Smart Machines & Factories
Digital opportunities
Published:  13 December, 2017

Industry proposals to boost the UK’s manufacturing sector have been unveiled at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry with the publication of the Industrial Digitalisation Review. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

Professor Juergen Maier who led the recent Industrial Digitalisation Review, highlighted that Government and industry should create a significantly more visible and effective ecosystem that will accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies as well as creating more awareness.

From a business community’s perspective it is clear that establishing how the UK manufacturing and industrial sectors adapt to a highly digitalised future (and benefits from the opportunity this brings) will be a fundamental factor of any future economic success. This is now more important than ever especially as investment by Britain’s manufacturers has seen a reality check in response to the continued political uncertainty.

According to the EEF/Santander Annual Investment Monitor, while demand conditions should be spurring on investment just one third of companies say that Brexit has had no impact on their plans. A similar proportion are only investing to satisfy current plans and waiting for clarity on any deal before investing further, while at the other end of the spectrum thirteen per cent of companies are holding off investment altogether until there is further clarity on a Brexit deal.

Taken together this leaves the outlook for investment by manufacturers finely balanced with only a narrow majority expecting to be investing more on new equipment in the next two years. While the reticence emanating from other parts of the global economy has diminished, the survey reflects increasing Brexit-related uncertainty.

This indicates that while manufacturers may be investing to satisfy current plans or, expand capacity, they are not investing in improving their production capacity. However improving production capacity through investment and uptake of digital technologies including automation in the industrial sector has to be central to our future and must be seen as a prioriy. Such investment will help to improve our national productivity, creating higher value jobs, and arming our workforce with the digital skills required in the decades ahead.

The Industrial Digitalisation Review, chaired by Professor Juergen Maier, outlines proposals to boost the economy using advanced digital technologies including robotics, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality as well as artificial intelligence.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, launched in January identified industrial digitalisation as one of five potential early sector deals and the Review kick started work with stakeholders to identify opportunities for how government and industry can work together.

The Review brings together input and recommendations from over 200 stakeholders, including companies such as Rolls Royce, GKN, IBM, and Accenture. The Review took substantive input from SME’s such as Yamazaki Mazak and Vertizan as well as academic institutions including the University of Newcastle and the University of Cambridge. R&D centres of excellence, the Digital Catapult and High Value Manufacturing Catapult also co-designed the proposals.

Professor Maier said: “The business and academic community has set out a vision for much greater ambition needed for Britain to be a world leader in the fourth industrial revolution. Industry is committed to working in partnership with Government, and this combined package of measures will boost UK growth and productivity in manufacturing and provide more exports and increased earning potential, which our economy desperately needs.

“Our ‘Made Smarter’ proposals will help business understand, deploy and create the latest digital technologies, helping to secure more homegrown R&D and the creation of new industries and highly skilled well paid jobs. The proposals build on the UK’s natural technology strengths, whilst setting out a framework to encourage entrepreneurs to develop new technologies that help manufacturers.

“I look forward to working with Government to consider the recommendations, including those that can be taken forward as part of an ambitious sector deal.”

The Industrial Digitalisation Review considers three key themes – adoption, innovation and leadership. The proposals include:

• Adoption: Building a national digital ecosystem. Government and industry should create a significantly more visible and effective ecosystem that will accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies. This includes a National Adoption Programme piloted in the North West, focused on increasing capacity of existing growth hubs and providing more targeted support. Additionally the Review recommends up-skilling one million industrial workers to enable digital technologies to be deployed and successfully exploited through a Single Industrial Digitalisation Skills Strategy.

• Innovation: Re-focus existing landscape by increasing capacity and capability through creating 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.

• Leadership: Establish a national body, Made Smarter UK (MSUK) Commission, comprising Industry, Government, Academia, FE and leading Research and Innovation organisations, responsible for developing the UK as a leader in Industrial Digitalisation Technologies (IDT) and skills, which has a mandate to develop the UK’s own national Industry 4.0 domestic and global brand.

The recommendations will be considered carefully by the government and used to inform work towards a sector deal between Government and industry.

Business Secretary, Greg Clark MP, commented: “The UK manufacturing sector has the potential to be a global leader in the industrial digital technology revolution. Government and industry must work together to seize the opportunities that exist in this sector and promote the benefits of adopting emerging digital technologies, as well as cutting edge business models.

“I welcome the Made Smarter report that has been published today and thank Juergen and the reviewers for their work in outlining the huge potential digitalisation offers to this important sector. I look forward to working closely with industry to secure an Industrial Digitalisation Sector Deal.”

CBI, director general Carolyn Fairbairn, explained: “The business community has pulled together to shape these recommendations that will speed up technology adoption and bring new energy to the manufacturing sector. The UK must compete with China, the USA and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution. I urge the government to consider these plans carefully, as they are focused on increasing productivity and wages, especially in smaller businesses.”

Innovate UK chief executive Ruth McKernan, added: “This comprehensive review sets out practical recommendations around digital skills adoption, leadership and innovation. Maximising opportunities from industrial digitalisation massively boosts productivity and UK competitiveness. The innovation eco-system has a key role to play in delivering the ambition in this Review and Innovate UK stands ready to work with government and industry to drive forward the recommendations Juergen Maier sets out.”

Chris Richards head of business environment policy at EEF who commented that the Review highlights the barriers to adoption of new digital technologies that could stop us moving up the ranks, particularly the need for better leadership and a culture shift on innovation to boost adoption, especially among SMEs. But importantly he stresses the opportunities are significant, and that the digitisation of manufacturing is real and is happening at pace, but this speed could create major winners and losers unless all of industry moves together. This is an opportunity that the whole of UK industry can be a part of and it’s also a process we can’t afford not to be.