What are UK manufacturers’ attitudes towards Smart Factory technologies?

Posted on 9 May 2019 by The Manufacturer

In coming months, we will be bringing you extracts from The Manufacturer's Annual Manufacturing Report 2019. This month, we focus on the Smart Factories section (sponsored by PwC) which tested attitudes and barriers to the adoption of digital manufacturing technologies.

As these snippets and snapshots demonstrate, a contrary picture emerges: by a very large majority, manufacturers understand the benefits of adopting these Smart Factory technologies, but many of them also appear confused by what digital technologies are.

As the figures below demonstrate, more than 50% of those surveyed either have no plans to implement them or are not sure why they should. Or are not even sure what we are talking about:

AMR 2019 Annual Manufacturing Report - Smart Factory Statistics UK Manufacturing

Some individual responses:

“Not sure what you mean by digital smart factory technologies. We have an ERP system and we have CNC/robotic machinery.”

“We are too small for it to be cost-effective.”

“It is an area that we discuss with clients in the SME sector and is something that many SMEs have vaguely on their radar but have no immediate plans to implement.”

“I am not sure what digital smart factory technology is.”

AMR 2019 Annual Manufacturing Report - Smart Factory Statistics Infographic UK ManufacturingObviously, there is a gap in understanding if a manufacturer who has an ERP system and deploys CNC/robotic machinery is not aware they are already deploying digital smart factory technologies.

Perhaps it is the fault of us in the media, of technology vendors and advocates such as the Catapults and the Made Smarter Commission that we tend to use portfolio language like ‘Industry 4.0’, ‘4IR’, and ‘digital manufacturing technologies’ without stopping to consider whether everyone is on the same page as us.

That would seem to demand more clarity, more understanding and more patience in the way we talk about them.

There has been some discussion among SMEs whether the kind of transparency that a connected supply chain offers between all its members might be of questionable value, if it means larger companies up the chain have visibility of input pricing and thereby are able to squeeze smaller companies’ margins.

The survey results suggest such fears are overblown. While we did not specifically test for this, the culture in manufacturing appears to be becoming more collegial and collaborative as manufacturers of all sizes realise that the zero-sum games of the past can’t work in the digital age.

“We have seen the benefits of being early adopters, reducing electricity costs, labour costs per unit and able to take on work competing with much larger companies. Innovation means we can create new products and secure work, in the UK and for export, that could not be done without the new technology. As the rate of change for automation and robotics is now developing rapidly along with digitalisation, waiting is no longer an option,”

Richard Hagan, Managing Director, Crystal Doors

“The UK has a tremendous platform to capitalise on these technologies, but adoption needs to be accelerated. It will require clear leadership and a desire and culture for organisations to be braver in disrupting their existing business models,”

Cara Haffey, Industrial Manufacturing & Automotive Leader, PwC