Plant & Works Engineering

Investment plans reveal skills gap as manufacturers prepare for the 4th industrial revolution

Published:  16 September, 2016

The 4th industrial revolution (4IR) will be a business reality by 2025 according to eight in ten UK manufacturers. But while this latest global transformation is technologically and digitally driven, new research released by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Oracle, suggests that manufacturers are prioritising investment in skills over software and machinery.

The findings, published in a new factcard for manufacturers, suggest that rapid advances in technology have left skills trailing in their wake, but manufacturers are alert to the danger and have quickly grasped the need to invest. Over eight in ten (83%) say that they will need to invest in staff skills in order to adopt new advances in technology. At the same time, over six in ten (65%) recognise that they will need to invest in management skills as they set about boosting their company’s knowledge and understanding at a strategic level.

4IR is being driven by connectivity, big data and other rapid advances in product and process technology. Eight in ten manufacturers (80%) say that this next industrial transformation – which is global - will be a business reality within the next ten years.

Companies say that getting fit for 4IR will require investment in new machinery (51%) and software (38%). But, over a third of manufacturers (34%) also say they will need to invest in new staff. This indicates that firms are deeply aware that this latest industrial revolution will bring new skill requirements to the fore and that their success and ability to harness opportunities will hinge on bringing these skills into their business.

Despite this, firms are already investing in multi-purpose production lines (38%), capital equipment with embedded sensors and controls (33%) and cloud solutions (29%). Even the more futuristic technologies are on their radars - within the next 5 years almost two in ten manufacturers will have invested in the 3D simulation of manufacturing processes (18%), augmented reality (17%) and fully autonomous robots (16%).

The findings also suggest that new technologies will start to change the way factories look in a relatively short space of time. Within the next five years, almost three in ten manufacturers will be using rapid additive manufacturing techniques (3D printing) while those using cloud solutions will have leapt to 46%. Almost four in ten (38%) will have invested in capital equipment with embedded data analysis - big data will have started to become business as usual in factories across the UK.

EEF and Oracle have published the findings in a free factcard for manufacturers, designed to raise awareness and help manufacturers understand what 4IR could mean for their business. It demystifies how 4IR technologies can improve efficiency and be used in products, the manufacturing process and across supply chains.