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UK Manufacturers Accelerating Automation with AI and Machine Learning

by Anna

A recent survey by Make UK and Infor reveals that UK manufacturers are ramping up their investments in automation, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The survey was released ahead of the Summit on AI at Bletchley Park and indicates that these investments are set to increase in the next two years. As a result, higher levels of automation are expected, reducing the need for lower-skilled roles, with 28% of companies sharing this view.

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Despite the positive outlook, most manufacturers believe the UK is falling behind competitors in automation efforts. Significant barriers, including a lack of technical skills, data integration issues, and workplace culture challenges, are still impeding further automation.

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To address these challenges, Make UK is advocating for the expansion of the successful Made Smarter scheme nationwide to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adopt digital technologies. They are also calling for collaborative efforts between the government and businesses to address the skills gap in the workforce and reform the Apprentice Levy.

Verity Davidge, director of policy at Make UK, stated, “The adoption of AI, automation, and other game-changing technologies by manufacturers is rapidly accelerating and will provide vital pieces in solving the productivity puzzle.” She emphasized the need for SMEs to overcome hurdles in adopting digital technology.

Andrew Kinder, SVP, Industry Strategy, Infor, commented on the growing adoption of digital automation, citing the shift towards improving efficiency, agility, and productivity in the manufacturing sector.

Key findings from the survey include:

55% of companies have already implemented or plan to implement AI and machine learning to automate decision-making processes and enhance operational efficiency.
Over 76% of companies have already invested in automation, and 59% plan to increase their expenditure.
Approximately 20% of companies intend to automate between a quarter and half of their processes in the next two years.
The investments primarily focus on improving manufacturing processes (65%) and product design and development (49%).
Challenges such as a lack of technical skills (46%), integration and data issues (41%), high costs (38%), and workplace culture (36%) pose barriers to automation.
The survey also highlights a disparity between policy incentives and the expected return on investment (ROI). More than 80% of companies expect up to five years for a positive impact, while 56.4% believe that government investment policy is not sensitive to ROI timelines.
In light of these challenges, Make UK offers recommendations, including rolling out the Made Smarter scheme nationwide and expanding capital allowances and R&D tax credits. Additionally, the government should work with business organizations and sector-specific bodies to help SMEs engage with Catapult Centres, which provide advanced facilities for research and development.

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