During this last week, we noticed this latest survey regarding, “An accelerated decline in private sector output”, published by NatWest PMI Survey and reviewed by Business North West. The general tone of the survey’s results for the business community were disappointing to say the least.
After increasing to 49.0 in October, the headline NatWest North West Business Activity Index – a seasonally adjusted index that measures the change in the combined output of the region’s manufacturing and service sectors – fell to 47.4 in November. Where a reduction was signalled, survey members commented on weak underlying demand as well as election and Brexit disruptions.
But it isn’t really news to us @RFIDdirect. Working just over the border in Wales (The NatWest Wales PMI data also registered the first fall in business activity in November this year – significantly since 2016!) and we have seen, first hand, more local businesses and those much further afield, experience the same issues and anxiety. This is despite businesses experiencing an era of clear technological and positive progress – even transformative and disruptive new innovations. Indeed, investments still remain on hold and new business ventures are impeded by ambition and drive being (possibly temporarily) subdued or stagnated and sometimes, crushed.
Economy and Transport minister Mr Ken Skates Am, recently warned that the flagship service Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales, financially supporting business in Wales (with European funding controlled by the Welsh Government), could be under threat from Brexit. This is after they have helped to create and safeguard thousands of jobs by supporting Welsh SME’s. The Welsh and UK Government has not guaranteed continuity of this funding source yet.
Being An SME in Wales
We at RFIDdirect have received and welcomed their assistance over the years – helping our RFID technology business seize new opportunities and develop innovative inventory and other traceability solutions. Ken Skates is also concerned at a post-Brexit squeeze, “For Business Wales, this means £12m per annum risks being lost opportunities that we cannot afford for our businesses and communities. (Business Post, Owen Hughes 13/11/19) Funding- cuts (European and international) to grow infrastructure and disruptive and innovative technology will be a considerable barrier to progress.
Wider, Long-term Business Concerns
Yet another concern following the Brexit discussions will be the border control. As part of the business community, we’re not just talking the free movement of people, but the free moment of goods. Stepping out of Europe, the British Isles will lose the right to trade according to the current trade treaties agreed between Europe and other countries. All these agreements must be re-agreed individually between the UK and the trade partners – costing time and manpower. In the meantime, all incoming and exporting goods will have to be inspected and registered at the border. The UK Border agency and HMRC will be under considerable pressure as there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the Government’s actions to increase capacity and infrastructure to enable this.
For the industry sector, there is yet another concern. And that is the acceptance of industrial standards and certification of products and machines by the British legal system. Today the UK mostly, accepts the European regulations, through Brexit, we will need new legislation to conform to UK standardisation and certification of products brought into the country. In principle, all products and machines with CE or EN certification will no longer be ‘acceptable’ – bringing additional costs in re-certifying and testing equipment, which is clearly not helping the business community.
RFIDdirect Looks to Adapt and Develop
Following the Brexit discussions and political uncertainty, RFIDdirect’s export trade has been badly affected by fluctuations in currency and concerns about international regulations and tariff increases. Deciding, recently, to transfer part of their export business to the RFIDdirect hub in Germany has negated some of these issues and is now starting to extend European markets and opportunities.
Wider Issues Affecting Business Sectors
Many UK universities are involved in research programmes, financially supported with EU funding and hosting not only UK students, but many foreign students too. Many programmes are based on partnerships with European industry, supplying business knowledge and feedback on implementation of new technology, complementing the necessary real-world experience. Leaving the EU could potentially cut off the funding, but also reduce access to international cooperation in business and industry. However, initiatives in developing new networks and options for research may be possible by leaving the European legislation and maybe form part of the new attempt to agree trade deals with countries as the USA, Canada and China?
Developing Operational Excellence in Manufacturing can Help the Fight Back.
It is not just a matter of ‘working harder’ to bring more business in or increase productivity – the brutal financial crisis of 2007-2008 has hit SME’s very hard. Many were forced into bankruptcy despite every attempt to avert a crisis and cost-cut; the impact another such event would have is very gloomy indeed but not totally negative. There were those who (and we were not immune) who, perhaps by the skin of their teeth, emerged still as a viable business – even shedding previous bad practices and deficiencies. Productivity can be enhanced by making production less wasteful, leaner and less manual. Research is showing that 78% of all manufacturers are still collecting process data with pen and paper to be processed manually into management information systems.
Digitization and IoT has transformed the manufacturing, logistics and the retail industries – reporting material movements, productions, and consumptions in real-time – usually building on a process that already exists and changing for the better – the leaner.
RFIDdirect can provide at least one of the ways to ensure unbeatable future proofing – full product/asset traceability – automatic Identification System – in combination with a monitored ‘visible’ production environment; being ‘Smart’ with the data captured is already half of the ‘Smart Factory’ 4.0 solution, providing the true cost of operation, reducing waste and improving customer service.
The key for this, by deploying but not restricted to, RFID technology, is full product traceability in combination with a monitored and recorded production environment; being ‘Smart’ with the data captured is already half of the ‘Smart Factory’ solution. RFIDdirect’s approach is to outline essential aims and objectives in a very straightforward way. For a manufacturing environment, collecting the necessary information about the process – such as locating bottlenecks, unevenness and wasteful activities through a dedicated scoping exercise is priority – to develop an accurate description of the steps and factors that could constitute an optimised, leaner result. With, as a result, full reverse traceability of products and materials used in the assembly of the final product, complying with liability legislation.
Accurate Inventory is a Key Benefit
The use of RFID drives agility through the better use of data from small to large-scale enterprises, especially when it is related to stock movements and production process, but in retail applications by promoting omnichannel, digital multi-platforms for customers to connect, browse and buy. RFID technology touches and connects every part of the retail business showing the potential benefit to change and improve management of the store or supply chain. The benefits can be clearly defined: growing sales revenue due to an improving visibility of inventory, reducing inaccuracy, reducing out-of-stock improves customer service and satisfaction, a major issue for multi-channel operations.
Also, Increased visibility of stock results directly in the reduction of merchandise held, having a positive effect on capital outlay, freeing up working capital and reducing business borrowing. It also could free-up staff’s time for helping customers and driving those much sought after additional sales. Trial and error is often the way forward and RFIDdirect has a low-cost and user-friendly solution in the shape of a starter kit – the qID Mini Evaluation Kit – portable and very effective in getting a head start.
The SME community, in particular, cannot afford to stay in negative mode, the hope that a reasonable and respectful way forward can be both agreed and initiated as soon as possible is still universally evident. The FSB’s own manifesto is named ‘Back to Business’, and it positively outlines and calls for progress in key areas that could drive solutions to the current significant challenges.
As Ken Skates has emphasised several times over the last difficult months for UK businesses, the future is not all bleak and (Wales in particular) the country may be able to initiate new economic, infrastructure and environmental policies and solutions to be of long-term, resilient and even transformative.
“As a nation, we have so many talented people and a fantastic skills base which can take Wales – one of the leaders of the first industrial revolution to place it at the heart of the fourth”.(Business Post – as Above)
RFIDdirect’s MD Frits van Calker’s insider knowledge of RFID technology in combination with his many years’ experience in understanding lean in manufacturing highlights how it can be one of the major components of the smart factory and efficient data capture. Having achieved a diverse portfolio of consultancies and delivery of systems across the manufacturing sector, Frits has a clear view, including the issues, hesitation, cost implications and potential disruptions – but also the benefits and competitive advantages gained via data capture and connectivity, leaner processes, inventory management and logistics.
Check out the RFID starter kit we put together for RFID beginners.