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New campaign to turn dreams of 'Industry 4.0' into regional productivity and profits

Productivity Roundtable

17 July 2017

Ambitious visions of “Industry 4.0” need bringing back down to earth if businesses are going to commit to real change, argued industry leaders and academics at a LUMS roundtable event (12 July 2017).

Digital pioneers from industry, professional bodies, small business leaders, a Local Enterprise Partnership and academics came together to address the biggest issue facing UK plc: how to adopt digital technologies - such as the use of autonomous systems, Artificial Intelligence, data analytics and the Internet of Things – to deliver higher levels of productivity, efficiency and growth.

“Talking about Industry 4.0 and ambitious schemes for transforming operations just scares small and medium-sized businesses - the very types of business that most urgently need to innovate and improve their productivity, “ said Professor Martin Spring, roundtable chair and Director of the Centre for Productivity and Efficiency. “The headline from the roundtable was this: we need to stop thinking in terms of large-scale transformation programmes, the big IT initiatives, and look at the small steps, the small-scale experiments, that firms can start out with and quickly implement.”

Participants at the Management School’s Industrial Digitalisation event included Ian Barton, Head of Strategy and Investment Planning, BAE Systems; Christopher Dungey, Director of the Joining 4.0 Innovation Centre, run jointly with TWI; Richard Halstead, Membership Engagement Director North, EEF; Simon Reid, Sector Manager Advanced Manufacturing, Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside SME leaders and LUMS specialists.

The roundtable prompted calls for a joint campaign of activity among businesses in the North West - large and small - alongside universities and sector bodies to pilot practical approaches to industrial digitalisation. In principle, LUMS would play a role in bringing together the various stakeholders and perspectives that need to work in concert to seize this important opportunity.  Schools and colleges would also have a key role to play, in order to deliver the necessary skills.  

“The technology is available but it’s all about implementation and the necessary management capability, practices and skills,”added Professor Spring. “There’s no point automating a business process if it was a bad process in the first place. All you get is an automated bad process. Technology isn’t a magic wand, what’s needed is hard work to get all the basics right first, and a relentless focus on people and management issues.”

Discussions highlighted the importance of organisations working together across supply chains, for larger enterprises to share both technologies and expertise but also provide impetus and motivation for collaboration; the need to be less distracted by the smart technology and talk specifically in terms of new skills for productivity and profitability; and the opportunities for creating new revenue streams and new and enhanced products and services based around shared data between manufacturers, customers and suppliers.

The LUMS roundtable is the starting point for planned ongoing activity into the industrial digitalisation challenge, business events, practical research and advice. To register interest in taking part in future activities and updates, contact: Teresa Aldren, t.aldren@lancaster.ac.uk, 01524 510906.