Manufacturing: All eyes on AI

Tuesday October 24, 2023

AI and automation top of the agenda for UK industry

The importance of AI to the future of UK manufacturing businesses should not be underestimated. With the capability to monitor and improve production levels, amplify the collection of data analytics, improve safety, and more accurately manage inventory and track supplies, the benefits of using AI to help optimise manufacturing processes are endless.

And so, its unsurprising that the findings from our latest manufacturing report Against the odds: The future of UK manufacturing show that UK manufacturers are widely embracing AI applications and the tangible value this can bring to their business.

Showcasing the views of a diverse selection of more than 300 of the sector’s senior decision makers, our research found that increasing output and productivity through automation and AI is the top investment priority for UK manufacturers in the year ahead, which is understandable, given AI’s significant cost reduction capability.

Automation has, of course, been fundamental to many aspects of manufacturing for a century, but as the benefits of AI’s transformative power become more evident, it’s getting easier to imagine a range of new and transformational ways that AI can be applied across the sector – from managing supply chains to predictive maintenance, minimising waste, and new product development. And a clear majority – 87% of our report respondents – agreed that AI, machine learning or automation is relevant to their business, while nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they are already using AI machine learning or automation to its full potential.

But the AI revolution is evolving at pace and any investment should be tailored to suit different sub-sectors, circumstances, and objectives. Yes, there can be significant cost involved when adopting AI, with a lengthy payback period, and the risk that ongoing investment will bring people challenges, with fewer jobs and less hands-on experience being a likely outcome. But, for those manufacturers that have access to funding, it is something they should be looking at to drive efficiencies and free up human resource. Indeed, almost half of our respondents (47%) said there is the potential to apply it more widely in their organisation.

For years, manufacturers have been struggling with a tight labour market, but while AI has the power to resolve this, it’s interesting to note that manufacturing firms are still focused on investing in their workforce. Nearly a quarter (22%) of those surveyed for our report said they were looking to create new jobs, while 21 per cent want to deliver further training and upskilling for team members. This seems to contradict the theory that AI and automation are a threat to workers – which can only be a good thing.

There is a human element to all of this, as businesses and customers like the idea of the human touch, the human contribution, and the human approach. AI is incredible in so many ways and it is clear that those that don’t adapt to this space, will likely be left behind. But there is also a dark cloud hovering over its pace of growth, with some worried its intelligence may outperform ours within the next two years. Either way, it is here to stay, to what extent it evolves will be dictated by the legislative across the world.

The results of our report highlight that while manufacturers are continuing to face challenging conditions, there are opportunities to invest, and firms are eager to take them to remain resilient.

Click below to read the report

Against the odds: The future of UK manufacturing


Related team

Luke Wilson

Luke Wilson

Luke Wilson

  • Partner
  • Restructuring Advisory
  • London