Manufacturers have every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead following an encouraging MACH 2018, says Dave Atkinson, UK head of manufacturing at Lloyds Bank.
UK manufacturers are in a strong position. Since the start of the year we’ve seen order books grow and optimism continue to rise. And the sector is confident about future job creation, too, with half of firms telling us they plan to create new jobs in the coming year.
Of course, the UK’s decision to leave the EU caused some initial uncertainty, but manufacturers are agile and recognise the opportunity this has brought, particularly regarding overseas trade. We’re seeing firms that have never thought about exporting now capitalising on the opportunities to do business with new markets.
And we’re here to help them on this journey. We’ve recently reaffirmed our commitment to the sector with a pledge to provide £3bn of new lending to SME and Mid Markets manufacturing firms over the next three years. This will help businesses to achieve growth, fund equipment and facility upgrades and finance wider investment objectives.
But it isn’t just about financial investment. Developing the next generation of manufacturing engineers is crucial to ensuring we’ve got a pipeline of talent ready to run and elevate the industry in the decades to come. That’s why we are continuing to invest £1m a year at the Lloyds Bank Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre in Coventry which will bring a further 500 apprentices, graduates and engineers into industry by 2020.
It is these graduates that will be leading the charge on Industry 4.0, bringing fresh ideas and new thinking to the sector. Manufacturing is constantly evolving and investment in automation, robotics and other new technologies will help to unlock the benefits of the next industrial revolution, including increased productivity, which remains an ongoing challenge.
The topic was a key theme at MACH 2018, the manufacturing conference held in Birmingham in April and sponsored by Lloyds Bank. The important thing is that Industry 4.0 is not something that is yet to happen – it is already here. At MACH, we learnt about manufacturers that are already harnessing the power of Industry 4.0 to increase productivity and boost innovation.
Yet it is not just manufacturing giants that are benefiting. Forward-thinking SMEs are also capitalising on the opportunities, recognising that to make the most of automation and data exchange, they need a strategy for the successful interplay between their people, their machines and their data.
Another crucial point for businesses to remember is that investing in automation and other manufacturing innovations doesn’t necessarily require large-scale investment. Technology is available that can be fitted to existing machinery, enabling automation and data tool solutions, but without the outlay on new equipment. A supportive bank partner will be able to advise businesses on what products and solutions are available to fund these investments.
Manufacturing has been the best-performing part of the UK economy so far in 2018 and it remains the engine of economic growth. The sector’s future prosperity now depends on investment, innovation and ambition. Industry 4.0 is at the heart of this.