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The Markit/CIPS manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 51.0 last month from 50.8 in February, helping the sector clock one of its weakest quarters in the past three years.
Economists in a Reuters poll had expected the manufacturing index to rise to 51.2.
"Although the drop in sterling may add some bounce to export performance in coming months, the exchange rate is likely to cause as many issues on the cost side through higher import prices as it aids for demand," Rob Dobson, senior economist at Markit, said.
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"This could apply an unwelcome additional strain to manufacturers’ margins, coming at a time when many are still having to pass on lower commodity prices to maintain competitiveness and alongside the introduction of the national living wage."
David Noble, group chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, added: This month’s disappointing figures will serve as a reality check on the performance of the manufacturing sector."