What are the barriers holding back 4IR adoption?

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Last week EEF published the results of a survey of manufacturers on investment in 4th industrial revolution (4IR) technologies and how these are helping to boost productivity. We've already blogged about the key findings, along with an overview of some of the technologies helping to drive a turnaround in manufacturing productivity.

Despite progress in investment and understanding of 4IR, our survey indicates that 57% of firms are still to make an investment.

With only 5% of companies disagreeing that 4IR will be a business reality by 2025 - what are the barriers holding back companies from embracing this new reality?


Top 4IR barrier - skills for implementation

Skills has always been a challenge for manufacturers and regularly tops any survey on barriers to business growth.

4IR can be seen as a form of process innovation (68% say their priority will be supply chain integration or process improvements), and our 2017 Innovation Monitor survey highlighted that manufacturers over rely on internal expertise when it comes to this form of innovation.


Moreover, 66% of manufacturers said staff with the right skills were too busy. This is a challenge both industry and government will need to address.


Barriers to 4IR depend where you are on the journey

4IR will be a journey and not a big bang shift. We explored the key stages of the 4IR journey in our 2016 report - 4IR: A primer for manufacturers.


While skills tops the list and remains a persistent barrier for firms, our survey shows other barriers which are just as important to overcome.


Additionally, once companies overcome internal barriers such as understanding how to apply 4IR technologies to their business or how to build a business case for investment, the barriers shift to more technical ones. These include cyber security concerns and challenges around data compatibility between systems.



Overcoming 4IR barriers

Government and industry need to work together to ensure the UK benefits from the productivity benefits 4IR technologies can offer.

We've outlined before how the industrial strategy can help with 4IR adoption but there are some practical steps that government can take now including:

  • Announcing plans for the Made Smarter Commission, delayed since February

  • Back the industrial strategy challenge fund bid for industrial digitisation

This will help address the lack of understanding about the benefits of new digital technologies.

Manufacturers investing can also help by sharing more widely their 4IR experience through EEF, by emailing 4ircasestudies@eef.org.uk

Watch: How 4IR is transforming manufacturing productivity


This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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