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Unlocking the benefits of digitalisation

A report on industrial digitisation has suggested that Britain’s manufacturing sector could benefit by as much as £455billion if, over the next decade, it can unlock the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) by deploying robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence.

The report – Made Smarter – was commissioned by the Government to look at industrial digitalisation and the review, chaired by Jürgen Maier, the UK and Ireland head of Siemens, found the UK economy would benefit immensely from investment in digital technology.

According to the report, by working together, the Government and industry could put Britain at the forefront of these new technologies, giving the economy a much needed productivity boost and a potential net gain of 175,000 highly skilled, better paid jobs.

Responding to the report, Innovate UK’s chief executive Ruth McKernan said: “This comprehensive review sets out practical recommendations around digital skills adoption, leadership and innovation. Maximising opportunities from industrial digitalisation massively boosts productivity and UK competitiveness.

“The innovation eco-system has a key role to play in delivering the ambition in this review and Innovate UK stands ready to work with government and industry to drive forward the recommendations Juergen Maier sets out.”

Maier said that, while there would be considerable benefits, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) would displace some jobs. “The best thing we can do is to make ourselves ready for it in a very proactive way and that means training our people ... we need to up-skill 1million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector.”

The review considered three themes: adoption; innovation; and leadership. Amongst its proposals was the building of a more visible national digital ecosystem.

A National Adoption Programme will be piloted in the North West, focused on increasing capacity of existing growth hubs and providing more targeted support.

The Review also recommended up-skilling 1m industrial workers to enable digital technologies to be deployed and successfully exploited through a Single Industrial Digitalisation Skills Strategy.

It also urged the creation of 12 ‘Digital Innovation Hubs’, along with eight large scale demonstrators and five digital research centres focused on developing new technologies as part of a new National Innovation Programme.

It also called for a new national body, the Made Smarter UK Commission. This would have responsibility for developing the UK as a leader in Industrial Digitalisation Technologies and skills.

These proposals were backed by CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn, although she warned that the UK was facing intense international competition from countries that already had advanced plans to embrace Industry 4.0.

David Wells, managing director EMEA with business process management specialist Pegasystems, said that whilst the adoption of AI and robotics could be the key to boosting productivity, he warned that it was important that the most appropriate technology be used and that there were dangers associated with ‘opaque AI’.

“Technologies like robotics, AI and virtual reality have a role to play in every sector and their integration into manufacturing is inevitable. It’s imperative, however, that the type of AI being integrated into industrial systems is ‘future-proof’, won’t cause unforeseen problems in the near future and can be adapted quickly.”

Wells suggested the primary challenge associated with the implementation of AI would be to make it more transparent. “How has a machine come up with a particular result? We need to know where a calculation or a model hasn’t quite worked correctly and have the ability to rectify it.”

The report’s recommendations will now be considered by the Government.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK manufacturing sector has the potential to be a global leader in the industrial digital technology revolution. Government and industry must promote the benefits of adopting emerging digital technologies.”

Neil Tyler

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