A £15 million advanced manufacturing demonstrator should be set up at the University of Salford as part of a technology innovation plan for Greater Manchester.
That is the conclusion of a new report commissioned by Innovate UK and written by Dr Marilyn Comrie OBE, director of The Blair Project, a disruptive social enterprise which specialises in digital manufacturing and design.
It is the latest report to suggest the region needs to urgently invest in technological capacity if it is to create jobs and growth from Industry 4.0, which includes a raft of AI technologies from cloud computing and big data to robotics, cyber security, augmented reality and internet of things.
Comrie consulted with approximately 140 businesses, trade associations and public agencies on what could be done to encourage more SMEs to embrace Industry 4.0 technologies.
The main findings from the survey showed that 84 per cent felt cost was the biggest barrier to adoption, 80 per cent cited skills shortages and 90 per cent said workforce upskilling/reskilling was a priority.
“Micro and small manufacturers make up 94% of manufacturers in GM but far too many think Industry 4.0 is not for them, not least because of perceptions around investment costs,” said Comrie.
“Affordable solutions are vital for demonstrating that Industry 4.0 technologies are not just the preserve of larger manufacturers but can deliver productivity improvements for any size of business.”
The report advises the setting up of a series of hubs where 4.0 technologies could be demonstrated to business, and where small firms could find access to the required skills for its people and ideas on collaborative innovation.
It recommends setting up a central hub at the University of Salford.
The report claims the scheme could create more than 1,000 new high skilled jobs and generate £6 billion for the city region.
It suggests that funding for the project could come from repurposing the £1.3 billion of unspent apprenticeship levy funds paid by business.
The full recommendations was presented to a business audience and potential funders at a launch at The Landing, MediaCityUK on December 13.