Priorities set out for industrial digitalisation

Faster innovation and adoption of industrial digital technologies could be worth as much as £455bn to UK manufacturing over the next decade, according to a new report.

The industry-led “Made Smarter Review” – formerly the Industrial Digitalisation Review –  is a response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which identified industrial digitalisation as one of five priority areas.

Chaired by Siemens UK chief executive Professor Juergen Maier, it took input from over 200 stakeholders and offers recommendations to help the UK manufacturing sector maximise the benefits of digital technology – such as robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality and AI – and lead the fourth industrial revolution.

The report says that benefits of digital technologies include the automation of manufacturing processes to improve cost efficiency and accuracy, and the potential for new services to be created by harnessing data, including real-time management of assets.

But although the UK boasts a rapidly growing digital sector, it is not currently capitalising on this by applying digital technologies in a coordinated and strategic way in an industrial setting, the report says. This can be put down to a lack of effective leadership of industrial digitalisation in the UK, poor levels of adoption (particularly among smaller companies) and ineffective use of the country’s research and innovation infrastructure.

The UK is behind other advanced nations in overall productivity, the report says, in part due to lower levels of adoption of digital and automation technology. Small and medium firms in particular perceive significant barriers to adoption, such as risks connected to cybersecurity and a lack of common standards, it says, adding that businesses face a skills shortage in digital engineering capabilities.

In addition there is currently no “clear narrative” setting out the significant opportunity presented by the faster development and adoption of industrial digital technologies and no market-focused strategic vision or direction. The report points out that the UK has centres of technical expertise including world-class research centres and the Catapult network, but these are fragmented and poorly coordinated.

In order to tackle these challenges the report calls for a joint industry-government approach based on three key recommendations and a fourth supporting recommendation.

It calls for the creation of “a more visible and effective digital ecosystem” to accelerate innovation and diffusion of digital technologies, including proposals to support adoption among small businesses and the bringing together of digital innovation hubs, demonstrators and research centres into a networked digital innovation programme.

It urges the upskilling of a million industrial workers through an industrial digitalisation skills strategy.

And finally it recommends stronger leadership through the establishment of a national body – to be known at the Made Smarter UK Commission – bringing together industry, government, academia, and research organisations, with a mandate to develop the UK as a leader in the technology.

The fourth, supplementary recommendation is to address the barriers preventing adoption of digitalisation. This includes introducing a standards development programme to promote the greater interoperability of digital technology and the development of data trusts to overcome a reluctance to share data.

Review chair Professor Juergen Maier said: “Our Made Smarter proposals will help business understand, deploy and create the latest digital technologies, helping to secure more home grown R&D and the creation of new industries and highly skilled well paid jobs.

“Industry is committed to working in partnership with the Government, and these measures will boost UK growth and productivity in manufacturing and provide more exports and increased earning potential, which our economy desperately needs.”

Download the report here: