Roundtable for small manufacturing firms reveals 'business as usual' no longer exists

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A roundtable of small businesses involved in design and manufacturing has uncovered the pressure these companies are under to constantly evolve to meet changing market conditions. "If we stand still we will go out of business," said one attendee. Business consultant Nina Dar, who attended the event, agreed saying that the world was going through 'a third industrial revolution' and businesses needed to find new ways to bring together and share fragmented global knowledge to stay ahead of market developments.

The businesses, brought together by digital design consultancy firm Symetri, all agreed that digital prototyping and design data management had delivered significant cost and productivity savings. However, they were still facing further major issues including the integration of key corporate and engineering data and fast, easy access to this information from any location.

"I can look up different design iterations, minutes of meetings or email trails, but I can't find out why a handle or switch was put where it was," explained one design manager. "Years ago you would sit by the guy on the shop floor and he would tell you all you needed to know, but this knowledge needs to be fed to a new generation who are not necessarily all in the same building, same location, or even the same country."

The event, organised by Symetri, was to discuss the way the developments such as cloud computing have enabled the launch of a new kind of product lifecycle management (PLM) solution, which unlike the PLM products of the past is affordable, easy and quick to install and use, for the first time putting PLM in reach of smaller businesses. "This must be a first – a group of SMBs discussing PLM," was a typical comment. Most of the businesses were small manufacturers designing and making a diverse range of products from bespoke furniture to thermal imagers. They all had an annual turnover of less than £30 million – and as such had never previously been in a position to consider investing in traditional PLM.

Nina Dar of Cheeky Monkey Business Solutions, agreed with the view that many small businesses were struggling to make sense of changing global conditions combined with the recent huge shifts in the way we live and work. "In 2007 the European Parliament declared that we were in the midst of a third industrial revolution. Yet still many in business are waiting for things to 'get back to normal'. We need to accept that there is no such thing as 'business as usual' any more. Small business, especially manufacturers need tools such as PLM to help them cope with these changes."

Symetri was the first Autodesk partner in the world to be named a PLM 360 specialist. Autodesk PLM 360 is a cloud-based service which can be switched on instantly via the internet. It centralises all engineering and production data and combines it with other information from across an organisation such as marketing and sales data. "It joins the dots and allows true collaboration within a business," said Dar.

"We decided that the only way to find out what customers are facing today – and whether PLM could help them - was to sit down and listen to their views," said Colin Watson, Symetri corporate director. "It's clear that even after manufacturing operations have become as lean as possible, with process cut to the bone, there is still a need for new ways to respond to global pressures."

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