22 Jul 2024


UK manufacturers ‘aren’t ready for new industrial revolution’

The new report suggests that most UK manufacturers are not yet ready for the fourth industrial revolution

More than four in ten UK manufacturers (42%) say they have a good handle on what the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will entail. But according to a new report from the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, and Oracle, just one in ten (11%) believe that the UK is geared up for this crucial next industrial age. This suggests that in terms of being ‘4IR ready’, there is still some way to go.

The report – The 4th Industrial Revolution: a primer for manufacturers – is based on research findings and a series of focus groups. It suggests that most UK manufacturers are at the first stage of a three-part 4IR journey that will take them from conception, through to evolution and, finally, revolution.

It says that 4IR – the British version of Industry 4.0 – will herald smarter production, supply chains and products and will boost the number of high-skilled jobs in the UK, but warns that the speed of change will be unprecedented, leaving little room for complacency. Without industry and supply chain leadership, coupled with a supportive industrial strategy, the UK could be left behind.

Manufacturers expect a step change in connectivity and communication, and to get actionable insights from data. More than six in ten (61%) predict that digital technologies will boost productivity, while 74% forecast that 4IR will change customers’ expectations. This, in turn, will require firms to change and adapt to meet marketplace needs and customer expectations, and to remain competitive. 

More than two-thirds (68%) of UK manufacturers say that 4IR will happen faster than previous changes in manufacturing. And while most are apparently confident about managing the pace of change, 39% are concerned about their firms’ ability to keep up, and 32% are worried by the competition that this industrial change will bring about.

Manufacturers are developing their investment strategies accordingly, with the main focus being on connecting up with supply chains and end-customers, and enabling smarter production processes. Many are already optimising their existing business processes. 

Early-stage investments are being considered or are already taking place, with the leading targets for this investment being cloud solutions (66%), multi-purpose production lines (55%), and capital equipment with embedded sensors and analytics (54%).

The report says that the first step doesn’t have to be about making large investments in technology. Manufacturers can prepare for 4IR by changing their company cultures to allow for greater innovation, adopting a visionary approach to leadership and giving their IT teams a more strategic business planning role.

Government too has a role to play and should ensure that its new industrial strategy provides the right building blocks to enable UK manufacturing to undergo this transformation successfully.

“4IR is happening and the UK’s success in this global industrial transformation will hinge on manufacturers’ strategies and ambitions,” says EEF chief economist, Lee Hopley. “4IR goes far beyond simply investing in new technologies and techniques – this new era requires cultural shifts, new business models and the ability to adapt and innovate. Above all, it requires strong leadership.

“Manufacturers are ready to do the heavy lifting, but their efforts must be supported across the sector and supply chains, and backed up by Government through its new industrial strategy,” she adds. “If we get this approach right then the UK can expect to be at the forefront of this global industrial wave – get it wrong, however, and the UK will be left trailing in its wake.”