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Navigating around the digitalisation roadblocks

01 August, 2023

Many UK manufacturers are deterred from adopting digital technologies by a variety of fears and obstacles – some real, others less so. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, considers some of these issues and how to tackle them.

The year is 2023. The pandemic is supposedly over, the cost of living crisis is demoralising, the future of the UK government is as uncertain, the costs of imports and exports are higher than we’ve known, global temperatures are rising rapidly, and the war in Ukraine is continuing – and yet we are still discussing barriers to adoption of digital technology!  

This should not be the case. It is shocking for many of us in the industrial automation sector to discover how far away some companies are from even getting started on their digital transformation journeys. It shouldn’t be this way.

So what are the obstacles manufacturers are seeing? I will discuss a few here, and also touch on some potential solutions, which we’ve discussed at Gambica meetings.

One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of industrial digital technologies is the cost. These technologies can be perceived to be expensive to purchase and install, and businesses may be hesitant to invest in them if they are not sure of the return on investment. However, the cost of these technologies is coming down, and the benefits of adoption are becoming increasingly clear.

Businesses that adopt industrial digital technologies can improve their productivity, efficiency and flexibility. They can also reduce their energy consumption and emissions. If they do not realise this is not, they may find it hard to justify the investment. 

Another barrier to adoption is a lack of technical expertise. Businesses may not have the in-house expertise to implement and maintain these technologies. However, there are training and support programmes available to help businesses overcome this barrier.

In our sector, skilled labour is in high demand and, coupled with this, is the need for the labour force to be able to manage digital technologies. This helps counter the “robots stealing our jobs” argument because it emphasises the need for upskilling the existing workforce and thus creating new jobs. 

In some cases, the ideas outlined above may also be responsible for creating cultural resistance to adopting industrial digital technologies. Some businesses may be reluctant to change their ways of working, even if they see the benefits of adoption. Yet, it is important to remember that digital technologies are not a threat to jobs. Instead, they can create new jobs and opportunities.

Another obstacle to implementation – and one which is also found in many European countries – is a lack of standards. There is no single standard for industrial digital technologies. This can make it difficult for businesses to choose the right technologies and to integrate them with other systems.

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