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Industry 4.0 - When will the scales tip for UK Manufacturing?

This week, I attended the Manufacturer Live event, held in lovely surroundings at the Institute of Engineering & Technology, Savoy Place. What really impressed me was the passion and determination that the organisers had for Industry 4.0. Each speech focused on the need to innovate, digitisation, connected manufacturing, personalisation, data analytics in smart factories, servitisation, robotics, 3D printing and more.

What struck me though was that there seemed to be a lot of sellers but not many buyers!

One of the speakers talked about Frank. Frank is the notional UK Manufacturing business owner. He has grown a profitable business, has zero debt and runs an operationally efficient company that rarely needs to spend money on new equipment. Like many of the Franks in the UK, he now has a lot of noise coming from Bankers, Accountants, Financial Advisors, Family and Friends, all telling him to sell and retire to the beach. The Manufacturer’s message is “DON’T SELL, INNOVATE AND GROW!”

While there are a multitude of reasons as to why the UK Manufacturing has traditionally sold out, my concern is that a failure to invest in technology and innovation now will lead to the distressed sales of the future.

I am making a sweeping generalisation, of course. Hopefully people will comment to point out those companies that are ahead of the game. For example, pay-by-use and subscription based services, turning machinery from capex to opex for manufacturers. Rolls-Royce pioneered this approach in its jet-engine business; other manufacturers have followed suit. However, would anyone say that we are keeping up with other nations? The Manufacturer’s own annual report for 2016 states that “for the first time this year, the Annual Manufacturing report asked about the Internet of Things. The response indicates that manufacturers are yet to be convinced and are adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude.” The UK is currently ranked 11th globally in terms of manufacturing output.

                      

Is this a cultural issue in UK Manufacturing? Are we naturally risk averse and late adopters? Is it a lack of Government support and impetus? Or is it simply just a lack of understanding? The original industrial revolution began in Britain. Does anyone believe that we will play a large part in the 4th?

I am passionate about Industry 4.0 and technology innovation within Manufacturing. The Manufacturer Live event made me worry that not enough UK Manufacturers feel the same yet. Am I right?

Ibi Thomson is the Principal for the CIO Practice at Interim Partners.

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