leadership and management skills but there are lots more options available through Skills Bank, which is also unique in its ability to offer tailor-made training specifically to address a business’ individual needs.

“Our Strategic Economic Plan sets out our ambition to improve productivity, make businesses more productive, more competitive and make the Sheffield City Region more attractive.”

Digital Meet Manufacturing

DMM is a campaign to connect digital companies and manufacturers in the Sheffield City Region in a way that benefits both sectors. The AMRC’s Deputy Head of Digital, Jonathan Bray, is leading the DMM programme and said, “Businesses need to understand tomorrow’s challenges today; if we train workforces now, they will be prepared for the future.

“Adopting digital technology is a journey all manufacturers need to go on, but each will go at their own pace and in their own direction, so understanding where they are now and what the journey might entail is a vital first step.

“The more you start to bring in elements of automation, the more important soft skills are, like critical thinking, creativity and leadership. This is where Skills Bank can help employers fund the upskilling of their workforces.”

For more information on the series of networking events, workshops and hacks that are being run as part of the AMRC’s DMM campaign, click here.