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Digitise or Compromise: Insights from the Make UK 2024 PwC Executive Survey

4 min read

For manufacturers in the UK, the Make UK PwC Executive Survey serves as an industry barometer, precisely capturing the collective perspective of those leading the charge.

The 2024 survey, which canvassed over two hundred senior manufacturing executives, reveals a turning tide. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and surging energy costs in recent years, the findings point to a resurgence of optimism, with manufacturers increasingly confident about the future of the sector in 2024.


The State of UK Manufacturing: A Snapshot

The UK stands as the 8th largest manufacturing economy globally, with a staggering £224 billion output from the sector.

This position underscores the critical role of manufacturing in the UK's economic landscape and the vast potential for innovation-led growth.

There’s certainly a sense of opportunity in the air.

In 2023, 41% of all UK business research and development was made by UK manufacturers, proof of the industry’s drive for progress. With the manufacturing sector also making up 16% of the UK’s total business investment, ambition is high; but the biggest question for many business leaders is where and how these investments should be made.

From expanding product lines to investing in digitisation, many manufacturers are confident about their growth opportunities – and after several years navigating the pandemic, it certainly feels invigorating.


Embracing Digital Transformation

The 2024 Make UK survey revealed that the adoption of digital technologies is not just a trend but a transformative force, with 71% of firms agreeing that digital tech will drive productivity in 2024.

Furthermore, Make UK’s previous research shows the adoption of new technologies is growing quickly, with 49% of manufacturers in the evolution stage of digital transformation.

In the factory of progress, digital transformation is the gear that turns ideas into reality.

Digital technologies, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) offer revolutionary advantages for manufacturers, including…

  • Enhanced Operational Efficiency. Digital technologies streamline operations, automate manual processes, and optimise production workflows - significantly reducing downtime and increasing output.
  • Improved Product Quality and Innovation. AI algorithms can predict and detect quality issues in real-time, while also facilitating the development of new products through data analysis and machine learning insights.
  • Cost Reduction. Cloud computing helps reduce IT infrastructure costs by offering scalable solutions that adapt to demand, while digital asset monitoring can optimise energy consumption, reduce downtime, and reduce waste, leading to significant savings.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making. The integration of digital solutions can enable the collection, analysis, and interpretation of vast amounts of data, providing actionable insights that drive smarter, more informed business decisions.
  • Increased Competitiveness. By adopting digital technologies, manufacturers can enhance their agility, responsiveness to market changes, and customer satisfaction, securing a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving industry.

With the EMEA Cloud Survey specifically highlighting enhanced productivity and customer service as key benefits, the message is irrefutable: digital innovation pays off.


With the Advantages Clear, Why Aren’t All Manufacturers Plugging in to Digital Solutions?

While enthusiasm for digital tech is evident, only a fraction (12.5%) has made digital technology central to their strategy.

This discrepancy exposes the scale of untapped potential in leveraging digital solutions for enhanced production performance.

Manufacturers are clearly aware of the benefits of digitisation – the sticking point is often how to put the plan into action. Hindered by challenges such as lack of technical skills, fear of integration issues and budget constraints, some business leaders are facing decision paralysis, unable to bridge the gap between aspiration and technical reality.

Manufacturers needn’t embark on this journey alone.

The Made Smarter scheme, for example, connects UK manufacturers to the tools, innovation and skills required to embark on digital transformation - highlighting the government's recognition of digitisation as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation.

Meanwhile, working with the right partner to implement a digital strategy will empower manufacturers to access ongoing support, long-term.


Energy and the Net Zero Opportunity

Manufacturers aren’t just thinking about digitisation, of course. Driving energy efficiency and sustainability are also front of mind.

Energy prices, despite a slight decrease from their 2022 peak, remain a substantial risk, cited by over half (53%) of manufacturers.

Yet, the drive towards net zero offers a silver lining, with 26% of companies viewing it as a major opportunity and 13% recognising value chain opportunities related to ESG targets.

The implementation of digital strategies goes hand-in-hand with building a greener future.

The main advantage of manufacturers transitioning to net zero is the significant reduction in carbon footprint, leading to environmental sustainability.

This shift not only aligns with global climate goals but also enhances brand reputation, opens up new markets for green products, and ultimately results in long-term cost savings through more efficient operations. When it comes to building a more sustainable and profitable business, this efficiency is absolutely crucial.


Leveraging Industrial Data Platforms as a Gateway for Operational Efficiency

For manufacturers ready to boost their operational efficiency through digitisation, cloud-based industrial data platforms like RS Industria provide a steady path to success.

They equip firms to…

  • Boost Plant Reliability. Utilising real-time data from production assets allows manufacturers to pinpoint and address potential problems early on, facilitating predictive maintenance strategies that minimise downtime.
  • Maximise Energy Efficiency. Harnessing detailed data on how assets consume energy is key to uncover and eliminate inefficiencies, leading to significant savings on energy costs.
  • Enhance Productivity. Empowering operations with precise, real-time performance insights enables business to confidently optimise production processes, accelerate line speeds, trim cycle times, and streamline maintenance schedules.


An Industry at the Threshold of Evolution

With 62% of manufacturers agreeing that opportunities outweigh risks and investment intentions strong, the survey signals an exciting new age for manufacturers. In turn, it presents an opportune moment to lead the way in digital and sustainable innovation.

For UK manufacturers and those exploring IIoT and analytics, the survey's statistics are a clear call to mobilisation. Digital and sustainable innovations are not merely strategic enhancements but essential pillars for future success.

In the face of challenges, the potential for growth and efficiency through digital technologies - especially in operational efficiency - is huge. As UK manufacturers look to 2024 and beyond, embracing digital solutions like RS Industria will be key to navigating the complexities of modern manufacturing, ensuring a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving global market.