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Brexit vs. Industry 4.0 - can one challenge alleviate the other?

Brexit and the fourth industrial revolution are the two most critical challenges facing UK manufacturing today, but - perhaps surprisingly - the latter is on manufacturers’ minds most, research shows.

A recent study by SSG Insight in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University shows that, while they recognise the strategic risks of Brexit, most manufacturers are more concerned with losing ground on the rest of the world when it comes to the adoption of new technologies.

In fact, research participants were more than twice as likely to point to global competition and the role of data and connected technologies when asked what they considered to be the single biggest challenge they face.

When asked what investments they intended to make post-Brexit, participants mainly pointed to technologies such as new software to better utilise big data (23 per cent), smart technologies like AI, automation and robotics (21 per cent) and new hardware, machinery and equipment (20 per cent).

The authors agree that Industry 4.0 presents an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise UK manufacturing regardless of Brexit - so long as manufacturers remember to balance investment in tech with investment in re-skilling staff.

Writing recently in The Engineer, Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK (formerly EEF), argued that many aspects of Industry 4.0 can even offer a direct lifeline to mitigate some of the key concerns about by Brexit, such as labour shortages and supply chain disruption:

“[Industry 4.0 technology] can help to supplement existing workforces, allowing workers to work collaboratively with technology…[and] allows manufacturers the possibility of improving their processes and supply chains, and the ability to keep their customers better informed.”

“It’s possible that if we get too distracted by the B word, after it’s all said and done, we may have missed an important opportunity to improve productivity and the economy.”

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