• Can you give an overview of your conference topic/session? Why is this an important topic to discuss?

LCR4.0 –  I will be discussing the journey which led us to develop the UK’s foremost industrial digitalization project which is free for SME clients. This will begin with what the ‘Making it’ document, created in partnership with the Cambridge IfM, taught us – right through to where we are today using LCR4.0 as an inward investment proposition and as a catalyst for growth in other economic sectors.

  • What can attendees expect to learn and discover from your session?

I hope that my session will provide insight into clear strategy development, how the public and private sectors can work together in an efficient manner and how you can drive economic regeneration by seizing ‘early adopter’ advantage and using your existing assets in a new and innovative way. I hope it will also dispel the myth that 4IR or Industry 4 is solely the realm of the big corporates – it’s absolutely not, and there are opportunities in abundance for small business who are willing to seek out competitive advantage.

  • What do you think is the biggest issue being faced / discussed in your industry at the moment?

There is a market failure in terms of UK SMEs being able to adapt to meet the 4IR demands of OEMs and Tier 1s. They are either unaware of 4IR, unsure of how to deal with it or unable to secure a cost-effective solution.

  • What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2016?

Never underestimate what you can do with limited resource and determination. Brexit and the election of Trump shocked a lot of people regardless of their political persuasion, because the common belief was that the victorious outcomes were so unlikely. Similarly, there was no way that a few years ago I would have believed Liverpool City Region could be a center of excellence for 4IR – but many of the building blocks have been here for a while. It just requires a different strategic approach and the determination to bring partners together and develop a programme.

  • What do you think the biggest challenge for the industry will be in 2017?

I think the issue still stands regarding SMEs adapting to the demands of companies they supply to, in terms of technology, goods tracking, product interactivity and customization. Increasingly, however, we are going to face ANOTHER skills shortage. Whilst we are already struggling to produce enough technically skilled engineers, the engineers of the future will have to be able to work across disciplines, incorporating digital skills, working with robots, programming and basic knowledge of other engineering disciplines into their existing trades such as tooling, welding, electronics and so on. The backdrop to all of this is the threat of China adapting their volume-production industries to start eating into that high value manufacturing which we regard as ‘ours’ in the West. Conversely, disruption from companies who you wouldn’t think of as manufacturers altogether – like tech firms in silicon valley – is going to be an increasing threat. We’ve all heard the adage – the world biggest cab company (Uber) owns no taxis, the world’s biggest hotelier (AirBnB) owns no properties and so on.

  • What innovative measures should the industry adopt in the next few years to ensure market sustainability and growth?

We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Let’s be smart about what we do and adopt existing best practice; France offers tax breaks for companies adopting certain innovative technologies, and I know EEF have lobbied for a long time to get plant machinery and the like excluded from business rates. That’s a fantastic first step in terms of policy. I think, increasingly, companies in supply chains are going to be forced to collaborate so that the Tier 1s and OEMs have sight of every nut and bolt moving through their supply chain, which poses problems such as cybersecurity and building systems using languages, operating systems and devices which can operate together, so if the whole sector can speed up in adopting universal standards and protocols for these sorts of things, it helps everybody to adapt and compete.

  • Why do you think events like Industry 4.0 Summit are important for the industry?

Obviously, the companies who are early adopters and ‘disruptors’ or ‘innovators’ are the ones who tend to lead the pack when it comes to seizing market share. The bulk of companies tend to follow shortly behind, and I think big forums such as this provide the right sort of ecosystem for seeing where industry is moving as a whole and what problems are being encountered along the way; that can be a powerful tool for companies (particularly smaller ones) who want to stay current and not slip into the position of being left behind.