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Comparing the UK’s response to Industry 4.0: An international perspective

Published on May 4th 2021

This draft note offers a brief overview of the UK’s approach to supporting Industry 4.0 and contrasts it with that of other selected countries, including Germany, the United States, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan.

Main differences with international Industry 4.0 programmes 

A number of differences can be highlighted between the UK approach and that of other countries reviewed for this note. 

1) Focus on technology diffusion

Other countries’ Industry 4.0 initiatives have put a stronger emphasis on the diffusion of technologies and best practice. 

There are two main reasons for this. First, there is awareness that Industry 4.0 technologies are not yet being used by the majority of firms5. Second, it is recognised that many digital technologies are already available in the market and becoming cheaper. As a result, the rationale for government support to diffusion is more widely accepted. Technology diffusion initiatives typically involve the provision of ‘hands-on’ business support – providing firms with access to advisory services, demonstration facilities, and training. 

For example, the German approach puts emphasis on supporting SMEs to become more aware of Industry 4.0 and provide them with information, training and opportunities to test their digital applications. Demonstration and learning factories help companies try out new things with the support of industry experts and put their own technologies, product or customer interfaces to the test before making an investment.6 Similarly, Korea’s President Moon Jae-in launched a Ministry for SMEs and Startups which specifically focuses on supporting SMEs’ innovation capacity, across all industries, with a focus on the uptake of digital manufacturing.7 

2) Programme scale/coverage

Industry 4.0 initiatives in countries like Germany, Taiwan, and Korea have a national mandate and are funded accordingly. In the US, Industry 4.0 support is deployed nationally through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a national network of technology institutions providing industrial advisory services (see below), rather than by a national umbrella initiative. In contrast, the UK approach has been to establish a regional pilot through which only firms in the North West region are eligible for support. There have been discussions of a potential national rollout of the Made Smarter Programme but this has not been confirmed. 

A recent report by Make UK8 recognises: “There is widespread enthusiasm for, and commitment to, increasing the pace and scope of our national efforts to promote industrial digitalisation. But to deliver, we need to build on the Made Smarter North West pilot, and replicate its success in other regions”. 

3) Delivery institutions across regions

Other countries are able to use their regional institutions (e.g. Japan’s prefectural technology centres and Korea’s regional technology institutes) and manufacturing extension services (e.g. the US Manufacturing Extension Partnership) to deliver digital diffusion initiatives. In the UK, significant efforts (and time) have been necessary to build regional capabilities for the delivery of the North West Pilot, and it is not clear what regional institutions could support a national rollout of the Made Smarter programme. 

A recent report by Make UK highlights the challenges faced in the UK in terms of delivery institutions: “Outside the North West of England there is no integrated model for [providing technical, process and change management expertise] in relation to industrial digitalisation. Growth hubs in other parts of the 

country said that they didn’t have the ability to provide sufficiently expert advice to support this work. Elsewhere a patchwork of local authorities, LEPs, universities and others are trying their best, but with limited resources. They often struggle to locate SMEs who need their help and to interact meaningfully with them”. 

4) Emphasis on training

Another striking difference is that Industry 4.0 initiatives in other countries reviewed involve funding for education and workforce training. In Korea and Singapore, for example, demonstration facilities are used to deliver practical training courses on Industry 4.0 to industry personnel. In particular, Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) created the Skills Future Series for Advanced Manufacturing, which provides modular courses aimed at helping the manufacturing workforce acquire new skills and accelerate Industry 4.0’s development. In the US, the MxD Institute (one of the Manufacturing USA Institutes) has developed Digital Manufacturing Jobs, which identifies 165 roles in manufacturing that will be created or transformed by the introduction of digital technology.

Read the full note for more about the UK's Made Smarter programme and selected national Industry 4.0 initiatives.

The contributors to the note are Jennifer Castaneda-Navarrete, Carlos López-Gómez and David Leal-Ayala.

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