The future is getting increasingly uncertain, with UK growth clouded by Brexit and political turbulence across the globe. But, there is one thing we can be sure about, as CEO of EEF, Stephen Phipson, explains.
Manufacturers talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) using new technologies such as sensors, robotics and data analytics to gain insights into product use, improve productivity and raise competitiveness.
But other outcomes are just as important: better customer experience, higher levels of efficiency and more highly skilled jobs will also result.
The opportunities are clear, but with this revolution will come disruption to traditional business models, new types of supply chain engagement and the need to take employees and suppliers on the journey too.
Manufacturers are starting their 4IR journey with their growth ambitions underpinned by the development of new business models, including new services. There will also be greater focus on innovation in both new products and processes, along with closer collaboration within supply chains and investment in new technologies.
Phased roll out
That’s not to say that all companies are quickly moving ahead in these areas. The application of 4IR technologies is one area where companies are still trying to understand how best to apply new ideas to their businesses, and they are doing so in three distinct phases.
The first phase – conception – is where companies figure out what 4IR is all about, what it can offer and how it could apply to their business.
The second phase – evolution – is a period where there is some advancement on current practice. Concepts and off-the-shelf solutions can be implemented and tested, further optimising current processes and putting in place new solutions.
The third, and final phase – revolution – is where the step change occurs in terms of how value is derived and how interaction with customers and suppliers happens.
This article first appeared in the September issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
For those at the conception phase, optimising processes and supply chains is where some early wins will be found. The evolution of manufacturing processes and the revolution of the product and service offerings to customers will follow, but this will happen in fits and starts.
Sharing of best practice through technology diffusion and peer learning from companies at the frontier is where a lot of improvement will take place. We are helping manufacturers navigate the complexities and challenges presented by 4IR and to seize the many opportunities it will afford.
In addition to manufacturers adapting their own processes to meet this evolving challenge there is also a role for government policy. Industrial strategy must play a role in enabling companies to learn, adapt and adopt more quickly, not only to keep pace with competitors but also to propel them to the head of the league table.
Sector deals on industrial digitalisation – such as Made Smarter – should help inform this.
Government must also play a role in developing the skills required to implement 4IR, from encouraging our young to pursue a career in engineering to upskilling the current workforce with the necessary digital skills.
Despite the current political turbulence and potential uncertainty, this is a very exciting time for industry in the UK, and the economic gains will be significant. UK manufacturing will adapt, as it always has, to a new world post-Brexit and new ways of maximising value through the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Smart Factory Expo – Europe’s biggest showcase for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a revolution in manufacturing agility, innovation and thinking.
14 – 15 November | Exhibition Center Liverpool
Last year, the two-day event attracted more than 4,000 industrial decision-makers. This year, we’re on track to host 6,000!