Growing manufacturing companies should invest in new technology now to generate innovation that will shape the future of manufacturing.
The manufacturing sector is a fast-changing, cut-throat industry. Firms who make their living there should be constantly looking to invest in new technologies to make their operations smoother, smarter and swifter, not to mention more cost-effective. In a globalized world, staying at the sharp end has never been more important.
As a small-medium enterprise that had recently experienced rapid growth, our decision to invest £2.5 million in technology this year was borne out of a mixture of pragmatism and aspiration. We needed better infrastructure to meet our growing orders, but we also wanted to go further and be able to plan ahead for growth rather than just “running to stand still.”
As we and many other companies in our position have discovered, this type of investment in cutting-edge technology is vital for the whole manufacturing industry and allows firms to do a number of essential business activities even better:
Sustain Growth And Meet Demand
Growth is only productive for a manufacturing firm and its wider industry if it can be sustained. Companies need to invest in key pieces of new technology to ensure that they are able to continue manufacturing high-quality products to meet rising demand. That way, as individual companies grow, so does the industry.
From a practical viewpoint, sustaining growth means keeping up with the increasing demand for your product. We’ve invested £500,000 to increase the automation of our production processes to allow our existing staff to make more products more quickly — that should be the Holy Grail for any manufacturer.
By investing in new technology, manufacturers are also able to increase output without compromising on quality. We invested £750,000 in an injection-molding machine and £1.5 million into accompanying tools to maintain the quality of our product. When individual manufacturers raise quality standards, that creates momentum for improvements across the rest of the industry.
Investing in new technology lets manufacturers realize their aspiration to drive innovation both within their own companies and across the industry as a whole.
For example, our investment in externally outsourced 3D printing allows us to practice “rapid prototyping.” The fast and economical production of conceptual ideas as detailed prototypes can then be tested, evaluated and changed within a very short amount of time.
New machinery and digitized processes improve a manufacturing company’s research and development in three key areas:
Speed is essential for successful and productive innovation, and new technology such as 3D printing can transform an idea into reality in under 72 hours. For example, Autodesk Inventor lets our engineers draw a new concept as a detailed 3D CAD model in just a few minutes, and then the design is produced as an intricate prototype by the 3D printing machine.
This prototype can then be tested and evaluated within the day, meaning that new innovations that could potentially impact upon the whole manufacturing industry can be made at an hourly, rather than, weekly rate.
3D printing technology can produce intricate and fully functioning prototypes with ancillary details, such as bosses and connections. It enables manufacturers to innovate multiple aspects of their product simultaneously, further promoting industry-leading R&D. We’ve advanced our products using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to develop the pressurized and watertight features of our water softeners, Hi-Res Viper Stereolithography (SLA) facilitates prototyping of very fine details and flexible 3D printing allows us to model complex seals.
By producing and evaluating these detailed prototypes, the R&D workshops of manufacturing firms can enhance their chances of making that game-changing discovery which has the potential to advance the entire industry.
Investing in new technology such as the 3D printing of prototypes will reduce the costs of innovative activity over the long term by removing the labor and time intensive aspects of the process. For example, models produced with ancillary details take far less time to assemble, which in turn improve and accelerate R&D the productivity of R&D workshops.
Our team of 12 R&D engineers is now able to produce a greater amount of models in a fraction of the time it would have taken them previously this way, investment in new technology lets smaller manufacturing companies focus on employing the very best industry brains.
Carefully planned investment in new technology should be cyclical in its results: The capital from past success should be invested back into the product to ensure it continues to lead and progress the manufacturing field in terms of design and function and expand the industry through sustained growth.
About the Author: Martin Hurworth is Operations and Technical Director at the UK-based Harvey Water Softeners.