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Can the UK become a Global Leader in Industrial Digitalisation by 2030?

06/11/17 Brett Longden Senior Consultant, Electronics & Technology

Digital technologies are transforming the industry. In a 2017 report, the World Economic Forum identified a $100 trillion opportunity for both industry and society through the adoption of these technologies. Each day, around five million devices link up with each other, with the internet, or with both. There are around 6.4 billion data-communicating objects in the world today. And by 2020, this number is forecast to explode to around 20 billion. Emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things are significant in their own right. However, it is the convergence of these IDTs that really turbo-charges their impact.

According to a report, Britain’s manufacturing sector could gain as much as £455billion if, over the next decade, it successfully unlocks the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution deploying robotics, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.

The report, Made Smarter, chaired by Jürgen Maier, the UK, and Ireland head of German engineering giant Siemens, was commissioned by the UK government to provide a review on industrial digitalisation.
While the report says that the UK economy would benefit by as much as £455billion over the next ten years from investment in digital technology, it also warned that the UK needed ‘greater ambition’ if it was to take advantage of the opportunities these technologies offer.

The report brought together executives from Rolls Royce, GKN, and IBM as well small business representatives and academics from the universities of Cambridge and Newcastle. According to the report, a deal between government and industry could put Britain at the forefront of these new technologies, giving the economy a much-needed productivity boost and is forecasting a net gain of 175,000 highly skilled, better-paid jobs.

The report proposes: more targeted support for companies, re-skilling workers, and a National Adoption Programme piloted in the north west; five digital research centres to improve innovation and capability and a national commission – Made Smarter UK Commission - to be charge of turning Britain into a global leader in industrial digital technologies and leading the ‘upskilling’ of one million industrial workers in the UK.

Brett Longden, Redline’s Manufacturing and Operations consultant discusses the factors which are preventing the UK from fully achieving its potential: “There is a lack of effective leadership of industrial digitalisation in the UK and the development of technical skills to address the ongoing requirements for factory automation specialist, software test, and advanced manufacturing engineering jobs. There is no clear narrative setting out what the UK already does well or the significant opportunity for UK industry – and the country – from the faster development and adoption of IDTs. There are also poor levels of adoption, particularly among SMEs. The UK is behind other advanced nations in overall productivity (output per worker), which is in part due to lower levels of adoption of digital and automation technology. This is particularly acute among SMEs. Yet, the potential size of the prize for the UK is huge. Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) offer the promise of recapturing the UK’s industrial spirit as a nation of ‘creators and makers’.”

The UK could benefit from the following factors:

  • Raising UK productivity and international competitiveness;
  • Creating new, higher-paid, higher-skilled jobs in manufacturing automation that add value to society and positively offset the displacement of poor productivity and poorly paid jobs;
  • Strengthening UK supply chains and creating new value streams;
  • Addressing regional economic disparities;
  • Increasing exports through competitiveness;
  • Creating a new vibrant technology market serving UK industry and attracting FDI;
  • Improving the resource efficiency of the UK’s industrial base, making it more resilient to global resource supply disruptions and reducing its environmental impact through more efficient manufacturing and industrial processes and more optimised supply chains.

The UK must focus on the following strategic challenges: the increased pace of adoption of industrial digital technologies, the faster innovation of these technologies, and a need for stronger and more ambitious leadership to transform UK industry

Could the UK become a leader in Industrial Digital Technologies?

Brett continues: “The UK already has a strong combination of leading-edge R&D and a number of high performing sectors in the application of digitalisation in design, manufacturing, and servitisation. For example, Aerospace is already supporting the development and adoption of the specific technologies which will define the industrial digitalisation revolution, including addictive manufacturing, collaborative robots, AI, data analytics and virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). But the adoption and application of technology are not consistent across all industrial sectors, says Brett. Although the UK is well placed to do so thanks to its rapidly growing digital sector, it is not currently capitalising on that potential advantage by applying these technologies in a coordinated and strategic way in an industrial setting,”

“Companies such as ABB, the global leaders in industrial technology have already benefitted from IDT. For example, ABB Heidelberg has implemented agile manufacturing processes providing real-time visibility into manufacturing processes. They have reduced product cycles, shorten changeover and launch times through off-line programming and virtual commissioning. Overall they have improved quality control through data analysis and automation.”
 “We see an opportunity for the UK to differentiate itself in this digital industrial revolution, says Brett. The relatively flexible and competitive UK labour market has allowed many companies to achieve world-class productivity at lower levels of automation. This will provide an even stronger competitive advantage with Industry 4.0 technologies like ‘cobots’, where humans work in harmony with advanced technologies to create highly agile businesses attuned to the changing needs of their customers."

Brett summarises: “Industrial digitalisation is a massive opportunity for UK industry – and the wider economy. But the technologies that underpin it are also highly disruptive, requiring the business to be innovative, agile and adaptable. Industry and government will need to work in partnership to provide the infrastructure and ecosystems that can enable manufacturing businesses and their supply chains to maximise these opportunities and be competitive. Get it wrong, and we risk further de-industrialising our economy and becoming ever more reliant on imports. Get it right, and we will have found the key to rebalancing and strengthening our economy, creating many new, exciting, and well-paid jobs in r&d, design and manufacturing engineering and leading a renaissance for the UK as a true nation of engineering creators and makers.”

If you are a candidate and want to find out more about manufacturing jobs and careers in manufacturing & operations, or to see our latest job opportunities, such as production engineer jobs please click here or alternatively contact Brett Longden, Redline Group’s Manufacturing & Operations Consultant on 01582 878841 or email