SME Manufacturers Adopting Industry 4.0 Technologies

Last week, 28th February – 1st March 2018, I hosted 2 round tables at the Industry 4.0 Summit in Manchester. Although we experienced some of the worst snow, ice and wind in years, people braved the weather and made it along to the event.

My interest in the event and the round tables was to gain a better understanding of how more SME manufacturers can adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. Are these technologies suitable for SME’s? Are they affordable? Will they help them to growth their business? What is stopping people from adopting them?

My big concern for the manufacturing community is that we are falling behind Europe and the rest of the world with the pace at which we are embracing new technologies. Take industrial robotics as an example. This technology is part of the Industry 4.0 portfolio. The International Federation of Robotics forecast more than 1.7 million industrial robots will be installed around the world before 2020. If you look at who in the world will be adopting these technologies in their factories, UK manufacturing doesn’t make it onto the top 15 list.

Richard Halstead of EEF, recently shared with our Manufacturers Alliance groups the following Industry 4.0 related statistics:

The statistics are worrying but I think we can turn this around. When I see we, I mean collaboratively. Pulling together to make this happen. I don’t think one organisation, group, growth hub or institute could achieve this on their own. We need a joined up approach. But someone needs to lead it. Who is that someone?

Can the SME manufacturing community wait around for some silver bullet government initiative? I think not. Here a few ideas that we shared at the roundtables that we felt would be a good start:

Things Industry 4.0 Suppliers Could Do

  • Case Studies – More Case Studies being shared by suppliers of SME Manufacturers that have benefitted from applying new technologies that fall within the Industry 4.0 portfolio. Case Studies that demonstrate the individual applications of solutions rather than a big picture view with little detail.
  • SME Conference – Regional Industry 4.0 Conference’s for SME manufacturers.
  • Funding – Ensure funding is available to manufacturers with growth potential to support cashflow.
  • Servitisation of Skills – Servitise the skills required to adopt and manage Industry 4.0 type technologies. Most SME manufacturers don’t have the skills in house to implement and manage the new technologies. There is an opportunity to servitise these skills and offer them as a pay as you go model.
  • Retiring MD’s – Suppliers target the SME manufacturers post retirement of the current MD. Younger managers are more open to new technologies. This has been proven already in the agritech field. As the older generation of farmers have retired, the younger family members have migrated to technological solutions, rather than traditional methods.
  • Young Managers – Suppliers to engage more younger managers in the manufacturing industry. They are more likely to be open to testing new technologies and may have a better understanding of the application and benefits.

Things SME Manufacturers Could Do

  • Industry 4.0 Diagnostic – Carry out a diagnostic to review your current position against possible Industry 4.0 initiatives. This is available via the Knowledge Transfer Network
  • Value Proposition Design – SME manufacturers to spend time really understanding where they add value to their own customers. A clear understanding of this will provide manufacturers with focus areas for development within the business. Example; if shorter lead times are the success driver that will add more value, then adopt technologies that will help to reduce lead time. More details on Value Proposition Design can be found on the Strategyzer website:
  • Agile Sprints – SME manufacturers to educate themselves in the Agile Sprints approach to help with testing new technologies and designs. Agile is something that has descended from the Scrum approach used in software development. Break things down into bit size chunks and test as a pilot rather than investing thousands of pounds on something that doesn’t provide a return on investment. Agile for Dummies can be found here:
  • Education – SME manufacturers to educate themselves on the possibilities of Industry 4.0. You don’t know, what you don’t know. Festo offer education programs on Industry 4.0
  • Customised Solutions – Provide SME manufacturers with customised solutions. This quite often can be delivered at a lower cost. This is something that has been tried and proven at Salford University with projects they have delivered with SME manufacturers.
  • Low Cost Technologies – Utilise lower cost technologies to trial new concepts. Pilot with cheap off the shelf options and once proven, decide on specification of resources needed. Don’t spend huge amounts if you don’t need to.

I hope you find the ideas useful. I would certainly like to talk to anyone that would be interested in supporting SME manufacturers with their Industry 4.0 journey. The office number is below.


This blog has been written by Gary Sheader, Founder and Chairman of The Manufacturers Alliance.

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