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One third of British manufacturing automated within next three years

09 October 2018

A third of British manufacturing is expected to be automated within the next three years, according to a report investigating the rise of technology and the impact of Industry 4.0. The report from Sheffield Hallam University and SSG Insight reveals one in eight (12%) of UK manufacturers are going further with their technological evolution, by preparing to automate up to 50% of their business in the same time frame. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is predicted to help automate internal areas within manufacturing businesses, primarily aligned to the production and manufacturing process including the decision making required to optimise operational performance. AI will also be applied to predict and manage maintenance issues and address quality deviations. External business areas such as sales and marketing, distribution and customer service are less likely to be automated.

Nearly all manufacturers in Britain (93%) are utilising live data and automation technology already in some capacity, most commonly to help optimise products and ensure quality consistency. The second most popular way to utilise the technology today is to facilitate a better understanding of the end customer, leading to the development of supporting services as a change to the traditional manufacturing business model.

Improvements in speed, whether developing new products to bring to market, the pace of production, reducing downtime and enabling better decision making are all being driven by automation technology. Furthermore, live data is helping manufacturing businesses to be more accountable, including providing a better understanding of the workforce to create happy and safe working environments, as well as improving traceability of materials and lowering the cost of production.

Manufacturers identify the areas of technology they predict will play a greater role in their business in the next three years:

  1. Analytics of big data including customer insight (28%)
  2. AI and machine learning (26%)
  3. Automation, robotics and cobots (25%)
  4. Internet of Things (24%)
  5. App-based, mobile reporting software for seamless management (22%)
  6. 3D printing and material science (18%).

This latest industry snapshot draws on extensive research amongst the UK’s leading manufacturing executives. The report, Harnessing Brexit, Technology and Insight: British Manufacturers, a Competitive Edge in an Age of Uncertainty and Opportunity, is co-authored by  industrial automation and control engineering expert, Dr Hongwei Zhang and Professor Sameh Saad from Sheffield Hallam University and Jon Moody of SSG Insight.

The report reveals that technology is representative of three out of the top five biggest challenges disrupting the industry today. This includes the Internet of Things and capability to handle data from connected technologies, ensuring data is securely stored and within the parameters of legislation, and automation and the use of AI technology within the production process.

Dr Zhang, Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Industry 4.0 is here and the opportunity is now for manufacturers to embrace the potential of the technology currently available, as well as prepare for future advancements, in order to retain a competitive edge. Improvements to Britain’s digital infrastructure, such as the arrival of 5G that is set to offer download speeds up to 20 times faster than is currently possible, has the potential to transform productivity and the way we work, giving rise to a new era of manufacturing. It’s vital that manufacturers seek to futureproof their business as far as possible, utilising live data and advanced analytics to unlock the potential for greater automation and AI within production plants.”

SSG Insight has earned an impressive reputation for delivering world-class data analysis, helping British manufacturers compete globally by effectively managing their assets to drive better business performance. Jon Moody, Chief Product Officer, said: “The rapid acceleration of technology is seen as the biggest challenge disrupting the manufacturing industry today, but it also presents the greatest opportunity. The adoption of technologies such as AI, robotics, automation and 3D printing, as well as innovative data management, will ensure British manufacturers can reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 and become more globally competitive. It’s encouraging therefore to see manufacturers committing to investment in technology, a move which will enable British businesses to better compete in the post-Brexit marketplace.”

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