Yesterday I visited Advanced Engineering 2019 to get a close-up view of what the engineering industry is talking about, what problems companies are facing, and how the industry’s leaders think it’s going to change over the next five years.
Aside from the host of next-generation robotics, racing cars, and composites, it was great to see so many industry professionals getting together to talk shop, and to help each other navigate the ever-changing world of engineering.
Throughout the day, at the various stalls I visited and talks I attended, there were several points that seemed to be the focal point of many conversations; so, I thought I’d create a quick run-down of my 3 key takeaways from the 2019 Advanced Engineering show.
Being that the second day of the show fell on the 31st of October, the proposed deadline for leaving the EU with, or without a deal; it’s no surprise that many of the conversations focussed on Brexit and its impact on the various sectors within engineering.
The industry has suffered since the referendum back in 2016, with investment being stalled by uncertainty and a lack of information from the government about how the sector will be affected.
The result of this uncertainty has been a slowing of overall economic growth, which has led to a lack of innovation from the UK’s engineering sector, adding to the difficulty engineering is facing.
The only certainty Brexit currently offers, it seems, is causing more damage and uncertainty in the engineering industry in the short term.
Digital Transformation & Big Data
Another key talking point was the digital transformation many sectors are seeing, with a particular focus on the resulting data those changes are producing.
Despite a full shift to “Industry 4.0” still being a long way off, the companies that have already invested in digital transformation are struggling to process the enormous amounts of data they are now producing.
During his talk, Adrian Spragg, Aerospace and Defence Industry Leader at Accenture UK, mentioned organisations that are only processing and evaluating a fraction of a percent of the data their aircraft are generating.
This gap between the data being produced, and it being effectively processed, means there is still a huge way to go before the “big data” will start to have a meaningful impact on manufacturing and development.
The other dilemma such vast amounts of data causes is one of collaboration – how can businesses share findings that will help drive the industry forward as a whole, while still protecting their intellectual property? And will they even be willing to do so?
As more data can be processed, the speed at which advances will be made is likely to increase exponentially, so addressing the problem of sharing data and collaborating with competitors will mark an important shift in the way engineering businesses operate.
The final trend is one that has been impacting all engineering sectors for many years – a lack of diversity and a shortage of skilled workers.
With the speed at which developments are being made, and that speed expected to increase as companies begin to harness more data throughout this fourth industrial revolution, it’s important for more to be done to address the skills shortage we’re already seeing.
Simply getting more people interested in pursuing a career in engineering, and training them with basic engineering skills, isn’t going to be enough to address the shortage of skilled workers already needed within engineering.
Katy Riddington, Director of NCC Connect, suggested that companies investing in these shortages alone is no longer enough, and that there needs to be a collective effort from every sector to work together on initiatives that provide the entire sector with a diverse and well-trained talent pool.
Again, it seems that collaboration is the key to this dilemma, and organisations who work together to address the shortage are likely to be the best positioned as the problem continues.
No matter your sector, the next few years are likely to be an interesting period as businesses are forced to adapt to the technological advances and politcal changes.
I'll be watching with interest, and look forward to seeing how things have changed at the 2020 conference!