Technology

Theresa May backs Industry 4.0 for post-Brexit support

In January this year, prime minister Theresa May identified Industry 4.0 and its revolution of digital data, connectivity and cyber-systems as one of the key sectors the government would directly support in post-Brexit Britain.

A new “modern industrial strategy”, she declared, would see the government take a more active role in providing public investment to the industrial sector to increase productivity and drive economic growth.

She wanted to make the UK a “fertile ground for new business and industries”, better translate scientific and technological discoveries into commercial operations and enable growing firms to more easily access the capital they needed to help them flourish.

Some hints as to the structure of this strategy came with the launch of a Green Paper also in January.

In it the Government said that it wanted to extend the successful collaboration it had forged with aerospace and automation in the past into other industries. It wanted to establish a coherent framework for industrial strategy across industry sectors and focus on 10 pillars of support.

This included research and innovation – which the government said should “take centre stage” in the strategy – and a pledge of £4.7billion worth of funding over the next four years to help industries including robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G mobile technology and smart energy. It also outlined plans to boost technical education and science, technical, engineering and maths skills, develop digital infrastructure and improve access to finance and management skills to boost business growth.

It said it would create new institutions and strengthen existing bodies and associations to bring together sectors and help achieve these aims.

Following the Green Paper, which closed for consultation in April, the government launched the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to provide £1billion over the next four years to develop cutting-edge technologies to create jobs and boost living standards.

The ambition is to bring together UK research and business to use the funds and support the use of AI and robotics systems in offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining, the development and manufacture of batteries for the electrification of vehicles, and the development of lightweight composite manufacturing materials for aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

Dr Ruth McKernan, chief executive of government agency Innovate UK, which will administer the fund, said at the time: “The fund will deliver the science that business needs.”

To support the delivery of the fund the government is also spending £250million over the next four years on building a pipeline of high-skilled research talent both domestically and from abroad.

Innovate UK has already been heavily involved in readying the nation for the arrival and growth of Industry 4.0. Over the last three years it has spent around £200million investing in transformative digital technology such as additive manufacturing, robotics and autonomous systems and data analytics.

Through its partners such as Digital Catapult it has provided the developers of such projects with access to industry-scale facilities and capabilities to devise, test and implement their discoveries. Another partner, the Knowledge Transfer Network, has worked closely with SMEs to make them understand and grasp the potential of Industry 4.0. It has helped SMEs develop innovative practices through using new digital manufacturing techniques and technologies.

In a further initiative, the government has tasked around 200 businesses to look at the issue of industrial digitalisation to determine how UK manufacturing can rapidly increase the development and adoption of digital technologies.

To date the review has suggested that industry and government need to tackle a lack of leadership of industrial digitalisation, poor adoption particularly amongst SMEs, and lack of financial support for start-ups and scale-ups.

This article was published in our Business Reporter Online: The 4th Industrial Revolution.
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