Why data confidence is critical for UK manufacturing productivity

The increasing availability and capability of digital technologies and tools are changing the landscape for most businesses in a fundamental way, creating opportunities for significant improvements in quality, productivity and competitiveness. Enabling confidence in the data that these digital technologies generate will be critical for consumers, businesses and the UK economy to see the full benefit of the digital age.

Industrial digitalisation describes the application of digital technologies and tools to the manufacturing sector. It is often referred to as Industry 4.0, or digital manufacturing, and will disrupt and change traditional manufacturing and its supply chains, while creating new products, processes, business opportunities and markets. A recent study by the Tech Partnership identified that, by fully applying industrial digital technologies over the next decade, UK industrial production would be up to 30% faster and 25% more efficient.

Within manufacturing, some of the most immediate impacts from digital technology adoption will take place in the factory, allowing organisations to achieve greater machine utilisation and resource efficiency, as well as providing an unprecedented level of generated data, allowing for greater process feedback and feed forward. Beyond the digital factory lie opportunities within the supply chain. The creation of digitally-interconnected end-to-end supply chains will enable increased flexibility and responsiveness in the face of changing customer demands and trading conditions through the opportunity to track, trace, monitor and respond in real time. Many companies have already moved in this direction, with a PwC report identifying that a third of more than 2,000 industrial companies, across sectors, have already started the journey to digitalise their supply chains, while nearly three-quarters
expect to by 2020.

By fully applying industrial digital technologies over the next decade, UK industrial production would be up to 38% faster and 25% more efficient

At the heart of the integration between the physical and digital world sits data. The problem with data is not just about translating it into information, or the risk of cyber attacks, but there is a significant industrial challenge with data confidence. Without data confidence manufacturers will not be able to use data effectively or make confident decisions based on the data. So what does this mean? This means that efficiency gains, cost and waste reductions, and competitiveness opportunities throughout the supply chain will be lost. By enabling data confidence, data can flow up and down the supply chain and be used to make correct, often critical, decisions, as well as improve the quality of the manufacturing process.

To enable confidence in data the user needs to understand what the data means and how accurate the data is. Solving this challenge will require new and innovative measurement, and data integration techniques, as well as an ability to accurately trace data to primary measurements and internationally-accepted standards; NPL lies at the heart of the UK’s primary measurement system and is thus ideally placed to take this concept into the digital realm. NPL’s Digitally Enabled Supply Chain (DESC) programme will provide the catalyst to enable data confidence throughout supply chains and establish a world-leading position for the UK.

The DESC programme has been designed to address data challenges through a focus on data collection, data validation, data uncertainty and trust of data as it passes through process and systems, and between organisations. As the UK’s National Measurement Institute, NPL will enable data-confident approaches to technology insertion across manufacturing applications and sectors. It will accelerate the capability of the UK supply chain base, particularly SMEs, through regionally-based access to NPL and delivery partners that provide digitally-relevant skills support.

In summary, DESC will ensure that the UK realizes the full benefits of industrial digitisation, and that data flows up and down the supply chain can be used to make the best possible decisions, with confidence. This will position a competitive UK manufacturing sector and supply chains for growth in a global market.

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