Making things smarter in the North

25 February 2019

Keith Ridgway and Juergen Maier will be centre stage at the Great Northern Conference in Leeds tomorrow spelling out their vision for an innovation-led Fourth Industrial Revolution that combines the engineering research talents of the region’s universities with a fast-growing northern skills base being built at places like the AMRC Training Centre in Rotherham.

Professor Ridgway, one of the founders of the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and a staunch advocate of deploying manufacturing research to rebalance the economy, will join the CEO of Siemens, Mr Maier, at the one-day conference to urge government to keep faith with the North.

Ridgway, a Mancunian whose father was a turner with George Richards in Broadheath, believes that the North’s moment is coming. “We’ve seen what happens when an economy becomes dangerously dependent on the financial sector. A better balanced economy needs a thriving, innovative, advanced manufacturing sector, and what better place to grow such a sector than the region where it all began: The North.

“Manufacturing creates value and is fundamental to the success of the UK economy, driving innovation, exports, high quality job creation, growth and productivity. It spans a vast and diverse range of industries from aerospace, rail, automotive and pharmaceuticals to food and drink,” says Ridgway of a sector that generated more than £180bn GVA in 2017, accounting for 10% of UK output, almost half of UK exports and 2.7 million jobs, or more than 5 million if the value chain is included.

Keith Ridgway in the AMRC Machining room

Ridgway and Maier were invited to the Yorkshire Post and Northern Powerhouse sponsored event because they are both leaders in what is increasingly known as industrial digitalisaton, or the fourth industrial revolution: a revolution driven by the convergence of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, data analytics, and themes such as the integration of the physical and digital worlds.

“Juergen and his team have led the way in this revolution with the publication of the Made Smarter review,” said Ridgway, who joins Maier and Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, on the main stage tomorrow afternoon at the Armouries in Leeds.

“A Made Smarter pilot programme is already underway in the North West and involves our own research and innovation facility, AMRC/North West, which is a partnership between the Lancashire LEP and the European Union supporting the adoption of industrial digitalisation among the region’s SME’s and strategic partners such as BAE Systems.”

Ridgway will tell the Great Northern Conference that the North and manufacturing is key to helping the government achieve its ambition to become one of the most innovative economies in the world.

“Manufacturing contributes almost 70% of UK R&D business expenditure. With the support of the Industrial Strategy and the Made Smarter review it will also play a significant role in helping meet the government’s hugely ambitious target of 2.4% investment in R&D by 2027 to boost productivity and competitiveness. The introduction of new technologies and business models will translate into other sectors to spread the benefits to other businesses across the economy – supporting our ambition to be a globally innovative economy.”

On tour: Ben Morgan, Head of the AMRC Integrated Manufacturing Group and Juergen Maier deep in conversation about the implications of Made Smarter for the UK economy.

Juergen Maier, whose company is a strategic partner of the University of Sheffield, recently used the AMRC’s flagship Factory 2050 – the place where digital meets manufacturing – to declare that the fourth industrial revolution will be made in the north, not in Whitehall or London.

“That message, and this conference, are a wake-up call for industry across the North of England. If we don’t exploit these technologies to the full, manufacturing in the UK will continue to be vulnerable to competition from early adopting countries across Europe and the Far East.

“Ensuring that companies across the North and the Midlands get access to the productivity benefits of the next Industrial Revolution is vital if the UK is to remain globally competitive. The AMRC has a global reputation for supporting companies in de-risking this technology; so much so that we are opening centres in the North West, North Wales and the Midlands, giving local SMEs the access to these technologies on their doorstep, which is what so many of them need. These centres are demonstrators of what industrial digitalisation can do to transform productivity.

“We are also extending our own network of SME engagement specialists here in South Yorkshire to identify and work with companies that are thinking about the benefits and risks of adopting the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our message to government is don’t delay, begin the wider roll-out of Made Smarter and keep the UK economy ahead of the digitalisation curve.

“We have the innovative research talent, the technical skills base and the partnership culture with the private and the public sectors to make things happen here in the North; and to make them happen smarter.”

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