Sage, a leader in cloud business management solutions, has released its global state of the nation report on process manufacturing, entitled ‘Riding the wave of uncertainty: How process manufacturers are planning for a brighter future in 2019’,

62% of UK manufacturers say regulatory changes are affecting their business, with 82% revealing the threat of import-export shake-ups around Brexit having significant impact on strategic decision making.

Despite those challenges, however, 82% are confident their UK home-grown industry will be considered a world leader by 2025 while 99% of all process manufacturers who took part in the research in the UK, US and Canada say they are preparing for growth.

“Contrary to prevailing sentiments about the decline of manufacturing in the UK, our research reveals attitudes are anything but downbeat,” said Sabby Gill, managing director UK & Ireland, Sage. “With the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathering pace, we see an industry taking the initiative to equip itself with the technologies and skills it needs to succeed. Half of UK manufacturers, for example, say uncertainty around Brexit is making them more likely to invest in technology as they prepare for possible changes.

“In an increasingly digitised world, and with political and economic uncertainty a daily reality, manufacturers that prioritise digital transformation have the best chance of maintaining growth and riding the wave to success,” he added.

Opportunities ahead

Driven by uncertainties around importing and exporting, 54% of UK manufacturers said they see a bigger opportunity in providing local sourced goods regardless of price, rather than cheaper items irrespective of origin. This trend towards onshoring is driven not just by the impact home-grown goods can have on the brand and the value customers place on ‘Brand Britain’, but also ties in with concerns around risk, and the importance process manufacturers place on the traceability of raw materials. Product traceability is seen as more than just a trend.

Long-term, UK process manufacturers’ top priority is enhancing profitability. For 61%, that means investing in technology to drive greater productivity, followed by plans to expand into new markets and improve customer service, 56%.The importance placed on technology is also reflected on the factory floor – with 52% seeing data-driven production as a key trend changing the sector right now, and 54% believing that emerging technologies like robotics, IoT and automation will have the greatest impact on their business over the next five years. The research shows the key benefits include reduced operational costs, followed by increased visibility/traceability across the supply chain and enabling automation of repetitive tasks.

Skills required

The sentiment around the importance of technology is also reflected in the skills being sought out –39% believe proficiency in data science and computer science will be critical if UK manufacturing is to remain competitive, compared to advanced critical and creative thinking skills (25%) and proficiency in engineering at just 18%. The report highlights that with the potential knock-on effect of regulatory changes around immigration, many process manufacturers will need to look at changing their recruitment strategies, including finding people from outside traditional talent pools.