LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEXT THREE YEARS, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU SEE MANUFACTURERS FACING?

Manufacturers today are facing more complex business challenges than ever before. In order to stay competitive in a global marketplace, they are under increasing pressure to produce higher quality goods at faster response times and lower costs. Mass customisation is adding to the weight of these considerations, and in order to balance customer expectations with sustainable growth and productivity, manufacturing must capitalise on recent technology advancements and the benefits digital transformation can bring.

Manufacturing productivity has increased by over 5% in the past year compared with only 0.3% within the entire UK economy. With focus firmly on the continuation of this growth and prosperity, the industry must decide how it approaches productivity and the value of the processes powering it. The question for modern British manufacturers is how to ensure business investment powers future growth and avoids stagnation. After all, a strong UK economy needs a strong UK manufacturing sector. British manufacturing can – and should – continue to build on its success and whether its streamlining processes or improving the layout of factories, there are plenty of ways for manufacturing to become leaner and more efficient.

BEARING THESE CHALLENGES IN MIND, HOW DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT CAN BETTER SUPPORT UK MANUFACTURERS?

Both the public and private sectors need to work together to overcome these challenges and support one another as we face a decline in the manufacturing supplier base.

The Government is already looking to increase its support of the manufacturing sector with a new fund, launched in 2015, to provide further support to an industry which contributes almost £150 billion a year to the UK.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE MANUFACTURING SECTOR IN THE UK AND INTERNATIONALLY IN THE NEXT 12-18 MONTHS?

3D printing is a perfect example of how technology can be used to take the already innovative manufacturing sector to the next level. Today’s consumers demand customised products and services with immediacy – which isn’t always economical with traditional manufacturing processes that are optimised for large volumes of consistent output in industrial centres. But 3D printers can – and increasingly are – being

used to economically create customised, improved and sometimes even difficult-to-manufacture products right where they will be used. It is quite literally a factory without the need for a factory, as a single printer can produce a vast range of products, sometimes already assembled.

Canon is currently making its first steps with 3D Systems into this promising market. At our recent EXPO event in Paris,  we showcased two 3D Systems printers, demonstrating how we envision manufacturing to become more efficient, productive and collaborative. In addition to 3D printers, we recently launched the Canon 3D Machine Vision Systems, for use with industrial robots and capable of high-speed, high-accuracy three dimensional recognition of objects. The new systems are designed to increase production efficiencies in factories by facilitating the automatic high-speed supply of parts to production lines.

However, with new technologies changing the face of modern manufacturing, manufacturers will need to recruit and train the right people to help move the industry forward in-line with technological innovation. Remaining productive will be more important than ever.

WHICH SECTORS WITHIN MANUFACTURING DO YOU THINK WILL BE ABLE TO SEIZE THESE OPPORTUNITIES AND EXPLOIT THEM FOR POSITIVE GROWTH?

For a long time 3D printing was something only larger enterprises could afford due to the high investment costs. Technological developments of recent years have decreased costs for lower-end 3D printers, making the concept accessible to a large audience. This means 3D printing is not only used by a wider range of sectors – such as automotive or domestic appliances – but also by a wider range of businesses, from small to large, which now benefit from the ability to create on-demand specialist tools and more rapid product development. Any initial investment in 3D printing technology could quickly pay for itself.

FINALLY, SUM UP UK MANUFACTURING IN JUST FIVE WORDS

Innovative, rapid, competitive, collaborative and digital.

Bob Pickles