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UK Manufacturing: The Rise of Local Supply Chain Digitalisation?

This new year begins with renewed projects and hopes, coupled with a new rise of Covid-19, a new strain, and the post-Brexit trade deal in action. As the delicate interweaving of supply chains face imminent disruption, challenges arise, and thus, …

Alejandro Auerbach

January 21, 2021

This new year begins with renewed projects and hopes, coupled with a new rise of Covid-19, a new strain, and the post-Brexit trade deal in action. As the delicate interweaving of supply chains face imminent disruption, challenges arise, and thus, innovation has become a must for survival.

Simultaneously the global market has been erratic due to the fast-growing new technologies. Among all the activities, the manufacturing industry is not an exception when it comes to adaptation dynamics. Here is where the Industry 4.0 paradigm, the digitalisation of manufacturing, is gaining ground. The need for optimising processes and thinking out of the box grows as uncertainty becomes predominant. Are we going to see a rise in digitalisation in the following years? The answer seems to be yes. So, what would it mean specifically for 3D printing?

Some Context First

Let’s do a recap on how we got here. What’s happening right now? Last year both the Covid-19 crisis and a crucial stage in the Brexit process overlapped. Although Brexit had years of anticipation, it is still creating a sense of unease, not to say how it got worse by the virus’s abrupt entrance.

Brexit’s Transition Period is Over

Brexit officially came into being on the 31st of January 2020. However, it took an extra period until the 31st of December 2020 for the UK to withdraw its trading pacts with the EU: The Customs Union and the Single Market. In general terms:

  • The European Single Market allows for the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour within the union.
  • The European Union Customs Union comprises a non-tariff trade between the EU members, standard external tariffs for trading outside the union, and a Customs Unions Code that enables more agility on customs procedures.

The UK and the EU markets went into instability due to uncertainty on whether or not the UK would get a new deal (along with its implications if approved). Subsequently, a deal was approved on the 24th of December, only a week before the withdrawal. The main implications of the deal are:

  • The UK is now free to open trade deals with other countries outside the EU on its own terms.
  • No extra tariffs are applied in trading ports between the UK and the EU.
  • New checks are introduced in the borders for security and custom declarations.
  • More limitations on the movement of goods, services, capital and labour between the UK and the EU.

To make things even more complicated, the transition period coincided with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 is on the Rise Again

2020 struck even harder in the UK trade economy with many ups and downs, waves of lockdowns and sanitary crises. In this historic recession, a lack of consumer activity and disruption of supply chains caused a rise of unemployment and numerous businesses to collapse.

Since September, the rate of infected people has been rising aggressively to this date, causing more lockdowns. Although the first vaccination campaign started in January, due to uncertainty with the new variation of the virus and the curve as high as it is right now, we can expect further disruptions in the market.

How Does it Affect the Manufacturing Sector?

Manufacturing accounts for around 9% of UK GDP and 9% of employment. However, manufacturing’s importance for the UK economy far outstrips its relatively small size if you take into account its share of total exports at 53%, that wages in manufacturing are around 13% higher than the national average, and that manufacturing accounts for 65% of private sector R&D spending. Adding to this, the EU is the UK’s leading trading partner, with over half of both manufactured value in imports and exports, which means that shocks in this sector can significantly impact the UK economy as a whole. For more information on UK statistics, click here.

Guide to Additive Manufacturing on the Production Line White Paper Image

Although the UK got a new deal with the EU, new bureaucracy barriers (more security checks, border delays and additional paperwork) are highly disruptive on supply chains regarding efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Manufacturers are dealing with operational challenges on sourcing materials and components, assembling products and accessing consumer markets.

Supply Chain Challenges

Primarily, planning and optimisation strategies that manufacturers need to reformulate for their supply chains are related to:

  • Repapering contracts, customs licenses and regulatory compliance
  • Modification on network routes
  • Considerations on additional lead times
  • Supply chain operations
  • Stock levels (Stockpiling, though undesirable, is a standard measure under uncertainty)
  • Reevaluation of supply chain partners
  • Reviewing enterprise systems
  • Forecasting under accelerated changes
  • Workforce mobility (Related to migration and lockdown policies)

Under overwhelming sets of requirements and demands, enterprises have invested in consulting services, while government institutions and NGOs pledge to provide support. On the other hand, not all companies have complete guarantees regarding survival under these abrupt changes, especially SMEs.

The adoption of industry 4.0 has been pressing forward over the latest years, nevertheless with some hesitancy from manufacturers. Investing in shifting models is not a simple matter. But then, as societies face difficult times and necessities, innovation tends to flourish. We might be at a tipping point, an opportunity for the UK to further embrace digitalisation.

Digital Solutions

Nowadays, digital technologies have enabled us and our devices a more thorough interaction with the world. We can see daily life evidence of how it has deeply influenced our reliance on smartphones, the internet and social media. The fourth industrial revolution brings to industrial processes and practices all the benefits that come with digitalisation. Throughout 2020, we’ve already experimented how vital digital technologies can be in our life. The internet, video conferences and social media allowed us to stay informed, work, buy and learn. Overall, to adapt to the massive lockdown. Simultaneously, 3D printing enabled the fast and personalised manufacturing of solutions, like facemasks, to quickly confront the pandemic.


Some of the prominent technologies that are part of digitalisation are the following:

  • 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing
  • Engineering Software (CAD, CAM, FEM, CFD, PDM, etc.)
  • Enterprise Software (ERP, PLM, MES, CRM, etc.)
  • Cloud Computing and Big Data
  • Robotics and Automatisation
  • Data Analytics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Sensors
  • E-Commerce

Benefits of Digitalisation

When implementing digitalisation, manufacturers are primarily looking for the following enhancements in performance:

Interconnectivity: We can understand it simply as having the right information, in the right place, at the right time. Manufacturers are looking to centralise all the recollected and generated data into an integrated ecosystem, allowing transparency and traceability of any relevant piece of data throughout the supply chain as a whole. Collective sharing of information among stakeholders becomes much more agile and global, without the need for face-to-face interactions.

Standardisation of data: One of the main issues of dealing with analogic information (Basically paper documents) is how difficult it is to, store, reorganise, connect, compare, update and backup in an orderly manner. Now, having all the data in digital format, not only it becomes more manageable, but the scope of potential for transformation becomes endless.

Well informed decision making: Inputting data into specialised software or set of algorithms exceeds our capabilities to transform requirements into practical solutions. Manufacturers can benefit from this in many ways, from real-time monitoring processes to a broad visualisation of analytics, to more complex forecastings. A perfect example is how it can help make better decisions on stock levels under these uncertain times.

Lead time reduction: The optimisation of processes and operations throughout the value chain, manufacturers can expect to complete their objectives in less time than by traditional means. As a result, costs reduction and increased profitability become more plausible.

3D Printing: At the Pinnacle of the Digital Workflow

Currently, 3D printing is on the front leading digitalisation. Why is it so crucial on streamlining processes?

3D printing is the primary path on which the digital can come to life into a tangible object. All the benefits we have been identifying as part of a digital workflow can be manifested in 3D printed parts, if not as end-use, as a crucial part of every digital manufacturing process.

Warehouse costs can be a problem under unpredictable times, what if digital storage could be applied to spare parts? 3D printing enables not only the possibility to reduce inventory space but also has the flexibility to print customised parts on demand. This advantage is proving to be very effective in streamlining prototyping and tooling processes. An exceptional example is how the Massivit 10000 (Massivit Tool Builder) 3D printer reduces the overwhelming process of composite tooling into just a few steps.


As the procurement of parts is becoming more difficult nowadays, having a 3D printer for in-house production is worth it. All the issues that come with customs and transportation can be replaced with electronic sharing, in the same way you send an email. Even big shipment companies like DHL are using 3D printing for their logistics.

Lastly, 3D printing does not require many operators, which could be very advantageous to confront the problems manufacturers face related to a workforce under the Covid-19 and the post-Brexit.

Committed with the crisis we are facing, SolidPrint3D is here to help you make the right choices for your digital workflows. With their topnotch 3D printer catalogue, you will certainly find the best fit for your supply chain needs. For more information, please call Solid Print3D on 01926 333 777 or email on

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