Digital manufacturing of the future – how UK businesses can best utilise IDTs

Posted on 19 May 2021 by The Manufacturer

Following key sessions held during Digital Manufacturing Week, Connected Everything consulted its network to find out just how Industrial Digital Technologies will help shape the future of manufacturing. Oliver Fisher reports.

Hosted by the University of Nottingham, Connected Everything is an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded Network Plus for the Digital Manufacturing community which is addressing the question How do we support the future of manufacturing in the UK?

The pace of digitalisation of the UK’s manufacturing sector has lagged behind other nations, which is in part due to a lack of visionary thinking. To ensure that this is not repeated, Connected Everything is conducting horizon scanning activities, in collaboration with industrial partners and policymakers, to generate knowledge of challenges and opportunities presented by digital manufacturing in 10, 20 and 30 years’ times.

This article presents some of the key findings from this work originating from workshops held during Digital Manufacturing Week 2020 and a follow-up survey sent to delegates and network members.

Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) are key enablers of digital manufacturing. However, Make UK’s Innovation Monitor 2050 Report highlighted that currently only 13% of UK manufacturing companies have implemented IDTs to the stage that they are witnessing a significant productivity improvement. Looking forward to 2050 the horizon looks more optimistic for the adoption of IDTs.

When asked by Connected Everything, the manufacturing community thought the majority of the IDTs listed in Figure 1 below would be commonplace by 2050. In particular, there was strong agreement that Artificial Intelligence, the Industrial Internet of Things and Robotics and Cobotics will be commonplace by 2050.Nottingham University

Figure 1: Examples of Industrial Digital Technologies thought to be commonplace by 2050.

Of the current barriers to IDTs adoption, issues surrounding data interoperability featured prominently in discussions on what barriers will still exist in 2050. This is not surprising as the intelligent utilisation and sharing of data underpin many of the fundamental principles of digital manufacturing.

Additionality, on this topic a split emerged between academia and industry, with industry strongly believing that technical knowledge would still be a barrier in 2050, while academia was more concerned about the future of cybersecurity. However, to get to 2050 both groups agreed that management culture, finance for SMEs and data/ technology standards first need to be addressed.

So far, Connected Everything’s horizon scanning activities have found the manufacturing community to be uncertain of what new IDTs may emerge by 2050, which is understandable given the current rate of digital innovation. However, discussions did highlight that in order to speed up the adoption of future IDTs, developers need to focus on developing IDTs that can demonstrate an added value and work to address manufacturers’ problems.

The lack of foresight into preparing the workforce for Industry 4.0 has led to a digital skills shortage that is well-spoken about at many digital manufacturing events. However, discussions at Connected Everything events revealed that many are unsure of how digitalisation will change current manufacturing roles, or what new roles will exist by 2050, making it harder to know what digital skills to invest in.

A critical need emerged for an interdisciplinary approach when theorising on future manufacturing roles as an understanding of the interfaces and differences between sectors will grow in importance. When asked to identify potential future manufacturing roles many believed that specialist roles would exist for most of the IDTs previously mentioned. However, it was undecided whether these roles will be in house or sub-contracted out to new businesses that specialise in these technologies. Other roles that received widespread agreement included system automation engineer, cybersecurity strategist, business intelligence and system design architect.

Connected Everything will be hosting round table discussion on topics including ‘Digitalisation and The Manufacturing Workforce of the Future’_University of Nottingham

Connected Everything will be hosting round table discussion on topics including ‘Digitalisation and The Manufacturing Workforce of the Future’. Image: Courtesy of University of Nottingham.

This is just the start of Connected Everything’s work looking at the future of digital manufacturing. From listening to the manufacturing community on what issues will be pressing over the next 30 years, Connected Everything will be expanding this work to investigate four cross-cutting themes:

  1. Industrial Digitalisation in 2050
  2. Digitalisation and The Manufacturing Workforce of the Future
  3. Digital Support for Achieving Net Zero Manufacturing by 2050
  4. Digital Enabled Manufacturing Resilience

Over the next six months Connected Everything will be hosting round table sessions to enable cross-sector and cross-discipline discussions on these themes. To find out more about Digital Manufacturing in 2050, as well as the other network activities and opportunities, head over to

Oliver Fisher_University of NottinghamOliver Fisher is Research Fellow and Knowledge Exchange Lead for Connected Everything

Header image courtesy of Depositphotos