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Manufacturing needs its mojo

03 May 2018

At the recent MACH exhibition, Jürgen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK and chair of the Made Smarter industry-led review talked about how the UK manufacturing sector could, as he put it, “get it’s mojo back”.

While he did recall the heyday of the 1960s Maier was very clear that any future success will come not from the traditional manufacturing that we have been used to, but from smarter, digital manufacturing. The future of manufacturing is not just about the machine, but it is about the physical asset of the machine and its associated data and the extra productivity that can be gained by harnessing that data.

According to Maier, if you want to solve the UK’s productivity issues, the sector that you should be investing in is manufacturing and technology. As he asserted at the event, UK manufacturing is currently buoyant, politicians are talking positively about the sector and portraying it as the growth engine of the economy, exports are rising and technological development is apparent. It is the sector that can apply digital technologies, through which productivity can be driven.

However, the picture isn’t all rosy. Maier pointed out that, while there is ambition to improve, when it comes to investment in R&D the UK still lags behind other advanced industrial nations with about 1.7% of GDP (joint government and private sector) going into R&D compared with an average of 2.5%. And on the ground, when you look at what the UK is doing compared to some of its key competitors, particularly in advanced digital technologies, not enough is being invested.

Maier identified skills as an area that is particularly lacking in investment, both in general eduction terms and when it comes to businesses investing in their workforces. For the UK to lead, Maier feels that everyone in manufacturing needs to know about the potential of digital technologies and urged those in the sector to upskill and train people in the principles behind them.

And then there’s investment in the technologies themselves, something Maier identified as being sorely lacking. For any smaller business who might be thinking that the whole journey towards digitalisation sounds complicated and expensive, though, he pointed out that there are relatively inexpensive solutions available that make a good starting point.

It is also vital that the UK increases its innovation, creating the technologies that are part of the fourth industrial revolution. As Mair said, “We need to be the providers of the Industrial Internet of Things platforms. We need to have people here in the UK who are writing the code behind those, who are creating the machine learning, the artificial intelligence that sits in those platforms.”

And, really, who can argue otherwise?

 
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