This article first appeared in Professional Engineering
PA engineers work with large OEMs through to SMEs and start-ups across all sectors, from consumer goods and healthcare to aerospace and automotive, to help companies improve their long term profitability. Often that means helping them develop their capacity to introduce new technologies, manufacturing processes and systems to improve efficiencies and innovate.
It’s an exciting time to be an engineer in manufacturing – or to come into it. We see additive manufacturing as moving from prototyping into the mainstream over the next five to seven years.
We are designing fewer tools as large pieces of equipment and more digital manufacturing systems. This requires the different skillsets of science, engineering, IT and operations to work much more closely, crossing boundaries between departments.
The benefits will be much greater responsiveness and flexibility in manufacturing. You won’t need to spend time retooling, you will be able to deliver different products, customise products and control stock levels much faster.
Digitisation will also enable a world where manufacturing does not need to happen within the four walls of a factory. Instead, with additive manufacturing and digital files, it can happen across the whole supply chain – in the warehouse and in retail spaces for example - with 3D printers that can make parts as they are needed or personalise products. Once you take the tooling outside of the factory, you open up lots of opportunity.
Smart everything and the internet of things, also have a role to play. There are certain technologies in this area that are further ahead than others. Enterprise Resource Planning and other business systems, for example, will look very different as business models evolve and the boundaries between physical and digital products continue to blur.
So, you need to start thinking about how you want your business as a whole to develop in the long term, and about manufacturing as happening end-to-end. Engineers will need to work with a more broad perspective on technology. Additive manufacturing will be used across lots of different sectors, and mechanical engineers will increasingly need to work in a more holistic way, with things like electronics and food science.
People need to be trained to use this new technology. Manufacturing solutions will be more intelligent and there will be software platforms that need operating. We’ve had a skills shortage in these areas, so now we need to start training up engineers in our workforce and encouraging others back to manufacturing.
There will also be more competition. The field will level up – the cost of capital will fall and you will be making things for the local market. We’ll see a lot more smaller organisations blossoming.
We are at the start of the journey of putting these technologies into a coherent manufacturing solution, but their impact will be massive. Lean and offshoring are part of the landscape, but there is a step change coming and manufacturing – are you ready for it?
Tim Lawrence is head of manufacturing at PA Consulting Group