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6 November 2020updated 08 Sep 2021 3:52pm

Embracing Industry 4.0 in the North

Partnerships between industry and academia are key to a competitive UK economy.

By Glyn Jones

As I write, politicians, community leaders, people delivering education, and those managing businesses of all sizes, are trying to find the best way through the unprecedented challenges being brought on by the pandemic. Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus the need for new ways of doing things that ensure our nation remains competitive in the future.

Here, I believe, the defence, aerospace and security industry within which I have spent my career has an obvious role to play as a driver of economic recovery, growth, skill development and technology adoption. The sector employs more than 130,000 people and supports around 5,000 apprentices up and down the country and in the north of England alone, BAE Systems employs 21,000 people across 12 sites developing fast jet aircraft and their maintenance, munitions, submarines and providing cyber security to our customers at home
and abroad.

Our company provides highly skilled employment on long-term programmes such as Dreadnought nuclear submarines in Barrow-in-Furness and the planned Tempest future combat air system in Lancashire. On Tempest, BAE Systems will be directly employing 2,500 people by next year and between 2026 and 2050 we forecast the programme will be supporting circa 20,000 jobs every year, and contributing at least £25.3bn to the UK economy in the first 30 years.

At BAE Systems we are utilising Industry 4.0 solutions to create the smart factories of the future, exploiting the latest AI and digital technologies and expertise to drive down costs and improve efficiencies in manufacturing. We are working with organisations such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre based at the University of Sheffield which is establishing a new centre in Lancashire to work with manufacturing companies and their supply chains to drive growth, innovation and productivity.

Our teams are also setting up a test bed for 5G technology inside that facility which links to our own Factory of the Future, based just 20 miles down the road at our site in Warton, Lancashire where we are linking together manufacturing technologies into a true Internet of Things. And through our work with the Made Smarter North West Digital Technology Pilot, of which I am chair, we are supporting more than 130 businesses from a wide range of sectors in embracing digital technologies.

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For example, I have met a food firm which is bringing in sensor and software control technology to its production line making vegan and free-from chocolate bars. I also met a manufacturer of agricultural equipment now using robotic
welding techniques. Both have been supported by Made Smarter’s £3m grant programme.

Adopting Industry 4.0 technologies such as automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence is central to the future of the North’s manufacturing sector. I believe embracing them and upskilling will help the UK compete and be better placed to counter the challenges we face.

Glyn Jones is service delivery directorat BAE Systems Air and chair of the Made Smarter North West Digital Technology Pilot.