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Manufacturers urged to invest in 4IR

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Most manufacturers in the East of England are confident about Britain’s ability to compete internationally but many are putting off necessary investment in transformative technology and blaming skills shortages, says a report on the sector from Barclays Corporate Banking. It says 8,000 jobs would be created in East of England in the next 10 years if manufacturers invested in smart factory technologies. Of those that have already invested, 60 per cent of firms in the region report that the adoption of 4IR technologies has improved productivity, while 10 per cent are seeing return on investment.

The Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing Report, Intelligent manufacturing: an industrial revolution for the digital age, is based on the views of over 500 manufacturers and found that, while basic forms of automation, like robotics, have a high rate of adoption (76%), 51 per cent of manufacturers in East of England are yet to invest in 4IR technologies like artificial intelligence.

Sasha Wiggins, managing director, South and South East Region at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: “Our research shows that manufacturers see the benefits of this cutting-edge technology, and many have started to match their intentions with investment. However, we are at a watershed. While the outlay may seem expensive for many at a time of uncertainty, the industry needs to raise its levels of investment in the skills and infrastructure needed to harness these new technologies and keep us more productive than other international manufacturing hubs.  Businesses that make the leap will be rewarded.”

Sasha Wiggins added: “British manufacturing is going through another industrial revolution but confidence alone does not translate into success and benefit. With sterling currently weaker and a robust appetite from domestic and international markets for British goods, the industry is in a strong position to take advantage of the opportunities investing in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can bring.”

The report predicts that manufacturers could boost the sector by an additional £102bn per year by 2026, provided 4IR sees greater adoption and investment over the coming years. Some 78 per cent of manufacturers have committed to investing in automation over the next five years: over two-thirds see more potential in sensors, big data, energy self-generation and machine learning. And just over half predict more use of 3D printing over this period.

Weighing up the benefits

Contrary to popular perceptions about the impact of AI, investment in 4IR technologies has the potential to create jobs for Britain.  Barclays has found that 101,000 jobs would be created in the next 10 years if manufacturers invest in smart factory technologies, and textiles and clothing (12.6%), pharmaceuticals (8.3%), wood, paper and printing (6.9%), and fuels (6.7%) would benefit the most. A third of manufacturers that have invested also said it freed up staff to concentrate on more highly skilled work.

One in five (21%) manufacturers cited a lack of skilled workers as the reason for putting off investment in 4IR and a fifthbelieve the Government’s industrial strategy will have no impact on their business.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 22 November 2017 13:24 )