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“Digital manufacturing”, “Industry 4.0”, “4th Industrial Revolution”, “Industrial Digital Technologies”, “Made Smarter”. What do all these terms mean for medical technology companies? Where do you start if you want to find out more? Well, one way is through Innovate UK KTN’s lunchtime bite-sized webinars…

  • Productivity in med tech – the opportunity

    The medical technologies sector has been high profile over the last couple of years, with many of us becoming more familiar with products like lateral flow devices, surgical masks and ventilators than we ever expected to be! You may have also heard recent debates about the merits of UK domestic manufacturing capacity versus more resilient supply chains. There’s been much less attention, however, on the longer-term issue of manufacturing productivity and the impact that it can have on the med tech sector, the wider economy and ultimately our quality of life.

     

    The “productivity puzzle” is multi-faceted and the debate on how best to drive up manufacturing productivity will rumble on. It’s well established though that there are benefits to be gained from adopting industrial digital technologies (IDTs), as part of a digital manufacturing approach. The Made Smarter review highlighted that by deploying these “Industry 4.0” digital tools, manufacturers have the opportunity not only to develop new capabilities, but importantly to collect data across their manufacturing processes and develop useful insights.

  • The advanced manufacturing gap

    For the med tech sector, there are many areas where digital manufacturing can be applied (and is being applied!). However, a recent US assessment indicated that the medical device industry lags other industries (including aerospace, automotive and electronics) in maturity and integration of advanced manufacturing. Anecdotal evidence suggests the picture in the UK is no different. With med tech being a major UK employer (c138,000 employees) and contributor to UK output (£27.6bn sector turnover), this means there are significant economic gains that aren’t yet being fully realised.

     

    Of course, there are many reasons why med tech companies may not be fully embracing digital manufacturing. The sector is highly diverse, classically ranging from tongue depressors to CT scanners, with each segment having its own manufacturing challenges. It’s dominated in the UK by small- and micro-sized companies who are resource-constrained. Crucially, med tech companies face many other pressing challenges, including regulatory change and uncertainty; skills and labour shortages and supply chain disruptions; and an increasing focus on sustainability.

  • How can digital manufacturing help?

    A key point which isn’t widely recognised is that digital manufacturing can help to address these other industry challenges. This can be through helping to demonstrate regulatory compliance through better process control and understanding; by driving up efficiency, establishing baselines and monitoring progress for improved sustainability; by increasing supply chain resilience through better visibility of operations and inventory, enabling data-driven decisions; or by offsetting skills shortages through automation.

     

    The cost of implementing digital manufacturing can also be a concern, but you don’t have to deploy expensive systems to see the benefits. There are incremental approaches where gains can be realised at minimal cost – including some great examples from the Manufacturing on a Shoestring project, where the costs of implementation can be a few hundred pounds, paid back in a few weeks.

  • Sounds great – how do I find out more?

    It can be difficult to know where to start. The range of technologies and terminology can be overwhelming. The good news is that there’s lots of support and guidance available. The Made Smarter website is full of useful resources, including company case studies and a directory of solution providers. The Innovate UK-supported High Value Manufacturing Catapult has a wide array of relevant facilities and capabilities around the UK. Across all of this, Innovate UK KTN’s Made Smarter Innovation Network is running a range of activities to join up manufacturing communities and to raise awareness.

     

    As part of the Made Smarter Innovation Network, Innovate UK KTN is hosting a series of lunchtime webinars on the use of digital technology in manufacturing. These webinars aim to give you a bite-sized introduction to the topic and the opportunity to hear directly from companies who’ve seen the benefits. The series runs through February and March, covering topics including Supply Chain and Quality Management - and you can find recordings of sessions from previous series, covering topics like New Product Development and Predictive Maintenance, on the Innovate UK KTN website.

     

    It’s a bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, but as a first step into the world of digital manufacturing, why not join one of the webinars and see how your business could benefit in 2022?

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