Manufacturing is undergoing a period of transformation, as old methods of production are eclipsed by the new: a group of technologies guaranteeing unprecedented levels of efficiency, quality and cost-effectiveness. The Made Smarter Review sets out how UK manufacturing can remain competitive through the adoption of industrial digital technologies (IDTs).
The Made Smarter Review has sought to address the exponential growth of advanced manufacturing and industrial digital technology, leading to sweeping transformation of the sector over recent years. The independent review was commissioned by the British Government to put forward proposals for an Industrial Digitalisation sector deal in the Industrial Strategy green paper. From the outset, the review emphasises the UK’s failure to reach its full potential, with a stated objective of taking “a much greater slice of the opportunities arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Rather than solely outlining solutions for driving and embracing digitalisation, the review adopts a different approach, seeking instead to establish the institutional framework and ecosystems which are set to advance the next generation of technological innovation. In establishing these frameworks and ecosystems, the review focuses on three strategic challenges: the increased pace of adoption of industrial digital technologies; the faster innovation of these technologies; and the need for stronger and more ambitious leadership to transform UK industry.
With active contributions from over 200 organisations, including the Additive Manufacturing Strategy Group and the Productivity Leadership Group (PLG), the review puts forward a set of recommendations which it believes will achieve the UK’s ambition of becoming a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by 2030. Indeed, recommendations made in the review are done so with a sense of urgency, with a warning that “delaying action will not only perpetuate productivity challenges within UK industry, but erode the opportunity for the UK to be an early adopter of transformational technology”.
Indeed, the reasoning for such urgency is articulated in the review’s economic understanding of advanced manufacturing and industrial digital technologies: a 2017 World Economic Forum report is highlighted as identifying a $1 trillion gap in the market for both industry and society through the adoption of such technologies. A growth in market value occurs in correlation with an increased adoption of the technology across all sectors: 6.4 billion data-communicating objects are active in the world today — and the number is projected to increase to around 20 billion by 2020. Indeed, industrial digital technology enables a merger of digital and physical worlds, bringing considerable enhancements to performance and productivity.
The scope of industrial digitalisation technologies is broad, coming in several forms and levels of technological maturity. Ranging across artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and data analytics, the nascent technologies have emerged as catalysts behind the onward march of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, encouraging new businesses to form, increasing speed to market, integrating and strengthening supply chains and realising gains in productivity. Certainly, the report suggests that the technology will guarantee disruption at the heart of industry, with a projection made that companies may be forced to adapt to more customer-centric business models, offering personalised products through mass customisation and enhanced services. Notably, the Made Smarter Review suggests that a nationwide adoption of IDTs “offer the promise of recapturing the UK’s industrial spirit as a nation of ‘creators and makers’”.
The review suggests that the UK is placed in a position of strategic advantage thanks to its sectoral strength in the fields of research and design, manufacturing and digitalisation: the nation’s aerospace sector is highlighted as already supporting the development of industrial digital technologies, such as additive manufacturing, collaborative robots (also known as cobots), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and Virtual and Augmented Reality. Similarly, the presence of established and skilled organisations in manufacturing has been suggested as crowning the UK as leaders in refrigeration monitoring systems via IoT technology and in food safety and traceability systems. It has been emphasised that the UK offers the strongest AI and machine-learning market in Europe, with over 200 SMEs working in the sector.
“Notably, the Made Smarter Review suggests that a nationwide adoption of IDTs “offer the promise of recapturing the UK’s industrial spirit as a nation of ‘creators and makers’”.
The UK’s investment priorities have been underlined as a key strength in encouraging the adoption of IDTs. The review notes that investment in key areas of infrastructure, such as renewables (owing to climate targets and the pursuit of a low-carbon economy) provides ample opportunity to “stimulate the creation of new local supply chains with a high rate of IDT adoption”.
Whilst the Made Smarter Review strongly advocates the UK’s position in regard to adopting IDTs, it also concedes that current efforts mean that “other countries are stealing a march on the UK”, with coherent government strategies in place in developed economies throughout the world, including in China (made in China 2025), the USA (America Makes) and Germany (Industrie 4.0). Three themes identified as limiting the UK’s ability to achieve its full potential include the lack of effective leadership of industrial digitisation in the UK, poor levels of IDT adoption among SMEs and under-leveraged innovation assets to support start-ups and scale-ups. The broader criticism of the UK’s IDT and advanced manufacturing strategy focuses on the lack of a clear narrative differentiating the UK from the rest of the world, poorly-coordinated centres of excellence and expertise and an “ineffective and confused landscape of business support”.
The Review offers several recommendations aimed at driving forward the development and adoption of IDTs in the UK, with a particular focus on additive manufacturing and AI. Underpinning the recommendations is a call for the creation of a single national Skills Strategy and Implementation Group (SSIG) under the governance of the Made Smarter UK Commission (MSUK). Acting as a focal point for the engagement of industry and the identification of skills requirements, the formation of a strategy group is highlighted as a measure which could lead on to a modern digital delivery platform providing scalable and relevant content for upskilling.
It is also recommended that the British Government establish an incentivised programme, co-funded by industry and government, to significantly increase awareness of how these emerging technologies can transform the manufacturing industry.
The considerable controversy surrounding the sharing of data has been highlighted by the publication as one of the largest inhibitors in exploiting IDT in manufacturing. Data trusts have been proposed as a means of negating the reluctance of businesses and organisations, ensuring data exchanges are secure and mutually beneficial.
Implementation of the Review’s recommendations project highly ambitious outcomes, including a UK GVA increase of £770 million, at least 200 new tech start-ups and over one million workers re-skilled or upskilled over the next five years.