Why industry 4.0 signals a huge opportunity for inward investment in the UK

By Guy Currey, Director, Invest North East England

The UK is recognised across the world as the birthplace of the first industrial revolution. Innovations in manufacturing, transportation and communication saw our economy thrive.

From the birth of the railways to the invention of new machinery, the manufacturing industry we know today would not be possible without the innovations of the past.

Fast forward to 2018 and we stand on the brink of another industrial revolution and again, it’s driven by technology and innovation.

Industry 4.0 is a commonly used phrase to describe the blending of manufacturing and digital technology. The two are coming together to disrupt traditional manufacturing and industrial practices to create a hyperconnected world.

Whilst we are early adopters, the UK still lags behind other global powers – including Germany, France, USA, Japan, China – in implementing new technologies in the workplace. As a country, we must prepare for Industry 4.0 or risk being disconnected from an industry that will soon be defined by technology and automation.

Of course there are UK companies leading the charge. Here in North East England, industrial automation and robotics company, Comau, has just opened a new engineering facility in Gateshead. The company is at the forefront of building sustainable automation and production solutions for business.

Further up the coast in Blyth, robotics company Tharsus is helping companies design and manufacture smart machines using emerging robotic and machine technologies.

As home to the fastest growing tech sector outside London, the North East is primed to capitalise on Industry 4.0 and support industry in developing, adopting, and implementing new technologies that bring robotics, automation and process control, Big Data, wireless technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and machine learning into the workplace.

The wider infrastructure is in place too. 2019 sees the opening of The National Innovation Centre for Data in Newcastle upon Tyne. The £30m Centre forms part of the Government’s Digital Strategy to build a world-class digital infrastructure for the UK.

Over the river in Gateshead, PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre – Europe’s first R&D Centre of Excellence for Emerging Technology – opens in September 2018 and will work with businesses to test and create digital solutions using open innovation programmes, demonstrators, access to research and development facilities and getting hands on with kit.

So what does this mean for inward investment? What opportunities are there for business looking to work in this space? At Invest North East England we’re inviting overseas tech and digital companies to come to our region and develop responses and solutions to Industry 4.0.

We have a long and proud manufacturing heritage and it remains one of our strongest performing sectors. Coupled with a thriving tech and digital scene, we’re ripe to capatalise on Industry 4.0 and position our manufacturing businesses at the forefront.

In the autumn, government will publish its series of Science and Innovation Audits (SIAs), which are designed to improve understanding of where there are strong local combinations of high-quality science, research and innovation, growing businesses and other assets. The North East LEP led the SIA investigating the application of digital technologies to key advanced manufacturing sectors in the North East, including automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. No doubt it will further demonstrate the wealth of opportunity for people to play a role in shaping the future of industry using new technological innovations.

We’re already seeing it take place at businesses including Nissan, Akzo Nobel and Komatsu. All three embed immersive tech solutions, using artificial reality and virtual reality, in their North East operations, with others increasingly looking to explore other applications of emerging technology.

We’re very fortunate here in the North East to have five Catapult Centres that support the UK’s capability for innovation. These physical centres are a place for businesses, scientists and engineers to work side by side on late-stage research and development, transforming high potential ideas into new products and services to generate economic growth.

It’s a very exciting time to work in technology and manufacturing. Whilst the two have been closely linked since the third industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 moves things to the next level, where digital technology isn’t just part of the manufacturing process, it defines it.

To learn more about the manufacturing and tech/digital sectors in North East England and opportunities for inward investment, visit www.investnortheastengland.co.uk.

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