UK manufacturers call for a commission to facilitate digital change

November 14, 2017
Chaired by Juergen Maier, head of Siemens UK, an independent group of manufacturing executives and academics recently formed a group to review the state of UK manufacturing. The group issued a report which concludes that advanced digital technology could give UK manufacturing a huge boost and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, if current obstacles were addressed.

Juergen Maier, head of Siemens UK, chaired the group. Executives from such companies as Rolls Royce, GKN and IBM, joined with smaller firms as well as academics from the universities of Newcastle and Cambridge. The outcome was a report, “Made Smarter,” which is intended to help organizations and the UK government formulate industrial strategy plans.

While the report includes benefits of technologies like robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence, it also says the UK needs "greater ambition" to take advantage of such technology. The report also says that a huge number of workers would need to be retrained, and it calls for a commission to help businesses adjust to changing technologies.

In an interview about the report, Maier told the BBC's Today programme that the transition would mean job losses: "On the one hand it is going to create productivity and more exports and through that we can create more jobs, but at the same time robotics and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs,” he said.

"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 one million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector... so they can transition from tasks that might be displaced to, for example, managing or programming robots."

The report proposes:

-More targeted support for companies, re-skilling workers, and a National Adoption Programme piloted in the north west

-Five digital research centres to improve innovation and capability

-A national commission in charge of turning Britain into a global leader in industrial digital technologies

The proposals were backed by CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn, who warned about the UK's international competition.

"The UK must compete with China, the USA and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution," she said.

Phil Lewis, VP, Global Solution Consulting, in Europe for Infor, agreed that digital strategies offer opportunities for British manufacturers to differentiate themselves from global competitors and offer customers compelling reasons to buy from local sources, other than price.

But, it won’t happen overnight. “A new digital paradigm means manufacturers can reinvent themselves, build new revenue streams, forge closer bonds with customers, and offer new value-add services based on sensor-generated data and predictive analytics,” said Lewis. “But, to step up to the challenge, manufacturers need to embrace technology, from their core functions to their secondary applications. The transformation requires software that supports agility, connectivity, and innovation.”



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