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Solving supply chain woes
The Manufacturer |
January 16, 2024 |

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Most of the supply chains that we rely upon today have been disrupted and shaped in some way by the events of recent years. These unprecedented challenges have highlighted the need for more agile and resilient supply chains to navigate uncertainty and minimise disruption. Tim Lawrence, Director of the Digital Supply Chain Hub, Digital Catapult, explains.

At Digital Catapult, and on the Digital Supply Chain Hub (DSCH) programme, I often speak to UK manufacturers across the country, understanding where their pain points lie and how emerging technologies could help them. What’s clear, however, is that when we consider the impact of supply chain disruption, we rarely consider the impact on manufacturers. This is despite the UK manufacturing industry playing a vital role in driving long-term economic growth.

In light of this, regional collaboration and emerging technologies will be key to turning supply chain obstacles into opportunities, benefiting UK manufacturers in the long-term. While the causes of disruption have differed, the lessons are clear – by working together regionally and capitalising on innovations, businesses can develop the flexibility needed to respond to crises and safeguard operations, inevitably ensuring the success of UK manufacturing.


Realising the benefits of local partnerships and reshoring

The pandemic encouraged many UK companies to rethink procurement and recognise the benefits of local partners for reliable delivery. Reducing dependence on foreign suppliers and partners increases the adaptability for British manufacturers to changes in laws, sanctions, shipping routes and other external shifts.

Despite the growing willingness to work regionally, sourcing reliable local suppliers has not been straightforward for UK enterprises. Large manufacturers seeking local vendors or suppliers have long struggled to identify options, while smaller UK vendors often lack visibility to these larger manufacturers, remaining mostly unknown.

 Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning hold the key to supporting UK manufacturers in this regard and solving this challenge. An AI-powered supplier directory is in development through the DSCH and High Value Manufacturing Catapult, to help British businesses find relevant local manufacturing contacts, allowing businesses to diversify their supplier base. By connecting UK companies to regional suppliers, collaboration and supply chain resilience can be strengthened for manufacturers across the country.

Moreover, reshoring production back to domestic UK facilities also presents opportunities for British manufacturing. For example, Scottish bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis recently brought production back to the UK, having previously manufactured overseas. This example of national collaboration supports local supply chains and regional manufacturing economies, and demonstrates how regional industry clusters can facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration between businesses for mutual benefit, offering more opportunity and custom to UK manufacturers.


Leveraging emerging technologies for enhanced collaboration

Emerging technologies are also making regional cooperation simpler for British manufacturers. The Digital Supply Chain Hub provides regional test beds, enabling the development of solutions using real supply chain data from UK companies. This demonstrates the capabilities of British manufacturing clusters and creates more tailored solutions for members. As collaboration is fuelled by AI and data analytics, UK businesses can better localise suppliers for greater coordination and resilience.

Moreover, initiatives like the Digital Supply Chain Hub convene diverse stakeholders across the supply chain, including UK manufacturers, academics and technology companies. By working together, they can take a comprehensive approach to improving risk management, sustainability, visibility and responsiveness for British industry. This collaboration supports emerging manufacturing supply chains in crucial UK sectors like renewable energy and aerospace to adapt to changing business demands.

Further, advanced data sharing and planning tools provide enhanced visibility for proactive decision making by British manufacturers, allowing them to anticipate potential disruptions, optimise production and increase competitiveness. The digital capabilities and supply chain resilience developed through these collaborative efforts will therefore be key to ensuring the future growth and success of British manufacturing.


Preparing for the future

To stay competitive in the global economy, UK businesses must continue to embrace digitalisation and innovation as supply chains demand greater speed, resilience and sustainability. Strengthening domestic manufacturing capabilities will be critical for the UK, especially helping British SME manufacturers integrate advanced digital tools like AI and predictive analytics into future supply chain planning and operations, something which will be vital for the UK economy. Digital supply chains are one of Digital Catapult’s key application areas due to the strategic value that they hold for key sectors including manufacturing, and the role that they play in managing risk and meeting global demand for UK output.

Ongoing collaboration between regional British businesses and local suppliers is essential for building resilience. In the British aerospace sector for example, major companies like Rolls- Royce are encouraging digital integration and data sharing with smaller UK suppliers, though some manufacturing SMEs still rely on outdated legacy systems. Providing support and funding initiatives to help British SME manufacturers upgrade technology and build advanced digital capabilities through local partnerships can further solidify the UK’s reputation as a global leader in agile and resilient supply chains.

Author: The Manufacturer

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