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EEF survey shows slow Industry 4.0 progress

16 August 2018

Manufacturers in the UK are boosting investment in fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0 or 4IR) technologies, according to a newly published survey by EEF. It provides new evidence that many companies have moved beyond the initial 'conception' phase and into the 'evolution' phase where they are seeing real benefits from their investments.

According to EEF, given that given productivity has flat-lined in the decade since the financial crisis, and that new digital technologies are rapidly transforming European manufacturing, investment in 4IR technologies is vital to achieving a step change in UK manufacturing productivity.

“While there has been some progress and more companies are both aware of 4IR and investing, it is clear that we are still some way off a majority engaged in adoption," says Chris Richards, Head of Business Environment Policy at EEF. “The reasons for this patchy uptake depend on where firms are on their 4IR journey, but they include a spectrum of challenges. Government and industry need to work together to ensure the UK benefits from the productivity benefits 4IR technologies can offer.”

The majority of manufacturers (57%) are yet to make investments and only one in four companies see the UK as being in a 4IR leadership position. Barriers stand in the way of additional investment and industry and government need to do more work together to overcome these as part of the industrial strategy. These include a lack of skills within business for implementation, which tops the list for 88% of companies. But for those currently doing nothing on 4IR, the biggest barrier is not understanding how technologies can help the business. Of those investing the most in 4IR, the skills issue is less important, as the biggest barrier is data compatibility between systems (42%).

According to the survey, almost two thirds of companies (64%) say they are familiar with the concept of 4IR, which compares to just 42% in 2016. The survey also shows that a move to a more advanced form of 4IR investment for companies results in significant benefits being expected or realised in terms of improved labour efficiency (35%), improved machine utilisation rates (34%) and increased production flexibility (32%).

According to EEF, policy makers can’t be timid, as a separate survey of the public shows only 26% say we shouldn’t adopt new technology if it means jobs will be lost. While there has been some positive progress in recent months in areas such as delivering the full fibre digital infrastructure that 4IR will depend on, progress is still desperately needed.

 
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