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Building Agility in Manufacturing

Supporting innovation and competitiveness across the sector

As uncertainty in the world persists, the ability of manufacturers to imbed agility into their business models has become even more critical.

The manufacturing sector is no stranger to a challenging trading environment. It is already dealing with the pressures of digitalisation, talent retention and supply chain issues all while needing to remain competitive. 

Add to this the global COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit and it’s now more vital than ever that manufacturers build agility into their processes and workforce to stay ahead.

Our Global Manufacturing Operations Pulse Survey and Make UK's Executive Survey highlight the impacts both Brexit and the pandemic had, and will continue to have, on the sector.

We explore the key findings from our ongoing research into the manufacturing sector and the issues its leaders identify as being most pressing for their organisations. 

“Building agility in 2021 means recognising that digital, trade and green agendas go hand in hand.”

Make UK report

Agility, Adaptability and Technology

The ability to move at speed and respond to changes in the trading environment have proved key for success in manufacturing. Businesses are already looking to embed resilience and agility into their ‘business as usual activities’ with 43% stating they plan to continue some form of home working where possible.   

Agility must be paired with adaptability. Whether it’s responding to rapid advancements in technology, meeting shifting customer demand, considering supply chain changes or adapting to new working processes, those businesses that show the ability to adapt are the ones most likely to thrive. 


Technology and automation improvements continue apace in the sector. There is ever increasing investment in the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as robotics and automation. However, this isn’t technology for technology’s sake. “2020 has shown that the more digitalised a business was, the more resilient it was to the external shocks it faced” - Make UK Executive Survey. In order to ride out the uncertainty, building business resilience is key. 

With an increased remote workforce, and in the wake of a substantial rise in cyber attacks during the pandemic, cyber security has been pushed up the agenda with 63% of UK respondents singling it out as a priority in the next one to two years. According to our research, IoT and embedded systems and devices are where the most urgent cyber security improvements are happening. 

Workforce, Innovation and Net Zero

The shortage of talent and skills has ensured that upskilling remains a key focus, with 47% of respondents stating that this was a priority. But upskilling goes hand in hand with digitalisation with 52% of respondents looking to significantly increase digital working resources. The health and safety implications on workforces, as well as a heightened interest in diversity and inclusion brought about by COVID-19, will also have longer-term implications for the manufacturing sector.

The pressure to innovate is on. Businesses have had to adapt to continue to trade and thrive during the pandemic. When gauging progress, manufacturers are indicating increased emphasis on innovation and R&D as key metrics of success, demonstrating they understand that innovation must be a constant not sporadic exercise.

Underpinning all of the key themes is the drive towards environmental sustainability. Manufacturing is experiencing increased scrutiny from customers on the decarbonisation of inputs and outputs, with one in five stating that their customers are demanding better environmental performance. Manufacturers are investing in this area as the benefits to their business and impact of their bottom line becomes clear - 52% of companies stated they are investing in sustainability to reduce costs.

Contact us

Cara Haffey

Cara Haffey

M&A Deals Partner, Private Business leader for PwC Northern Ireland, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7809 551517

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