Smart Machines & Factories
A unified vision
Published:  20 October, 2017

We can all breathe a sigh of relief, the political conference season is over and we can all regain some sense of reality and sanity again - well at least for a few weeks anyway! I’m not sure I can really add anything new to what has already been broadcast or written about but suffice to say I’m not sure anyone is any the wiser as to the direction we’re heading in, and this is becoming a growing concern for UK Industry.

Although the resilience of UK manufacturers has become one of the real positive developments over the last year with British manufacturing continuing its climb up the global rankings, this industrial renaissance needs to be nurtured by Government, and with Brexit around the corner, it is especially important we look at all new avenues of generating growth and investment, as well as singing from the same hymn sheet.

My hope is that the Industrial Strategy Whitepaper becomes a real opportunity for Government to put at the forefront of its policy agenda the future of manufacturing in this country, and to nurture the continuation of this new found industrial renaissance. If we fail to see the opportunities and confront the challenges then things will get tricky. My fear however is that politics could get in the way of the messages the White Paper will deliver.

The political cat and mouse taking place in Westminster at the moment, should not be allowed to blur this once in a lifetime opportunity. The Industrial Strategy Whitepaper should be a chance to lay the foundations to encourage businesses to invest in new technologies as well as in research and development – if we don’t and other countries do, then how can we expect to keep ahead of the competition? Simple answer is we won’t. The renaissance will soon come to a less than glorious end. Therefore we mustn’t be complacent - we still face significant challenges. In the Government’s own words, its Industrial Strategy Green paper back in January, highlights that for all the global excellence of the UK’s best companies, industries and places we have too many who lie far behind the leaders. That is why, on average, workers in France, Germany and the United States produce around as much in four days as UK workers do in five. The challenge for the UK is to ensure that every place meets its potential by working to close the gap between our best performing companies, industries, places and people and those, which are less productive.

This means Britain going full steam ahead into the smart era! Many manufacturers are already embracing digitalisation but equally too many aren’t, and the Industrial Strategy Whitepaper will hopefully address this very real issue. It is not a case any more of if we go down the smart engineering path but when. SMEs especially need to be increasingly made aware of the opportunities of digitalisation and the real threats of not transforming. But there also needs to be better support in helping businesses to understand how and what they should be doing and whether it is even right for them. It is a journey, and the Industrial Strategy Whitepaper will be part of it, not an end in itself. But this can all only happen if there is strong Government support and leadership, which is why it should be an absolute priority for the Government to set out a clear unified vision beyond March 2019, and for all us to work towards it – whatever that may be.

Aaron Blutstein