By Curtis Bligh, Head of Marketing Communications, Excell Metal Spinning
Manufacturing plays a pivotal role within the UK economy, employing more than 2.6 million people. It is also the most productive sector, outstripping the productivity growth of the much-flaunted services sector. Demand is strong too, with the majority (58%) of the British public preferring to purchase UK-made products over imported alternatives, according to Made in Britain research.
Technological innovation is central to the sector’s progress and growth. Automation, in particular, has been revolutionary, unlocking the potential for more efficient and accurate production processes. Repetitive operations that were once prone to errors can now be fully automated, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
Today, amid the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence, particularly GenAI, we are in the midst of a technological revolution set to reshape the manufacturing sector in highly significant ways:
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a transformative force in UK manufacturing. Industrial manufacturers are already using IoT-related solutions in logistics, and projections indicate future growth in sectors such as automotive, consumer electronics, and utilities.
The UK’s IoT market is expected to soar this year, with projected revenue estimated to reach USD 31 billion (around GBP 24 billion) in 2024, according to Statista. The British government is making significant investment in supporting IoT developments in manufacturing, emphasising the potential for streamlining operations and achieving greater productivity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The growing prominence of artificial intelligence is reshaping manufacturing practices in the UK. Manufacturers are leveraging AI to enhance quality control and efficiency throughout their supply chains. AI, as a simulation of human intelligence in machines, enables systems to perform tasks that traditionally required human intervention.
Surveys indicate that 70% of manufacturers are currently using or plan to use AI for process optimisation. Notably, AI is being applied to predictive maintenance, robotics, quality control, and automation. PepsiCo, for example, has deployed AI-powered sensors in its UK factories to detect faults and analyse machinery vibrations, allowing for proactive maintenance scheduling.
The use of industrial robots in factories around the world is accelerating at a high rate and is a vital growth area for the UK, helping British manufacturers increase efficiency and improve safety. With machines able to work around the clock, businesses can increase productivity and reduce costs.
Despite this, the UK has been falling behind its international peers in robotics adoption, with a robot density in 2021 of 111 robots per 10,000 workers in manufacturing – below the world average of 141 – according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
Opportunities and Challenges
The adoption of emerging technologies presents numerous opportunities for UK manufacturers. Reports from the UK government indicate that manufacturers can rapidly adapt their physical and intellectual infrastructures to exploit changes in technology, enabling faster and more responsive production.
The integration of new technology also presents an opportunity for manufacturers to drive sustainability by incorporating reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling into their processes, contributing to the circular economy. Additionally, the use of "Big data" is being emphasised to increase competitiveness in the market.
Despite the opportunities, UK manufacturers face significant challenges in the adoption of emerging technologies. The most pressing issue is the shortage of skilled workers. More than three-quarters (81%) of manufacturers experienced recruitment difficulties in 2021, with 25% of vacancies proving challenging to fill, according to MakeUK research.
To address the skills gap, the UK government has initiated several programmes, including the establishment of the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing. However, the effectiveness of these initiatives remains to be seen, provoking some industry participants to call for a Minister of Manufacturing role to be introduced within Whitehall.
At Excell, we work closely with local colleges and universities. The company is on the board for T-Level Engineering at a local college, assisting in aligning the curriculum to the reality of industry requirements and helping to foster the manufacturing workers of the future. Excell also supports efforts to highlight the importance and attractiveness of UK manufacturing as a whole, including by being a longstanding member of Made in Britain, which it joined in 2016.