A new initiative is set to assist companies in the often difficult transition to digital manufacturing.
Digital manufacturing is a concept in which the part is initially designed using software, hence the “digital” nomenclature. The resulting digital file is then transferred to equipment that automatically build the part based on the file’s contents. This is how all 3D printers work, as well as many other types of making equipment, such as laser cutters, CNC mills and automated lathes.
There are tremendous benefits to using digital manufacturing, as the digital files can be backed up, easily transferred, hold detailed records of changes and much more. Nevertheless, many manufacturing companies find a transition to digital quite difficult.
That’s why the University of Bath is leading a new initiative to assist companies through digital transitions.
The new £5M (US$7M) People-Led Digitalisation Research Centre will “increase uptake and maximise the benefits of digital technology by understanding how people interact with them.”
Hold on, this isn’t about technology? It’s about “people”?
Up to now most efforts at digitalization focused on the technology. The software, digital storage, online processes and certainly equipment were always front and center when considering a digital transformation.
These are important, to be sure, but in spite of plenty of information available about the technology, many companies still struggle with the transition.
This is due to the social effects inherent in many organizations.
The new centre’s lead from their industrial partner group, Dr. Katherine Ibbotson, explained:
“Although digital transformation promises to bring many benefits, it is not always easy to realise its true value. There are a number of reasons for this, we find that many of the barriers can be attributed to a ‘human’ element e.g. lack of skills, overcoming resistance, top management support. As such, we believe that research which focusses on the people aspect of digital transformation is essential.”
Having spent many years inside large corporations myself, I resonate strongly with this concept: it is not technology that holds back business; it is most often “people problems”.
The center is funded by the UK government to provoke further digitalization in that country, and is a collaboration between several parties:
“Led by Bath, it is a collaboration between the universities of Loughborough and Nottingham and non-academic partners including the Environment Agency, AVL, The Institute of Asset Management, Boeing and Rolls Royce. The Centre has been well supported by industry who recognise the important role that people play in the route towards digital transformation.”
While this initiative specifically addresses the UK situation, the same effects are no doubt rampant across all other countries. All manufacturers need to transition to a digital style, and all manufacturers have people problems.
I’m hoping the new centre will uncover new insight into these issues, which can then be used by everyone, everywhere.