Ben Gilhespy is Operations Director at County Durham Engineering and Manufacturing Network (CDEMN).

The organisation has 250 members from across the North East who want to tap into the network’s support and vast pool of expert partners who can facilitate their plans to grow.

Here Ben looks at the challenges and opportunities facing the sectors, and what CDEMN is doing to help employers overcome and embrace them.

“Our network has been operational for over two years now and in that time, it’s fair to say we’ve seen significant changes in the way companies operate and the issues they’re facing.

Without doubt one of the recurring themes is technology, more specifically the advances in technology which we refer to as Industry 4.0.

Recent workshops held by CDEMN and Business Durham highlight this.

The workshops, organised to show businesses how they can better capitalise on the opportunities which are being created by Industry 4.0, attracted attendees who are already fully switched on to the ways in which they can benefit from being more technologically innovative.

But those companies who are yet to think this way – the ones who could have really done with the help – didn’t engage. Why?

The obvious issue is that the language we use to communicate these initiatives has been created in a way that speaks to those who don’t consider themselves technologically savvy. I believe the word is esoteric. We therefore have an obligation to provide tangible explanations and demonstrations to businesses to engage them in an inevitable future.

CDEMN has not only recognised this but also decided to create an environment at our upcoming EMCON event, where business owners and engineers can engage with the technologies available and understand the advantages and implications of investment in these.

We have asked exhibitors to showcase technologies that some may feel are years ahead of where they are today, but in fact have practical applications that are evolving rapidly for even the smallest of businesses. This will include virtual and augmented reality and the latest in drone technology being used in industrial applications.

Industry changes rapidly and we have gone from a world of paper drawings and fax machines to data files and instant messaging.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is an exciting future and here in the region we have some of the most advanced and successful companies developing and delivering these products and services.

However, we must also convert the ‘non-engagers’ and show them that if they don’t act now they will be left behind.