The opportunities for the UK presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are considerable and wide ranging. The direction is clear, but the path is sometimes obscured by a lack of accurate information about potential and by a lack of imagination to fulfil the vision. Industry, being dependent on investment, social and commercial constraints, moves along at different speeds and incorporates several different elements – some technologically advanced and some not – in the same facility. Whereas integration of automation implies a unity of systems as well as purpose, the reality does not always live up to the practicalities, let alone the dreams. That is where Government guidance and investment can help with the assistance and approbation of industry associations and research groups.

Britain pioneered the first industrial revolution, bringing with it significant social and economic change. As the ninth largest manufacturing country by output, Britain has the potential to be a leader in 4IR, Lorraine During, Business Environment Policy Advisor, EEF points out.

Juergen Maier, Chief Executive, Siemens UK – what Industry 4.0 means for Britain

The UK’s productivity performance may have flat-lined over the past decade, but 4IR is playing a key role in improving this performance, as well as preparing for the economy that we hope and expect to have. “Issues with digital connectivity, data security, staff skills, interoperability of technologies and lack of a culture towards change could prevent UK manufacturers from taking full advantage of the opportunities to improve productivity that 4IR presents. So, the transformation of the UK manufacturing sector will require multifaceted change and support from government, industry and other supporters of the sector such as technology providers, finance providers, business owners and outsourced support,” she explains.

Contrary to what some think, the first step in automation doesn’t have to be about making large investments in technology. “Companies can lay the foundations to prepare their companies for automation through methods such as giving IT a more strategic business planning role, changing company culture to enable openness towards change, and adopting a visionary approach to leadership. It is also important for companies to seek out best practice, and for those using the technologies successfully to share this best practice.”
Engaging with organisations such as the Knowledge Transfer Network and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre can be useful in beginning the 4IR journey.

Lynne McGregor of Innovate UK talks about how technology can enable the 4th industrial revolution

“There has been some positive progress from government in recent months in areas such as delivering the full fibre digital infrastructure that 4IR will depend on. The Made Smarter campaign, and the recently announced Made Smarter Commission are key to harness the expertise necessary to improve 4IR take up across the manufacturing sector.

“The Made Smarter Pilot in the North West has been good in helping SMEs in the area to use industrial digital technologies throughout their manufacturing processes and supply chains. The two future pilots in the North West and Cornwall will hopefully make similar progress.

Challenges set in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) such as Robotics and Artificial Intelligence are also useful in helping to address the lack of understanding about the benefits of new digital technologies. The announcement in this year’s budget that there will be funds set aside for Made Smarter in the ISCF is important in the UK’s 4IR journey, and something that EEF has been campaigning for. This could be instrumental in helping to improve awareness of the benefits of 4IR as well as developing new methods of improving manufacturing productivity.”

However, more still needs to be done. For example, government must deliver a skills system that ensures lifelong learning and retraining. The planned National Retraining Scheme should focus on supporting existing employees to up-skill and re-skill in a way that can help them to be able to develop the skills needed to use these technologies, particularly to support those individuals whose jobs may be at risk of automation and wider digitisation.

She says their vision is increased use of industrial digital technologies and techniques as part of the manufacturing processes and supply chains will boost productivity, with optimised use of resources. As the manufacturing industry continues to move towards the production of high-value goods and services and invest in new digital technology, the skills of the UK workforce will also evolve. Technological change will create higher level roles which are likely to attract higher wages, benefitting those employees who are able to build on their skill-sets to fill these roles.

Lynne McGregor, Innovation Lead, High Value Manufacturing at Innovate UK said: “The fourth industrial revolution (4IR), or ‘industry 4.0’ has the potential to create impressive, new and sometimes unimaginable business opportunities for those who are innovative and agile.

“Using digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, connected supply chains, sensor technologies and automation, makes companies more agile and better equipped to recognise opportunities and respond quickly to the quick pace of changing consumer demands, supplier conditions and technology innovations.

“The use of these technologies across value chains will not only boost productivity for the companies and sectors involved, but for the entire UK economy.

“Innovate UK and its partners have been working together for several years to develop and support companies with the adoption of digital manufacturing technologies.

UK manufacturers are increasingly aware of the need to continually monitor and update their facilities and processes to increase efficiency, quality and remain competitive in a changing global economy. The encouragement of Government and agencies such as EEF and Innovate UK is not confined to investment, but includes the information, guidance and training required to take advantage of the opportunities presented. This also means taking the advice of the experts.

The Government-commissioned independent report, The Made Smarter Review included three main recommendations. 1. Adoption: building a national digital ecosystem to be more visible and effective acceleration of the innovation and diffusion of industrial digital technologies. “This includes a National Adoption Programme to be piloted in the North West, focused on increasing the capacity of existing growth hubs and providing more targeted support. Critical to the success of our recommendations will be the upskilling of a million industrial workers to enable digital technologies to be adopted and exploited through a single Industrial Digitalisation Skills Strategy.” 2. Innovation: refocusing the existing innovation landscape by increasing capacity and capability through 12 Digital Innovation Hubs, eight large-scale demonstrators and five digital research centres focused on developing new technologies as part of a new National Innovation Programme. In addition, 3. Leadership: “Establishing a national body, the Made Smarter UK (MSUK) Commission, comprising industry, government, academia, further education, and leading research and innovation organisations, which would be responsible for developing the UK as a leader in industrial digitalisation technologies and skills, with a mandate to develop the UK’s own Industry 4.0 domestic and global brand.”

Professor Juergen Maier in his foreward said, “My call to action is now for government and the business community to come together and embrace these proposals. I believe they represent a very positive agenda that we can all get behind, especially in these times of economic and political uncertainty. Focusing on the long-term challenge of the new industrial revolution will bring us together as a nation and make our country more prosperous. I very much look forward to the opportunity of helping the UK take a much stronger role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as we get to work and take these recommendations forward.”
The Government seems to be responding to the recommendations positively. McGregor reports that, “In the Autumn Budget last week the Chancellor announced further support for research and development in this area when he announced funding of up to £121 million for Made Smarter to support the transformation of manufacturing through digitally-enabled technologies through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Further details of this will be announced in due course.”

Key to industry strategy is understanding that the challenges presented by the 4IR are not a negative, but the stepping stones to opportunity.

EEF – The Manufacturer’s Organisation

Innovate UK


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