Manufacturing is on a roll. Hot on the heels of the recent CBI survey that showed optimism in the sector rising at the fastest rate since 1973, we learn that, at 60.9, the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is standing at a 27-year high (any number above 50 indicates expansion). Producers of the survey, IHS Markit, talk of “further acceleration in the rate of expansion of the UK manufacturing sector with growth in output and orders being at their best for years”.
Not bad, especially when you consider manufacturing is an activity primarily carried out on-site in physical spaces. Not only were the changes to workflow and production due to COVID-19 abrupt and highly impactful, but they also coincided with the introduction of travel restrictions that severely disrupted supply chains. For businesses like UnitBirwelco – with an international customer base operating in global markets – it has been a challenge.
Plus, whilst trying to keep up with orders and maintain productivity, a whole new element of workforce safety has been added. That we and our peers have emerged with flying colours is testimony to the resourcefulness and adaptability of UK manufacturers.
The truth is that, due to the pandemic, we have learnt a lot about our own capabilities in a crisis. We have all been forced to forge new business relationships and to evaluate and update products, systems, and processes. Where appropriate, we have even shifted to home working – something that would have been unthinkable only a year ago.
At the other end of the scale, we have had to educate ourselves about advanced technologies and learn to accept that innovation is there to be embraced rather than resisted if we are to become truly resilient and succeed in future-proofing our businesses. Most importantly, we have learnt to appreciate that, while optimising efficiency and profitability will always be prime objectives, the health and safety of our colleagues is of equal importance.
COVID is forcing every business to develop new strategies at every level. As we assess our sourcing arrangements, supply chains are likely to become more holistic. Manufacturing itself, through sustained investment in new technologies like digitization and AI, are already emerging better, faster, and more efficient.
The pace of learning has certainly been rapid, and, if there are any silver linings to a pandemic, then these are certainly some.