A £15m advanced manufacturing demonstrator should be set up at the University of Salford as part of a technology innovation plan for Greater Manchester.
That is the conclusion of a new report commissioned by Innovate UK and written by Dr Marilyn Comrie OBE, director of disruptive social enterprise The Blair Project which specialises in digital manufacturing and design.
It is the latest report to suggest the region needs to invest with immediate effect in technological capacity if it is to create jobs and growth from Industry 4.0.
Marilyn consulted with around 140 businesses, trade associations and public agencies on what could be done to encourage more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to embrace Industry 4.0 technologies.
The main findings from the survey showed that 84% felt cost was the biggest barrier to adoption, 80% cited skills shortages and 90% said workforce upskilling/reskilling was a priority.
And it claims that the scheme could create more than 1,000 new high skilled jobs and generate £6bn for the city-region.
The full recommendations was presented to a business audience and potential funders at a launch at The Landing, MediaCityUK on December 13.
Industry 4.0 refers to a raft of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies from cloud computing and big data to robotics, cyber security, augmented reality and internet of things.
The report advises the setting up of a series of hubs where 4.0 technologies would be demonstrated to business, and where small firms could find access to the required skills for its people and ideas on collaborative innovation. It recommends trialling the model in the food & drink and packaging sectors.
A central hub would ideally be based at the University of Salford for its motorway and rail connections, it being home to the Centre for Advanced Robotics and Autonomous Systems and because it is at the heart of an active joint £800m Masterplan with Salford City Council, part of which is a new Innovation District. The Masterplan is already intended to meet the growing demand for incubation and enterprise space to support start-ups and SMEs, and is the heart of the Salford Innovation Triangle, which connects innovation assets at the University of Salford, MediaCityUK and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.
Marilyn, who is also a former Wigan Vice President of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “Micro and small manufacturers make up 94% of manufacturers in GM but far too many think Industry 4.0 is not for them, not least because of perceptions around investment costs.
“Affordable solutions are vital for demonstrating that Industry 4.0 technologies are not just the preserve of larger manufacturers but can deliver productivity improvements for any size of business.”
Funding for the scheme might come from repurposing the £1.3bn of unspent apprenticeship levy funds paid by business.
Growing Industry 4.0 Capability in SMEs was created for Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network.
The full report can be accessed here.
With details of the launch event available here.