By Chris Richards, Senior Business Environment Policy Adviser at EEF


 

It is important that UK manufacturers are geared up for this change. While manufacturers can invest in the right technologies or approaches in isolation, the benefits will only be realised where change is driven right across supply-chains. In most sectors of manufacturing, supply-chains are dense, global networks that have developed over time; 4IR could therefore be both a risk and opportunity for UK manufacturers, depending on their position in that global supply-chain.

There are advantages to moving first and downsides of not taking advantage of the opportunity presented:

 
  • First movers may spend more upfront, but will realise the benefits faster, particularly in the evolution phase, freeing up resources for faster and further reinvestment.
     
  • First movers may also be able to capitalise on their advantage by displacing supply-chain competitors at the global level.
     
  • An additional benefit of moving first is the ability to determine the platforms that will underpin the processing and exchange of data, locking this in across your supply-chain and reaping the benefits before your suppliers’ other customers dictate these platforms.

Late movers may see lower upfront costs, as some solutions may be closer to being ‘ready-made’, but keeping pace with the change will be difficult. This is especially true if the business culture is overly conservative in its approach to change or if this is applied ‘off the shelf’ without a meaningful business strategy to underpin it.

 

Early insights into 4IR

 

Early indicators are that UK manufacturers are positive about their ability to take advantage of the changes associated with 4IR. Our survey showed that 61 per cent of manufacturers feel they will be able to keep pace with the change brought about by 4IR and 68 per cent are not worried about the competition that will be brought about by this change.

Despite this, only 11 per cent of manufacturers think the UK manufacturing sector is geared up to take advantage of 4IR; 57 per cent either don’t know or are neutral and 33 per cent say the sector isn’t geared up for this change.

"Not enough of the UK manufacturing sector is confident enough to start discussions about this with their industry peers."

This highlights an early warning – not enough of the UK manufacturing sector is confident enough to start discussions about this with their peers in industry. Without industry and supply-chain leadership, the risk is that the UK will be left behind. There is also a risk of complacency of understanding. Change will be happening quickly and while the outcomes from technology may be clear now, new insights may change the manufacturing process in unforeseen ways within some sectors. Keeping abreast of change will be a significant requirement for industry leaders.

61 per cent of manufacturers feel they will be able to keep pace with the change brought about by 4IR and 68 per cent are not worried about the competition that will be brought about by this change.

Despite this only 11 per cent of manufacturers think the UK manufacturing sector is geared up to take advantage of 4IR, 57 per cent either don’t know or are neutral and 33 per cent say the sector isn’t geared up for this change