Lynne McGregor, Innovation Lead for Manufacturing and Materials at Innovate UK, asks ‚ÄòHow can we bring UK manufacturers to the forefront of Industry’?

Over the last year, KTN have been working closely with Innovate UK and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (fellow members of the “Innovate UK family”) on the theme of digital manufacturing (industry 4.0). In this guest blog, Lynne McGregor of Innovate UK’s manufacturing team highlights some of our collective activity. You can find out more at events across the country in September, October and November.

Artificial intelligence. 3D printing. The Internet of Things. Autonomous vehicles. A wave of emerging technologies are transforming our world and the way we operate within it. Everything from watching films to managing money is evolving as the digital revolution picks up pace across the globe. Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, describes how digital technologies will change industry, and the way we design, produce, sell, use, maintain and recycle products.  This shift presents UK manufacturers with a wealth of opportunity. A recent study identified that by fully applying these technologies over the next decade, UK industrial production would be up to 30% faster and 25% more efficient.

Industry 4.0 can keep the UK competitive.

Vitally, the fourth industrial revolution provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to return the UK to higher levels of productivity. Manufacturing has been a source of wealth and jobs for our nation since the first industrial revolution, and still is: it currently provides over £162 billion to UK GVA, accounts for 50% of exports, and employs 2.6m people (with a further 2.5m people across the extended supply chain). However, this source of wealth is declining. Since 2004 the UK has fallen from sixth to ninth place in the world rank of manufacturing nations, and its productivity is now the lowest of any G7 country.

Quick and widespread adoption of Industry 4.0 will be key to securing a more competitive global position, increasing productivity and creating highly skilled, multidisciplinary jobs within the UK manufacturing sector. As such, Innovate UK is keen to encourage the successful use of digital technologies in manufacturing.

Partnerships and ‘Hack & Pitch’ events

So how can we bring UK manufacturers to the forefront of Industry 4.0? Collaboration between the manufacturing and digital communities is imperative. This will give manufacturers a clear idea of the potential benefits of digital technologies and how to implement them, while developers of digital technologies will gain insight into industrial use of their products. Innovate UK has been fostering such collaboration through its various networks – the Digital and High Value Manufacturing Catapults, and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).

Sheffield-based AMRC, one of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult centres has recently partnered with Sheffield Digital – an organisation helping to grow digital businesses in the area. This new relationship will “feed expertise into the supply chain and increase opportunities for innovation,” says Mel Kanarek, director and co-founder of Sheffield Digital.

AMRC have initiated a Digital Meet Manufacturing (DMM) campaign. Working with the support of the HVM Catapult and partners such as Tech North, Innovate UK, KTN and The Manufacturer, DMM includes a coordinated programme of Meets, Demonstrations and Challenge events between Autumn 2017 and Spring 2018 to promote and intensify collaboration between innovators and entrepreneurs from the two sectors.

Another interesting way of getting the digital and manufacturing communities to work together was developed by the Digital Catapult.  Their  ‘Hack & Pitch’ format involves digital SMEs competing to solve manufacturing challenges identified from industry. Typically, winners receive a prize and go on to develop solutions with the manufacturing companies posting the challenges.

These events are a great way to get the two communities working together to positively disrupt the UK manufacturing industry. Past successes include the Digital Catapult’s Tech Challenge, which ran from January to March 201, where three manufacturers presented challenges, 15 digital SMEs applied to solve them, with seven shortlisted to pitch and one winner.  Innovate UK also ran a Hack & Pitch competition at the Industry 4.0 Summit in Manchester in April, with three industry led manufacturing challenges, 24 companies pitching solutions, three companies winning prizes and one overall winner.  The Digital Catapult are planning another Hack & Pitch event to be held at the Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool in November.

The KTN’s “4Manufacturing” initiative has been helping SMEs to take their first steps into Industry 4.0, develop a plan of action, and find the right partners and funding.  Thus far KTN have helped over 175 SME manufacturers in this way.

Get involved

Innovate UK, the Digital Catapult, the HVM Catapult centres and the Knowledge Transfer Network are working together to grow the use of Industry 4.0 within UK Manufacturing.  New Hack & Pitch competitions and events to bring the digital and manufacturing communities are planned. KTN will feature case studies from its 4Manufacturing initiative at the next Industry 4.0 Summit in February.  KTN is also helping put together two of the sessions on Industry 4.0 at Venturefest Scotland in Glasgow on 20th September. Registration is free and you can book your place here.

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