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Conservative Party Conference

Conservative Party Conference

1st October 2019

The APMG brought together the Minister for Industry, business leaders and representatives of the public sector to discuss automation and the future of work at Workshop of the World, a fringe event at Conservative Party Conference 2019 in Manchester. The panel featured Nadhim Zahawi MP; Ian Funnell, CEO ABB; Dick Elsy, CEO High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Bobbie Davies, Public Affairs Manager Tata Steel. The panel was Chaired by APMG Policy Manager Ben Carpenter Merritt.

Workshop of the World was sponsored by the ABB and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and the panel covered a range of topics including clean growth, the challenge facing SMEs in increasing productivity, the importance of good data collection and the importance of connected supply chains.

Minister for Industry Nadhim Zahawi MP explained that government are focused on how they can support industry in reaching the net zero target by 2050:

“[It is] the law of the land, now being that we will get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050... clean growth is going to be incredibly important and will play a significant role in our decision making as a government and as a department."

The panel then discussed how government can support SMEs in their adoption of technology to drive forward the fourth industrial revoltion. Dick Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult stressed the polarisation between large OEMs and SMEs in technology adoption:

"The mainstream companies…are adopting the advanced technologies, the automation. They are beginning to embrace the whole Industry 4.0 and you can see this fantastic uplift in productivity. But further down the supply chains, deep down on the periphery of smaller companies, I go in and they are busy but they are using thirty or forty year old machinery. And the managing director will say with some pride that they are sweating the assets."

Ian Funnell, CEO of ABB stressed that Industry 4.0 does not require huge change overnight, rather that businesses should consider their processes and collect the data to improve them, such moves do not need to be high cost:

“There are some very, very simple steps that manufacturers can take to start creating and collecting data. It's not the big bang approach. You don't want to change everything and boil the ocean overnight. You can't do that and in fact we would absolutely advice against that. But looking at where the critical pieces of your manufacturing are and what you can do is collect the data. And it is not a high cost or high-tech entry into industry 4.0.”

Bobbie Davies, UK Public Affairs Manager at Tata Steel explained that as a business, Tata's ongoing success had been made possible by a focus on automation, driven by their exacting customers:

“[it has been ]critical in making sure that customers want to keep buying from a UK based steel manufacturer”.

Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK explained that the ecosystems needed do exist, but that there is a long way left to go if we are to make the most out of the fourth industrial revolution. 

“We’ve got the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and we’ve got the Digital Catapult which I chair, so we can create an ecosystem to de-risk these technologies and connect the industry. Connect the smaller companies with the larger companies so that we can help them adopt, and ultimately accelerate that adoption.”

This discussion will be fed into the work of the APMG for the year ahead.