Advanced manufacturing isn’t just about technology. It’s about how the innovative management of technology can improve materials, processes, and products – and how it can enable companies to react and pivot in a changing landscape.
Advanced manufacturing is more than a matter of just adopting cutting edge technology. Understanding how to meet manufacturing objectives and unique industry challenges requires a highly collaborative approach between business and technology – and this is where NGen comes in. A not-for-profit organization that matches manufacturing companies with new technologies, NGen is leading advanced manufacturing supercluster initiatives in Canada to give Canadian companies a competitive edge. They do this in large part by building collaboration across the ecosystem.
NGen’s mission is to position Canada as a world leader in advanced manufacturing, for the benefit of Canadians. They’re doing this by promoting Canada’s manufacturing capabilities – both within Canada and internationally; by connecting innovative products and techniques across companies and sectors; by helping to support the development of a highly skilled workforce; and co-investing in industry-led projects that deliver tangible outcomes in manufacturing.
And since March, they have invested approximately $80 million in direct support for companies that are manufacturing sustainable, globally competitive products in Canada to fight the pandemic – such as respirators, test kits, sanitizing products, masks and more.
In a recent conversation, NGen CEO Jayson Myers shared some insights on the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian companies, what healthy businesses are doing right, and where advanced manufacturing will play a role going forward.
Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian manufacturing
COVID-19 has inflamed challenges that existed before the pandemic, and brought to life some new risks. In particular, the resilience of an extended supply chain model has been tested. At the same time, COVID-19 has also opened up many opportunities for Canadian companies to look beyond their existing offerings. Companies that were producing automotive parts, for instance, have pivoted to produce parts and products for medical devices. Distilleries have pivoted to create hand sanitizers.
In short, companies have had to find new ways to deliver value to customers, and meet the changing needs of the public. “Companies that have been able to survive the downturn are those that have already invested in a digital transformation and for the upskilling of their labour force. They were able to quickly adjust their business model to take advantage of technology in new ways, and even partner with competitors in order to overcome supply chain constraints in the current environment,” said Myers.
Collaboration is key to growth and resilience
In order for companies to create value differently, they must go beyond simply improving the efficiency of existing processes. “New ways of thinking about critical processes is necessary for generating value,” said Myers. “Knowing what critical processes will generate value – and what won’t – is equally important.”
And developing new processes – as well as creating new types of solutions for customers – requires a high degree of co-creation between companies in an ecosystem. “A collaborative value network of technology, research, manufacturing, and even business and financial services must work together to develop new types of solutions for customers that are truly unique,” advised Myers.
Too many digital transformation projects fail. He cited examples of companies that have invested in technology they don’t really know how to use – and as such don’t achieve the results they want. He also noted that technology companies may not always have the industry expertise or all of the ingredients to address the problem that a manufacturer is trying to solve. “Technology can help businesses do better – but it can have the opposite impact, too. It’s therefore critical to make the right decisions about technology. A lot of companies don’t know where to start – they see technology as overwhelming.” This is where collaboration comes in.
“When companies look at creating a partnership versus simply a vendor-customer relationship, they can achieve value that can’t be achieved on its own,” said Myers. “When you bring the right groups together, you can achieve great things.”
Advanced manufacturing – for pandemic readiness and beyond
NGen has been busy supporting projects to produce critical products required to fight the pandemic. “In the first ten days of lockdown in March we approved twelve innovative projects,” said Myers. But beyond the pandemic, he recognizes that advanced manufacturing solutions will still be required by companies if they want to compete and grow. “When the pandemic disappears, manufacturers are still going to need to leverage advancements in automation, robotics and AI in order to compete,” he advised.
Shortages and disruptions in supply chains have created opportunities for companies to seek new partnerships and reevaluate what capabilities they will need to meet new demands. “When companies are able to work together to scale up and integrate technologies to meet manufacturing challenges, they have an opportunity to create a truly unique value proposition for their customers,” says Myers.
And while investment in technology takes money, smart decisions should get the backing businesses need. “Cashflow has been the main focus for companies big and small through COVID,” Myers says. “Nonetheless, your banks will work with you to evaluate investments that will make your business more resilient and more sustainable.”
NGen’s mission is to make sure that manufacturing stays in Canada – that companies are using the best technology out there in order to build capabilities, create products and ultimately deliver value that is unique and competitive enough to keep them in Canada.
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