This past year has been an extremely challenging one for business within the Engineering and Manufacturing sector. During the first lockdown, businesses were forced to close and the ‘stay at home message’ significantly impacted businesses across the entire industry, who had to all but shut down completely at the height of lockdown.
As we began to emerge from the initial shock of the first lockdown, it was clear that the pandemic had affected different sectors in various ways, with some dramatic repercussions. Aerospace and Automotive were particularly hit hard, as demand for products and services up and down the supply chain dropped significantly. This had a knock-on effect not just on the immediate supply chain but other associated sectors too.
Conversely, other industries have been thriving, at times even being challenged to meet extraordinary levels of demand. Home improvements, building materials, automation, NHS clean room technology and food manufacturing, to name just a few, have been extremely busy and some have even reported record growth over the last 12 months.
There were also some significant changes in demand for the types of skills required within the sector in order to adapt to the challenges that Coronavirus brought. Technology and innovation have also been at the forefront of changes businesses have made, as they sought to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.
Coronavirus has also brought about some big changes in the way companies in the industry operate on a daily basis too. Businesses across all areas have had to adapt and risk asses their day to day working environments to social distancing and ensure Covid-safe environment measures are in place and properly adhered to, which has led to increased pressure on health & safety teams.
And at the heart of business survival in this sector, has been their ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, changing the way they operate at unprecedented speed and scale, and innovating and diversifying in order to survive. It can certainly be argued that the engineering and manufacturing industry has been thrust very quickly into the future of digital transformation, automation and technological innovation. It was perhaps already in the making, especially for the early adopters, but even traditional engineering businesses are now well on their way to a new future and a new way of working.
How the Engineering and Manufacturing industry adapted, diversified and is now at the forefront of the fight against Coronavirus.
At first glance, it could seem like a bit doom and gloom for the industry, at least for those sectors who have really struggled. However, there have been many examples of businesses diversifying what they do and what they offer in order to help combat Coronavirus. Indeed, the industry seems to have come together in a way never seen before in a collective battle against the pandemic, to help us get back to normal, but also to save lives.
At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns was the potential lack of ventilators to treat those who needed acute care, with the Prime Minister calling out to the industry to help in any way that they could.
Many engineering and manufacturing companies worked tirelessly to diversify and modernise their capabilities in order to build new ventilators, even without previous experience of doing so. Big companies such as Dyson, as well as small specialists and even car manufactures and those from the aerospace industry stepped up to help.
During the start of the pandemic, the lack of PPE was a big news story for many weeks. Doctors and nurses, who were looking after out most vulnerable and sick, were crying out for equipment which could potentially save their lives and help curb the spread of infection within hospitals. Many engineering and manufacturing companies stepped forward to help in the effort to manufacture protective equipment for our carers, finding new ways to change their output in order to design and deliver vital equipment. This was a huge effort by the industry which not only helped the government to overcome the shortage, but undoubtedly saved countless lives.
Even before the first lockdown, hand sanitiser was nowhere to be found on the supermarket shelves. Supply simply couldn’t meet demand, not even for weeks. This was a particular concern for hospitals, but also work places which needed to ensure that they were Covid secure. Many distilleries across the UK came to the rescue then, switching their operations to produce alcohol based hand sanitiser, many of them doing so without making a profit.
Engineering businesses are playing a critical role in the rollout of the vaccine too – a vital part of saving lives and getting the country, and the world, back to normal. The rollout of the vaccine on a large scale in a limited amount of time is unprecedented and under normal circumstances would be unheard of.
A huge part of meeting this challenge has been the introduction of artificial intelligence to rapidly produce the vaccine. Technological innovation has a huge role to play in the rollout of the vaccine and will certainly have a big impact on the industry in the future.
How Coronavirus has shaped the future of engineering and manufacturing
So what does this all mean for the future of the Engineering and Manufacturing industry? Well one thing is for certain, the challenges that the industry has faced, the way businesses have adapted to it, and how they have helped in the fight against the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on the industry. Technological transformation has been brought forward by many years in a lot of cases and will be at the forefront of the future for businesses within the industry.
Adaptability and agility
We know that it may be a while before the long-term impact of Coronavirus is fully understood. The industry seems to be on the road to recovery, especially with the rollout of the vaccine. However, we are yet to understand whether we will truly return to what we used to know as ‘normal’. We are also yet to fully appreciate what the long term impact on customer demand will be and how their behaviour might change in the future.
In order to ensure that business can adapt quickly to changes in the industry as they occur, it is important that they are able to collect and analyse data and respond quickly to market changes in order to be ahead of the curve. As consumer demand continues to change, new ways of working will need to be adopted and embraced quickly. Having the agility to change production quickly and effectively could be vital for future survival.
Sustainability and clean growth
Perhaps not the most obvious of future changes to come out of the pandemic, but green and sustainable technology has been in a pipeline for a long time and businesses need to be making plans for implementing new technology in order to ensure they are prepared for the future.
Governments around the world are preparing for a global effort to reduce emissions and look after the future of our planet. Goals are already being set and governments will be intervening to ensure that businesses are on target for reducing emissions.
Technological innovation has been at the forefront of business response in the industry. Robotics, 3D printing, automation and artificial intelligence have all been key to ensuring that the industry was able to adapt, improve efficiencies and adhere to socially distanced environments. The speed at which new technology has been embraced and adapted can only mean that innovation will continue to be a key priority for businesses in this sector in the near and long term future. Businesses need to embrace new technology and look for ways that they can transform the way that they work in order to ensure that they remain competitive.
As we have explored above, the engineering and manufacturing industry has been crucial in the fight against coronavirus, coming together to collaborate, innovate and pool resources in order help the country in its fight against one the biggest threats in recent years.
Companies across the UK came together in a collective effort to provide protective and life saving equipment for NHS staff and patients and are now an integral part of the rollout of the vaccine which will help us get back to normal. Undoubtedly collaboration between organisations has been a key part of the industry’s response to the call for help. And what it showed us is how much can be achieved and how quickly when resources and knowledge are pooled for collective good. We can expect to see this type of collaboration continue as businesses work together to improve the industry as a whole and put it at the forefront of advances once we reach the end of the pandemic.