The time is now for South West manufacturers to invest in smart tech, says a Barclays Corporate Banking report.

New research from Barclays shows 86 per cent of manufacturers in the South West are confident about Britain’s ability to compete in the international marketplace over the next five years, mirroring the findings of the Made Smarter report published earlier this month.

And 40 per cent of manufacturers in the South West attribute their confidence to the industrial revolution technologies, such as machine learning, sensors and big data, which they believe will boost the productivity of their business.

Of those that have already invested, 58% of manufacturers in the South West report that the adoption of 4IR technologies has improved productivity, while 33% are already seeing return on investment. Yet, there is still resistance to investing in the very latest innovations.

The Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing Report, is based on the views of over 500 manufacturing industry decision makers.

Yet economic modelling included within the report predicts that manufacturers could boost the sector by an additional £102bn per year by 2026, provided 4IR sees greater adoption and investment over the coming years.

The study also shows that the industrial heartlands would benefit most from investment in 4IR technologies, such as sensors, big data, energy self-generation and machine learning.

Steve Beavan, head of manufacturing at Barclays, South West, said: “Our research shows that manufacturers see the benefits of this cutting-edge technology, and many have started to match their intentions with investment.

“However, we are at a watershed. While the outlay may seem expensive for many at a time of uncertainty, the industry needs to raise its levels of investment in the skills and infrastructure needed to harness these new technologies and keep us more productive than other international manufacturing hubs. Businesses that make the leap will be rewarded.

“British manufacturing is going through another industrial revolution but confidence alone does not translate into success and benefit.

“With sterling currently weaker and a robust appetite from domestic and international markets for British goods, the industry is in a strong position to take advantage of the opportunities investing in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can bring.”

Contrary to popular perceptions about the impact of AI, investment in 4IR technologies has the potential to create jobs for Britain. Barclays has found that 101,000 jobs would be created in the next 10 years if manufacturers invest in smart factory technologies.

As well as creating jobs, investment in technologies like AI were also understood to have a positive impact on the quality of work people experienced. Of the manufacturers that have already invested, 32 per cent of said it freed up staff to concentrate on more highly skilled work.

Barclays’ research further reveals the scale of the problem faced by the industry. One in five manufacturers cited a lack of skilled workers as the reason for putting off investment in 4IR.

The Made Smarter review recommended strong leadership and better branding to make a difference.

Although manufacturers have been slow to act, this is not to say that they don’t have plans to do so in the future.