Manufacturers bid to boost services

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Leading Sheffield manufacturers and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are joining forces in a multimillion-pound project to encourage UK firms to sell their services as well as their products.

Hi-tech cutting tools company Technicut, top quality craftsmen’s hand tools manufacturer Footprint Sheffield and the AMRC will be working on the project alongside multinationals like Ford, MAN Truck and Bus and Xerox.

The project is one of six designed to help improve manufacturing competitiveness in the UK by using the latest Information and Communications Technology, which have been awarded £12 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

It aims to encourage the adoption of “Product-Service Systems and servitisation of manufacturing supply chains” through “Gamification.”

Dissecting the jargon, that means using computer games that exploit company chiefs’ competitive spirit to persuade them of the benefits of not just selling a product to a customer but making money out of maintaining, repairing and upgrading it, during its lifespan.

Some companies have already switched on to the benefits of “servitisation” – among them aero engine giant and AMRC partner Rolls-Royce, which earns 50 per cent of its revenues by providing services related to the products it sells.

Researchers behind the initiative say mainstream manufacturing in the UK has been “frustratingly slow” to adopt servitisation and is at risk of falling behind countries like China.

There, the number of manufacturing companies offering services have grown from two per cent to 20 per cent since 2006.

Footprint Tools’ Christopher Jewitt said: “We have been asked to get involved to see if servitisation can apply to a business like ours.

“This is all about looking to the future. You need to keep looking at fresh ideas and re-examine how you will be doing business in the future.”

The project is being led by Prof Tim Baines from Aston University, with Prof Keith Ridgway from Sheffield University and Prof Sara de Freitas from Coventry University.

Prof Baines heads Aston Business School leads Aston’s research on servitisation, while Prof Ridgway is director of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and head of design and Manufacturing Research at Sheffield University.

Prof de Freitas is director of the Serious Games Institute and the Serious Games and Virtual Worlds Applied Research Group at Coventry University.

The three academics aim to create a computer simulation of a business adopting Product-Service Systems and then get companies, including Ford, Xerox, Technicut and Footprint to test it.

The games will also be used by academics to study servitisation further so they can improve their understanding of the barriers companies face in adopting Product-Service Systems in real life.