It’s high time our manufacturing firms got smarter

Katherine Denham
The New State Of The Art Ford Production Line
Source: Getty

From robotics to artificial intelligence (AI), advances in technology have been gathering pace over recent years.

Built on the digital advances of the past four decades, the so-called fourth industrial revolution is cooking up a storm in the business world, and the UK is determined to be an integral part of this revolution.

A government-commissioned report, called Made Smarter, estimated that the UK could create 200,000 jobs and bolster the economy by £455bn in the next 10 years by unlocking the manufacturing potential created by digital advancements.

Read more: How making British industry digital could boost the economy by billions

With more than 200 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the AI field, we have the strongest machine learning market in Europe. But there are various factors that are holding us back from becoming a global leader in the space.

For example, the report said many SMEs are failing to adopt automated tech, which is hindering productivity. Businesses also face a skills shortage when it comes to digital engineering, partly due to a lack of engagement between education and industry.

The report made various recommendations to improve the future of the UK’s manufacturing industry, including upskilling one million workers over five years. This won’t be an easy feat, particularly given that young startups are already struggling to get the support they need.

In fact, the report points to the lack of funding among industrial digital technologies (IDTs) startups, meaning the UK is falling behind in creating new innovative companies and industries. The businesses of the future need better access to finance to support the development of innovative products.

Peter Alderson, managing director of business finance provider LDF, echoes this, saying: “UK manufacturing has a real opportunity here to be a global player, but in order to do that, they need to turn their attentions to investing in new and more capable technologies. Access to funding will be a key lever for success, and this must be addressed.”

Alderson stresses that alternative finance is an option which can help support this directly, allowing the cost of technology to be spread, reducing the immediate capital impact for businesses. “Additionally, it can also help to spread other less tangible costs such as training, an area that many business have struggled to fund historically.”

Investment in tech is now at the heart of the government’s industrial strategy, and rightly so. But it’s not just funding that these firms need help with.

There are various other ways the government can ensure that the UK is in the driving seat when it comes to digital innovation.

Creating hubs, where startups work in partnership with universities and established players, will go a long way to giving our industries the boost they need.

But we also need to increase the awareness of digitalisation.

According to the report, the UK needs to adopt IDTs faster, especially within the SME community.

A CBI survey published last month found that growth in manufacturing activity slowed in the three months to October, which suggests action needs to be taken soon.

Companies need to be relentless when reexamining their business models, to ensure that they are optimising every element of their offering.

But it’s crucial that business and the government work together to help our manufacturing industries reach their full potential, which in turn will boost our exports as a nation.

The UK left many of the opportunities arising from the third industrial revolution to other nations, but we must not let that happen this time around.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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