What is 4IR and what will it mean for UK manufacturing SMEs?

Posted on 09/08/2017

4IR transforming industry

There’s a lot of hype around the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), or Industry 4.0, but do you really know what it is and how it will impact you?

4IR represents a transformative opportunity for industry. It is clear that when implemented well, digitally based technologies and systems can improve productivity, quality and reduce costs in manufacturing.  The new global transformation and implementation of cyber-physical systems brought to us through 4IR, will enable companies to remain competitive.

With Brexit around almost upon us, the UK needs to work harder to remain globally competitive and UK manufacturers need a way to increase their business resilience in these difficult times, therefore, SME engagement in 4IR is an imperative for the economic prosperity of the UK.

Manufacturers have raised concerns about 4IR in terms of confusion, resource concerns, uncertain benefits and the language of 4IR, all of which create key barriers for SMEs.  A recent study carried out by the Knowledge Transfer Network into 4IR highlighted SMEs concerns around:

  • There is a lack of a common understanding of definitions and standards
  • There is no common glossary of terms readily available
  • “Where do we start?”
  • “Where can I see it?”
  • “What is government doing?”
  • In conjunction with these concerns, the term “Big Data” often used when speaking about 4IR can be viewed very negatively by companies who do not really understand its meaning and benefits.

The biggest business concerns facing companies digitizing their manufacturing processes include:

1.       Legacy systems and integration is the single biggest digital challenge.

2.       Identification of new business models for vendors to make middleware and targeted software more accessible by manufacturing SMEs allowing them to embrace 4IR

3.       Building competence and confidence within the company where there are skills gaps.

4.       Fit for Digital.  Companies of any size need to be in a fit state to benefit from adopting new technologies (machines or software).  Failure to do so will compromise predicted benefits and productivity gains, rendering a high ROI an almost unachievable ambition.

5.       Access to easily accessible specialist, localised programmes to help manufacturers navigate this complicated landscape and find a result that is tailored for them.

6.       Support to help manufacturers understand the terminology generated through 4IR.

7.       An approach that works for many manufacturers is – led from the top – driven from the factory floor.

The areas manufacturers will gain significant benefit from focusing their resources for digitisation include:

·         Factory floor and production systems

·         Additive manufacturing

·         Industrial internet of things

·         Sensors

·         Systems integration

·         Digitally assisted assembly

·         Robotics and automation

·         Simulation

·         Cyber security

·         Flexible manufacturing

·         3D Visualisation

·         Digital processes (rather than paper and human time-consuming processes)

·         Predictive maintenance

·         Energy and water efficiency

So the 4th Industrial Revolution can offer many opportunities for companies to improve productivity, quality and reduce costs in manufacturing.  The Knowledge Transfer Network are working on a solution to support companies addressing 4IR. Watch this space to find out more.