Proto Labs’ Damian Hennessey discusses how the UK manufacturing industry can play its part in nurturing next-generation STEM talent
UK manufacturing in the 21st century is high-tech and revolutionary. Progress in automation technology and analytics software, for example, means the making of 3D CAD models and on-demand parts can be achieved more rapidly than ever before. But this new age of manufacturing needs highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) candidates to drive it forward.
The role of IT
According to a recent Government Department for Science Report, the UK manufacturing industry is set to be one of the industries that will change drastically in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). Factories connected to the internet can gain smarter, ‘real-time’ analytics over their competition. Furthermore, the report cites how new developments such as big data and autonomous systems will lead to new ways of doing business as technological advances streamline efficiencies and lower costs. New sources of data will make products more tailored to the individual.
It is imperative that UK manufacturing firms harness these innovations to compete and stay relevant. ‘Digital’ business models need to be built around customer demand, production speed and enhanced software programming. Moreover, this new type of digital business will require the best engineers and designers with a STEM education.
The demand for STEM talent in manufacturing goes beyond programming automation software and streamlined production. Programmers with a passion for sustainability can help make UK factories more energy efficient by harnessing data to optimise energy usage, improve overall efficiency and reduce material waste. The ‘circular economy’ dictates that waste materials can now be separated, recycled and reused within existing processes.
The rise of 3D design
Much has been discussed in the press on the rise of 3D printing, with stories of 3D printed bones and limbs hitting the headlines. Anyone out there with an entrepreneurial spirit cannot help but be impressed by these leaps in bespoke manufacturing. Advances in technology have made 3D design software more affordable, easier to learn and more readily available to the public.
It’s now possible for inventors to upload a 3D CAD model of an invention, rapidly receive an automated price quote based upon the complexity and size of their design, approve production, and receive a prototype run of their invention in just a matter of days — no slow, grease-stained work to talk of here!
The product design economy
Our product design economy, powered by advances in IT, is just getting underway. The demands for digitally enabled prototyping will only grow with continued convergence of software and hardware.
UK manufacturing is in a fantastic position to benefit from the IoT and the next generation of talent has the opportunity to ‘digitally connect the dots’ of a modern factory floor in innovative ways that will make British manufacturing competitive on a global scale once more.
Businesses in any sector, cannot ignore technology. There has never been such an exciting time for STEM talent to break through the ranks, and find a job that needs their sought-after skills. Manufacturing is an industry that is undergoing a ‘digital revolution’ and will be shaped by the IoT, big data and other technologies in the years ahead.
Damian Hennessey is commercial director at ProtoLabs
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