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New technology in manufacturing: How to support your employees

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As the UK manufacturing sector continues to evolve, new technology can help businesses to progress.

By moving away from legacy solutions (or even spreadsheets and paper) and using modern tech, your business can steal a march to overcoming those challenges.

However, in a bid to move with the times, you need to take your employees with you. That might be tricky as some may not be ready (or confident) when it comes to using new technology.

By offering the right support, you’ll be able to enhance their skill sets and set your manufacturing firm up for success.

Read this article for tips on how you can support your employees when implementing new technology in order to help your business stay of the competition.

How UK manufacturers are using new technology

A leading UK car manufacturer is using 17 ‘digital workers’ to carry out manual tasks, saving £3m a year.

At another manufacturing firm, staff sport wearable devices that capture precisely how they carry out manual tasks – and turn their actions into videos, to train other workers.

These are just two examples of how UK manufacturers are using technology to become part of the fourth industrial revolution within manufacturing – aimed at digitising the industry and streamlining tasks that are ‘dull, dangerous, dirty, or dear’.

According to Make UK, which represents 20,000 manufacturers, technology and data could also help the manufacturing sector get through industry challenges, such as the national productivity puzzle and potential impacts of Brexit, and remain competitive in a global industry.

In parallel, a tempting array of technology innovations are ready and waiting to be used by manufacturers, including:

  • Augmented reality
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Robotics
  • The Internet of Things
  • Data analytics.

How to keep staff on side when implementing new technology

But there’s no escaping that these new solutions may feel like the great unknown to some employees.

However, by providing robust consultation and clear communication, you’ll be able to take the right steps to integrate and embed any technological change within your business.

By demonstrating how new tech has the potential to positively impact people working across every area of your processes and operations, you’ll be able to transform your company (and its culture) for the better.

5 tips to support employees when implementing new tech

Guy Sorrill is head of delivery at Sysdoc, a consultancy that has supported several manufacturers through digital transformation projects.

Here, he shares five tips for implementing a tech project successfully.

1. Prioritise your people

Technology is an enabler but you will always need people to specify items, and carry out fixes and repairs. There are still many roles that just can’t be outsourced to a machine.

Staff will often understand the detail of processes and roles better than you, and have valuable suggestions for improvements.

Listen to their feedback – positive and negative – and incorporate suggestions in the design of new solutions.

2. Your project should be business owned not IT-led

Set up a project team with representation from all departments likely to be affected by the switch to new technology.

This will help to maximise buy-in and ideas, and ensure the final solution supports business objectives and the requirements of your customers.

3. Have a change management plan for your employees

You risk losing your best people if you fail to explain the need for new technology, and reassure staff that they can be redeployed on to value-add tasks. In an industry facing a well-documented skills shortage, that could become a problem.

Implement a clear communications plan to explain the who, what, when, where and why behind the change.

Take time to explain the benefits for employees – who can move away from manual tasks and towards value-add, enjoyable and challenging work.

4. Plan, plan, plan – then plan again, as the earliest phases of your project determine success

Your job is running a business. You can’t afford to stop generating revenue while new technology implementation takes place in your business.

Develop a transparent project management plan with clear accountability to build trust and maintain staff morale, which is critical to your business operations.

5. Link your technology plan to a benefits case and ensure there’s clear return on your investment

The cost of technology projects can become astronomical if you get them wrong. It’s vital that you develop clear requirements, plan the process and share a clear return on investment.

This will help your people to support the shift and associated changes required to see it through.

Upskilling staff

Many people’s fears stem from nervousness or lack of experience in using new tech. But with a robust project plan in place, manufacturers can look to introduce additional training for staff, to make them feel confident about the changes.

Bekki Phillips is managing director of In-Comm Training, which works with 212 manufacturers and engineering firms to gather requirements for industry training programmes. The firm provides advice on key areas, such as the implementation of new technologies such as robotics and automation.

Phillips says: “It really is worth considering external support. Change can mean disruption, but manufacturers have a business to run – your people need to focus on making money. Let experts take away some of the pain.”

She adds that for any technology project to be a success, it’s critical to get buy-in from staff.

“Your people have to understand the change and the benefits that new equipment can bring to their roles,” says Phillips.

“It’s likely that they will be able to upskill to a higher level, they could be involved in the maintenance of that equipment, and they might be able to make more money.

“Not all solutions will help but there’s no harm in looking. It is really important people keep an open mind.”

Lessons from the automotive sector: How to engage your people in digital transformation

A well-known UK automotive manufacturer is saving £3m in a year by implementing robotic process automation (RPA) to perform repetitive and transactional software-based tasks on behalf of employees.

Using this technology has also enabled the firm to operate with a permanently lower cost base and future-proof operations without sacrificing productivity.

Before embarking on what was a significant digital transformation project, the firm called in specialist support from Sysdoc. The company leads organisations through digitally driven transformation projects and enables people to work in simpler, smarter ways.

Sysdoc helped the company map out its processes in detail. From there, the team could identify how roles and processes needed to change in order to integrate the new solution.

The team also needed to manage a cultural shift. While manufacturers are used to seeing innovation on the production line, the new ‘digital workforce’ sits within the software applications – linking and working across 50 business applications.

To manage this change and raise awareness, Sysdoc helped to deliver a comprehensive communications programme including workshops, presentations, showcase videos and newsletters.

This meant staff understood why digital workers were being introduced and how this would improve jobs – because they were freed up to work on high-value activities, and the work they enjoy the most.

With support from the workforce, the manufacturer could introduce digital workers and realise a return on investment more quickly, and RPA is now part of the long-term strategic direction of the manufacturer.

Three sources of help to explore

Government support

Manufacturing makes up 11% of gross value added (GVA), 44% of total UK exports and directly employs 2.6 million people.

As a priority industry, there is a wealth of business support from the government for manufacturers looking to implement technology.

This includes the Made Smarter programme – aimed at inspiring the UK’s next industrial revolution and making manufacturing a leader in the creation and adoption of new technologies.

Innovation support

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult helps firms with technology development, workforce development, problem solving, manufacturing expertise, policy insights and intelligence, and research and testing.

Growth support

The Manufacturing Growth Programme offers millions of pounds’ worth of funding to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) manufacturers looking to grow.

The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Economic Growth Solutions, part of Oxford Innovation Services Ltd.

Final thoughts

The explosion of new technology provides a real opportunity for manufacturers.

Take the time to explore the technology that can help your business, then get your employees on board.

Communicate your vision and where your people fit in – show them how utilising new tech will enhance not only the company but their own working lives.

Support your staff with the changes, and offer adequate training, so they are confident in their roles and outputs.

By taking them on the journey of digital transformation and empowering them to succeed, your employees will help your manufacturing firm to keep pushing ahead.

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