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How will manufacturing SMES cope with introducing industry 4:0 into their manufacturing environments?

Industry 4.0 is subset of the fourth industrial revolution that will change SME manufacturing over the next twenty years and will make manufacturing workplaces almost unrecognisable from how they look now.

No longer will the term be a buzzword you hear in a monthly conference call with your leadership team or on LinkedIn. The need to upskill and modernise is going to be crucial in the fight to remain relevant in an already competitive marketplace.

Amazon, Ocado and Arla have been leading the way in this industry for several years now, but will the average SME in a remote part of the UK be able keep up with the investment needed to stay ahead of the curve?

Advantages for business are clear. Your average robot won’t need to have time off for a coffee break and it also won’t be able to ring in sick.

The drawbacks are also there. The machinery will need constant supervision if you run a 24/7 shift pattern and the cost of the machinery could well go into the millions.

There has already been natural scepticism from a few unions and people who fill lowered skilled roles that their jobs may be under threat, but it seems that most leaders from the industry who have been interviewed and surveyed have viewed the potential change as more of an opportunity rather than a threat to their businesses.

A gap in skills (which is another topic entirely) is already there for most SME manufacturing companies and finding trained engineers who can maintain automated machinery is a headache that they could probably do without.

SMEs who are involved in fast paced manufacturing will no doubt feel the need to develop the skills for the new digital age suited to the rapid pace of innovation.

Unsurprisingly statistics from Germany show that nearly 65% of industrial businesses are already engaging around industry 4.0. Given they reputation for being amongst the most technologically advanced nations in Europe, that figure isn’t something to be shocked at.

One senior engineering professional from an SME in the North West we spoke to recently, said: ‘Industry 4.0 is all well and good, but in a market where some companies are having their margins squeezed further and further down whilst also struggling to remain profitable, how will an average business be able to afford the investment that will no doubt be required?’.

After the December election and Brexit was finally resolved, we were promised a new age for British industry and government backed grants for CAPEX projects around automation specifically for SMEs, would go some way to helping bridge the gap between the blue chip companies and themselves. But will it be enough in the long term?

With the UK being the 9th largest manufacturing nation in Europe, there is a capacity to make us even more productive and although we’re facing our biggest talent shortage in over 30 years, there is no reason why we can’t embrace Industry 4.0 rather than fear it.

Joe Lanigan-Smith is a specialist recruiter in mid to senior level appointments at Insight Engineering and focuses his market around modern manufacturing/industry 4.0. If you would be interested in more information, please email j.lanigan@insight-rec.com

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