Manufacturers herald new digital age with tech investment set to increase in 2023

Published:  05 January, 2023

Digital Catapult’s Manufacturing Leaders Poll 2022 has revealed that investment in deep tech solutions and a commitment to innovation remain top of the agenda for many business leaders across the UK manufacturing industries, despite economic headwinds.

Even with supply chain challenges and the rising costs of energy and components, the UK’s manufacturing industries will invest more cash into transformative technologies in the next 12 months, paving the way for faster adoption of digital solutions by industry in order to retain a competitive edge, according to new research from Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology.

Manufacturers revealed their top tech priorities for 2023 are:

Virtual and/or augmented reality (35%);

Digital twins (28%);

Blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies (26%);

Additive manufacturing (26%);

AI and machine learning (25%).

Virtual and/or augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies will be boosted by 22% during 2023, with 66% of manufacturers looking to invest, or continue investing in, VR and/or AR technologies compared to 44% in the previous Digital Catapult Manufacturing Leaders Poll.

The number of manufacturers eyeing more investment in additive manufacturing technology also increased by 22%, with 68% of UK manufacturers highlighting it as a major growth opportunity compared with 46% last time.

Continued rise in tech deployment signals strong growth of Industry 4.0

This year’s Digital Catapult Manufacturing Leaders Poll showed that the appetite for deploying more advanced digital technology solutions across the manufacturing sector remained strong, particularly cloud computing and industrial internet of things, which remained in the top two spots overall for the second year running.

5G (18%) and blockchain (16%) – alongside additive manufacturing (22%) and VR/AR (22%) – saw the biggest increases in the number of manufacturers who were currently investing in, and planning to invest in these technologies in the coming 12 months.

Flexible business models (52%), building a more data driven supply chain (51%) and collaborating with startup businesses (46%) were viewed as some of the greatest opportunities facing manufacturing next year to grow.

Manufacturers said that helping their business become more competitive (43%) was the main motivator for digital innovation. Business leaders also recognised that innovation could help increase growth and improve profitability (41%), help reduce operational costs (37%), and assist with efforts to optimise and monitor supply chains (31%).

28% of manufacturers are planning to introduce more advanced digital technologies into their supply chains, with 21% set on working with more agile, disruptive and innovative suppliers to find the right solutions to help solve their critical business challenges.

Supply chain crunches and rising costs cause headaches for manufacturing

Manufacturers identified making their supply chains more resilient as a major focus area for 2023 (60%), closely followed by upskilling talent (57%) and creating a more flexible business model (52%).

And with continued concerns about availability of products and parts, and increases in fuel and energy costs, 49% of respondents said that energy supply and costs was their biggest worry for 2023. Costs of parts and components (32%) and managing supply chain disruption (28%) were second and third biggest issues keeping manufacturing leaders up at night.

Increased focus on sustainability and becoming ‘greener’ continues into the new year

UK manufacturers are placing more focus on environmental sustainability to benefit both the planet and the bottom line. The Digital Catapult Manufacturing Leaders Poll found that, as sustainability efforts become more deeply embedded into industry, manufacturers across the UK are focused on making their businesses greener in 2023.

38% are focused on using more sustainable raw materials, 32% of manufacturers plan to purchase more renewable energy, and 31% are putting more focus on ESG investment and working with ‘greener’ suppliers or partners. 26% of companies are looking at ways to improve energy efficiency in their warehouses or other buildings, and 20% of UK manufacturers highlighted the importance of circularity (sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing or refurbishing) as the key priority for becoming a greener business next year.

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