A new report designed to prime UK manufacturers on the practicalities of 4IR – the fast-approaching 4th industrial revolution has been published by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation. The report aims to break the concept of 4IR down into digestible chunks and help manufacturers make the connection between theory and practice. It uses real-life manufacturing case studies to enable them to then envisage how 4IR technologies and techniques could work in their own business.
The move follows a series of focus groups with manufacturers across the UK and research showing that just 42% have a good handle on 4IR. At the same time, manufacturers are aware that 4IR will lead to crucial transformation both at a business and industry level.
Over 61% of manufacturers say digital technologies will boost productivity, while three quarters, 74% say that 4IR will fundamentally change customers’ expectations. This in turn will require firms to change and adapt in order to meet marketplace needs.
Almost 68% of manufacturers say that 4IR will happen faster than previous changes in manufacturing. And while most are seemingly confident about managing the pace of change, 39% are concerned about their firms’ ability to keep up.
The report says that 4IR will herald smarter production, relationships and products and will boost the number of high-skilled jobs in the UK. But, it warns that the speed of change will be unprecedented, leaving little room for complacency. Without industry and supply chain leadership, coupled with a supportive industrial strategy, the UK could be left behind.
The report identifies a need for greater communication across supply chains and industrial sectors about the benefits. And, while the 4IR journey may start with optimising existing business processes, there are steps beyond technology that manufacturers need to take to prepare their business. These include applying visionary thinking, changing the internal culture towards innovation and boosting the role of IT and technology in decision making.
The case studies centre on smarter relationships, smarter production and smarter products. They include creating a digitised warehouse using RFID tracking of inventory to create a smarter inventory management system, using production line simulation or virtualisation to identify the most efficient layout for production and the use of always-connected products that allow predictive maintenance.
Lee Hopley, Chief Economist at EEF, said: “4IR is happening and the UK’s success in this global industrial transformation will hinge on manufacturers’ strategies and ambitions. It goes far beyond simply investing in new technologies and techniques – this new era requires cultural shifts, new business models and the ability to adapt and innovate.”
Hopley added: “This report is about sharing this insight with manufacturers but, more importantly, also providing practical examples so that 4IR stops being about theory and starts being about something that manufacturers can genuinely see how and why to apply. By helping to connect principle to practice, we aim to put our sector in the driving seat, building confidence and awareness so that UK manufacturers can be at the forefront of this new industrial wave.”
Vikram Singla, Product Innovation and Supply Chain Apps Leader at Oracle, commented:“It is very encouraging to see UK manufacturers have taken note of the major changes coming to their industry and the role of technology. The technological element of this transformation is critical as it will mean change happens at unprecedented pace.”
Singla added: “Cloud computing in particular and the scale, speed, flexibility and agility it enables will mean businesses will very quickly be able to make changes to everything from production processes to the way they manage their supply chains, product innovation and customer relationships. Similarly, in a smarter, more technological age of manufacturing, cloud will help businesses to collect and analyse the data created by their business processes, instilling a culture of constant improvement, refinement and efficiency.”