'Fourth Industrial Revolution' could unlock billions for the UK

The UK has been urged to step up preparations for ushering in a new industrial revolution through smart connected technology.

An independent review has called for greater support for the technologies that could bring the "fourth industrial revolution", with warnings that the UK is falling behind other nations.

In particular, technologies linked to the idea of "Industry 4.0", such as robotics, 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence were all backed by the "Made Smarter" report, headed up by Jurgen Maier, the head of Siemens UK, who said that the UK needs "greater ambition" to grab the advantage of the benefits brought by the technology.

Overall, utilising this advanced technology could benefit the UK's manufacturing sector by around £445 billion, and create around 175,000 jobs, the report claims. It also predicts that industrial productivity would see an improvement greater than 25 per cent, and even the environment would be helped, with CO2 emissions estimated to fall 4.5 per cent.

"On the one hand it is going to create productivity and more exports and through that we can create more jobs but at the same time robotics and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs," Maier told the BBC.

"The best thing we can do is to make ourselves ready for it in a very proactive way and that means training our people... we need to up skill one million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector... so they can transition from tasks that might be displaced to, for example, managing or programming robots."

In order to bring about these changes, the report recommends improving the support network offered to businesses and companies around the country, including five 'digital research centres' to encourage innovation. Greater training for new and existing workers was also highlighted as a major priority, along with the creation of a national commission to help turn the country into an industrial technology powerhouse.

The report has been welcomed by companies across the UK, which fear the country falling behind when it comes to industrial technology.

“This study highlights the need for the UK to invest in new and emerging technologies for us to truly compete with other nations. If this does not happen, internationally we risk sliding down the pecking order," said Chas Moloney, director, Ricoh UK.

"By ensuring employees understand and are appropriately trained in the latest technologies, employers can provide them with an opportunity to flourish in this new digital economy. For those millennials who are already well-versed in established technologies, this will enable both them and subsequent generations to be able to adapt more swiftly to changing market conditions.”