Smart Machines & Factories
4IR scepticism?
Published:  27 September, 2018

New digital technologies are rapidly transforming European manufacturing, and investment in 4IR technologies is vital to achieving a step change in UK manufacturing productivity given performance has flat-lined in the decade since the financial crisis.

According to the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation’s latest survey, being innovative with technology is seen by manufacturers as the number one factor to help boost productivity.

However, the EEF survey also shows despite some manufacturers making investments and moving beyond the initial ‘conception’ phase and into the ‘evolution’ phase, the majority are yet to do so and only one in four companies see the UK as being in a leadership position. According to EEF, this matters because it means barriers are standing in the way of additional investment.

These results were similar to those in the recent Smart Machines & Factories 4IR survey (see page 40), which highlighted that some manufacturers are already grasping 4IR opportunities, but others are still to take their first steps on their journey.

Madeleine Scott, senior policy researcher at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the Smart Machines & Factories 4IR survey results showed a similar picture to EEF’s own recent research and highlighted that 4IR technologies are vital to achieving a step change in UK manufacturing productivity.

Manufacturers need to continue to boost investment in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies especially in light of Brexit. 4IR investment is crucial to the UK’s success outside of the EU, but despite this the various surveys illustrate that numerous challenges continue to exist.

Of particular concern highlighted in the Smart Machines & Factories 4IR survey is that more than 75% of responders’ businesses didn’t have a digitalisation strategy in place. As Steve Sands, marketing and product manager at Festo, highlighted in the survey analysis on page 40, with an abundance of messages readily available regarding the advances in digitalisation, it is unlikely they have been missed. Therefore the results suggests the impact isn’t perceived to relate to their business or there is scepticism regarding the claims that are being made, which is extremely worrying as a digital future is not a case of if, but when.

Prioritising the rapid digitalisation of UK manufacturing and the economy as a whole is at the heart of improving our overall competitiveness. UK Industry and Government need to make the most of the new technology opportunity, creating better living standards and setting the foundations for a more vibrant future for the next generation.