What companies are doing to drive positive change: Five ways to manage uncertainty in UK industry

The current economic climate in the UK has created some uncertainty. Despite this, UK businesses have been resilient in the face of adversity and many are creatively leading innovation in the engineering sector. Here, Jeremy Whittingham, head of marketing at Advanced Engineering, explains five ways businesses are managing uncertainty.

1. Speed up innovation

The speed at which businesses innovate can take a hit during uncertain times. Capital investment is likely to fall, decision making on new projects can stagnate and new product lifecycles can elongate.

However, for forward-thinking organisations, the need to innovate and invest in research and development (R&D) becomes even more crucial during tough times. For Xi Engineering, a digital twinning expert who helps its customers speed up innovation, this is exactly the case.

“We work with businesses across the globe to solve engineering problems, in sectors such as high-end audio, automotive, renewable energy and transport” explains Mark-Paul Buckingham, Managing Director of Xi Engineering.

“We offer services like simulation and accurate modelling to help our customers trial innovations that would take longer if done manually. Our customers benefit from reduced development time, a reduction in product cost and a decrease in the number of product changes required during manufacturing. This gives our clients the ability to launch products more quickly to market without the roadblock typically associated with engineering product development.”

2. Diversify your sector offering

In the battle to compete against their rivals, many businesses can become highly specialised in their product and sector offering. During times of uncertainty, it can be wise to step back and consider sectors where your products and specialisms could offer transferrable benefits.

As global engineering company Renishaw has found, this strategy can yield surprisingly good results and has helped the business double its employee numbers to 5000 people in just eight years.

“Our success lies in the fact that we have diversified in so many sectors,” explains Jonathan Archer, General Manager for UK sales at Renishaw. “For example, in the medical sector, we’ve used our additive manufacturing expertise to produce some truly ground-breaking implants that would otherwise be impossible to make.

“What we learnt was that, ironically, the challenges that engineers face in the high-precision industrial sector are not too dissimilar to those faced by dentists and surgeons in the medical sector. So, being able to think laterally and applying your expertise in non-traditional sectors is key.”

3. Inspire customer loyalty

It’s not just business strategy that can be affected during times of uncertainty; relationships can also take a negative hit. That’s why it’s important that businesses build closer ties with their customers and their own supply chains to mitigate risk.

That’s what Kawasaki Robotics UK did when its customers were uncertain about investing in automation technologies. The company, which forms the UK division of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Japan, turned to education to help strengthen its customer relationships.

“Market uncertainty has led many customers to be cautious about investing in new digital technologies,” explains Ian Hensman, Sales Manager for Kawasaki Robotics UK. “This stems from a wider uncertainty about the benefits of automation technology and how they’ll work alongside the human workforce.

“This is an ongoing issue and one that we really have to help our customers overcome. We’re doing this by educating and supporting our customers more closely on how they can integrate digital technologies in a variety of applications such as welding, material handling, painting and small parts assembly. In particular we’ve used our latest collaborative robot product to demonstrate how automation can work alongside human workers.”

4. Join forces

As the saying goes, “if you can’t beat them join them”. This can prove to be a powerful move to overcome uncertainty and is exactly what Atlas Copco did when its Motor Vehicle Industry business division faced the challenge of rising demand in the electric car sector.

“Atlas Copco’s Industrial Technique division has merged its Tools and Industrial Assembly Solutions business areas together, to create an innovative joining partner for manufacturers,” explains Clive Sharp, Business Line Manager for Atlas Copco’s Motor Vehicle Industry business division. “With products and expertise for all assembly applications, including adhesive dispensing, riveting, flow drill fastening, battery joining, sealing and quality inspection, we can meet future market demand, in particular within electric vehicle assembly.”

5. Explore new geographic markets

Where some may see uncertainty, others see opportunity. Export markets can inject a fresh lease of life to your existing product offering, with demand from new customers and new industry sectors.

At a time when many businesses were considering leaving the UK, Swedish automation specialist Novotek decided to enter the UK market. Acquiring Glasgow-based Kerrco Automation Ltd, it created Novotek UK and Ireland, and became the sole distributor of GE Digital products in the region.

“In the UK, Novotek saw the potential to develop this market from an automation perspective,” explains George Walker, Managing Director of Novotek UK & Ireland. “Our goal is to modernise British manufacturing, using edge-computing hardware to help manufacturers gain better insights, improve productivity, and ultimately become more profitable.”

To read the full interviews with the companies we’ve mentioned above, download Advanced Engineering’s Voice of Industry report – a look at overcoming uncertainty. To find out what’s being demonstrated at this year’s Advanced Engineering exhibition, which takes place at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham between 30–31 October, 2019, visit the website today.