Skip to content
Northern Powerhouse European Union

Industry 4.0 Summit

The inaugural Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo was held at Manchester Central on 4-5 April. The event welcomed an international manufacturing audience who heard from world leading manufacturers about their journey into the fourth industrial revolution while viewing technology and systems that are digitising the sector.

The event is the first of its kind in the UK and has been established to offer manufacturers the opportunity to understand what Industry 4.0 means for the modern factory and the potential impact it can have on productivity. 

The Business Growth Hub has been involved in the planning of the event, by providing local knowledge to the organisers and coordinating the exhibition’s Productivity Zone – more on this later...

The keynote presentations on day one were delivered by Mike Blackburn OBE, Chairman of Greater Manchester LEP and Vice President for Strategy at BT Global Services and Lord Prior of Brampton, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Opening the Summit, Mike Blackburn said it was “highly appropriate” that this event should take place in Manchester. Not only was it the home of the first Industrial Revolution, it has also played an integral role in the subsequent revolutions.

He was later reinforced by Lord Prior who said the first Industrial Revolution was the most important thing to happen to humankind and quoted Benjamin Disraeli who said that Manchester was “as great a human exploit as Athens”. 

Praise for the home city aside, both speakers offered insight into the opportunity that Industry 4.0 offers to the British manufacturing sector, but also outlined some of the challenges.

Quoting Angela Merkel, who called Industry 4.0 the way we “deal quickly with the fusion of the online world and the world of industrial production”, Mike Blackburn said that there was a “profound shift” affecting businesses. People are no longer simply users of technology, they will be the drivers. He said that Industry 4.0 empowers people to do amazing things and offers agility, flexibility and speed – at BT this is called “digital possible”.

His comments were echoed by Lord Prior who said that in the 3rd Industrial Revolution machines replaced manual skills but Industry 4.0 will see machines replacing cognitive skills.

Mike Blackburn went on to say that no one has all the answers yet, and anticipates that no two companies will have the same journey when implementing the components of Industry 4.0, but he identified two critical challenges to overcome – cyber security and skills.

He said that cybersecurity presents an enormous risk, describing an international “cyber security arms race” as hackers use the opportunity to exploit vulnerable systems. BT have seen an increase in attacks of 1000% in last 6 months and said that they block approximately 2 million viruses a month. They are able to stay ahead of the attacks by using ethical hackers, who are able to identify and anticipate security breaches.

Regarding skills, he said that the shortage of technical literacy in the UK costs the economy £63m each year and described a “literacy paradox”. Children know how to scroll before they can crawl, but that there is a gap in understanding how to harness the power of technology and to develop systems and tools for change.  

Lord Prior reiterated this in his speech and went on to say that we must teach children to be creative and to problem solve, and called for reform in our technology education, stating that what exists is over complicated and fails to give business the skills needed.

He also spoke about commercialising intellectual property from universities and that the UK will need to retain access to world-class talent to help drive up productivity. Mike Blackburn said that Manchester will respond to these challenges and is aiming to become a top 20 global city. He cited the Manufacturing Champions Network as an example of how businesses are supporting each other to drive growth, and improve productivity. He said that Industry 4.0 demands businesses to work outside their comfort zone and choose to work collaboratively - he said that the Business Growth Hub was integral for collaboration in Greater Manchester.

Lord Prior also talked about the need to drive up productivity, with the UK being 20-30% below European countries. He also spoke of place, highlighting the inequality of wealth across the UK.

He spoke of previous industrial policy as being “incorrigibly incremental”, short term and favouring incumbents. He believes Industry 4.0 needs a big response, an Industrial Strategy with a longer term view and which recognises the role for new, innovative small and medium-sized enterprises alongside existing large companies.

Finally, he asked the audience to think about the consequences of change – saying that digital technology has the potential to bring more wealth but warning that some outlooks for Industry 4.0 predict significant disruptions to the way we work and the type of jobs available. He recognised that planning for these changes was necessary to avoid deepening social inequality.

“Technology is merely our tool. We must use this tool with care to not create a dysfunctional society.”

Factories of the Future Exhibition

The Business Growth Hub exhibited at Industry 4.0 as part of a special Productivity Zone designed to connect delegates with the wide range of manufacturing support available. The Zone included representation from The Manufacturing Institute, Fab Labs, MIDAS, Department for International Trade North West and The Skills Company.

Delegates had the chance to take part in the Lean Manufacturing challenge, speak to business experts about growing their business, and view some of the latest manufacturing tech available via the Fab Labs initiative.

Business Growth Hub, part of MGC, also hosted a special Manufacturing Champions Network event at the summit which was led by Alan Purvis of Mettler-Toledo Safeline and Matt Smallman of Hyde Aero Products. The session looked at the drivers for change, the component parts of Industry 4.0 and the practical implications of digitising manufacturing.

If you are interested in joining the Manufacturing Champions Network visit

If you would like to find out more about the range of services available to you, you can start your enquiry with us today

Share this post