The Industrial Digitalisation Review, published in November, outlined a series of proposals to boost the UK’s economy through the deployment of advanced digital technologies.
The review, headed by Siemens UK CEO Juergen Maier, provided an overview of the opportunities which the fourth industrial revolution – or Industry 4.0 –could afford UK manufacturing.
It called on the UK Government and industry to work more closely together if Britain was to put itself in the forefront of these new technologies and it’s certainly true that businesses in the UK, especially smaller ones, will need support learning about how digitalisation can help their businesses to grow. The report called for a more visible digital ecosystem, including the creation of innovation hubs, demonstrators and digital research centres.
If industrial digitalisation is to benefit industry, it will need to be accessible, understandable and practically useful.
Our Cover Story looks at Factory 2050, a sub-section of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the UK’s first state of the art factory dedicated to conducting collaborative research into digitally assisted assembly, component manufacturing and machining technologies.
The facility sits alongside some of the most advanced manufacturing facilities anywhere in the world, with Rolls Royce, McLaren and Boeing operating within a few miles. It encompasses robotics and automation, metrology, digitally assisted manufacturing and manufacturing informatics, providing a facility in which production issues can be addressed and new technologies prototyped and developed.
The Review and facilities like Factory 2050 point to a possible renaissance in manufacturing in the UK but that being said, there are plenty of economies which are far more open to automation and where its uptake has been truly astonishing, putting the UK’s efforts to shame.
Crucially, if we are to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, digitalisation needs to be backed up by an incredibly good infrastructure.
The UK is ranked 54th in the world for 4G coverage, is bottom in Europe for availability of fibre broadband to the premise, and half of UK businesses have no access to cheap fibre broadband.
While the UK is the world’s sixth largest economy, it has one of the worst technology infrastructures amongst developed countries.
Infrastructure is critical if we are to benefit from Industry 4.0; without it, how will we extend its benefits from one factory to the entire supply chain? Only when, and if, we can do that will we really unlock the benefits identified in Maier’s report.