AI Strategy Manufacturing AI Sustainable Manufacturing AI Policy Industry 4.0 Net zero

Est. reading time: 6 minutes
Author: Steph Locke

The UK government released its AI strategy on 22nd September 2021. We’ve looked at the report and broken down how this will affect the manufacturing industry going forward. We outline some key areas such as skills shortages, addressing net-zero challenges, and new product development as well as the next steps manufacturers can take.

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Steph Locke

Technologist and consultant with a track record of delivering transformation of businesses into data science and AI companies.


On the 22nd September 2021, the UK Government announced their national AI strategy to support future-readiness of the UK in this vital emerging technology. We looked at the report for how it will impact UK manufacturers.

Skills shortages

There’s a strong emphasis on building the ecosystem and tackling the shortage of AI-ready employees.

In the survey, two-thirds of firms (67%) expected that the demand for AI skills in their organisation was likely to increase in the next 12 months, as a result of both COVID-19 and also other expected changes. 5

Support includes:

  • £250 million for Connected and Autonomous Mobility (CAM) technology through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)
  • Investment in 16 new AI Centres for Doctoral Training at universities across the country, delivering 1,000 new PhDs over five years
  • A new industry-funded AI Masters programme and up to 2,500 places for AI and data science conversion courses, including 1,000 government-funded scholarships
  • £46 million to support the Turing AI Fellowships to develop the next generation of top AI talent

This adds to available resources like:

Encouraging your staff to take on free or part-funded training is a great way to prepare your business for a key competency. Manufacturers already embracing AI are seeing benefits so embracing this capability sooner rather than later is important.

At GSK, we’re exploring the potential of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to uncover insights from human genetics and genomics and help double success rates to develop more and better medicines and vaccines needed by patients in Britain and around the world. Tony Wood, Senior Vice President Medicinal Science and Technology, GSK 4

Addressing net-zero challenges

The UK Government recognises that AI can be of significant help in developing new solutions to climate change and helping manufacturers minimise their environmental impact.

AI technologies are an essential part of the toolbox for innovating to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and to reduce the environmental impacts of goods, services and human activities. We are already seeing AI contributing to a greater grasp of complex environmental and sustainability systems, from forecasting supply and demand at real-time to combating illegal deforestation and understanding Arctic sea ice loss. One way to accelerate the use of AI for these purposes would be to build it into relevant moonshots, such as that on new materials for energy storage and renewables and create incentives for AI companies to address these and other Net Zero challenges. 1

Using AI to improve things like supply chain management, reduce the materials in products, and reduce waste can have a big impact.

We welcome the Government’s AI strategy because we believe AI can be used for the good of society. For Rolls-Royce, it’s critical to our net zero ambitions, the sustainability of our business and helping our customers. Warren East, CEO, Rolls Royce 4

We can expect more detail on this area in the next 6-12 months with the Office for AI collaborating with the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy to produce a roadmap.

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution highlights the development of disruptive technologies such as AI for energy as a key priority, and in concert with the government’s Ten Tech Priorities to use digital innovations to reach net zero, the UK has the opportunity to lead the world in climate technologies, supporting us to deliver our ambitious net zero targets. This will be key to meet our stated ambition in the Sixth Carbon Budget, and with it a need to consider how to achieve the maximum possible level of emissions reductions. 2

Global collaboration in this area is also on the cards, with a plan to develop a repository of AI challenges designed to deliver innovation in key areas via the Missions Programme, and guided by the National AI R&I Programme.

Climate change and global health threats are examples of shared international challenges, and science progresses through open international collaboration. This is particularly the case when AI development is able to take advantage of publicly available coding platforms to produce new algorithms. The UK will extend its science partnerships and its work investing UK aid to support local innovation ecosystems in developing countries. 2

New product development

To help stimulate AI products for manufacturers, the government will be pursuing the following:

  • support the identification and creation of opportunities for businesses, whether SMEs or larger firms, to use AI and for AI developers to build new products and services that address these needs
  • create pathways for AI developers to start companies around new products and services or to extend and diversify their product offering if they are looking to grow and scale
  • facilitate close engagement between businesses and AI developers to ensure products and services developed address business needs, are responsibly developed and implemented, and designed and deployed so that businesses and developers alike are prepped and primed for AI implementation

Important for manufacturers of regulated products or with high quality demands is the need for a transparent way to benchmark and validate AI solutions. The UK government is proposing to develop new standards for AI solutions.

We want global technical standards for AI to benefit UK citizens, businesses, and the economy by:

  • Supporting R&D and Innovation. Technical standards should provide clear definitions and processes for innovators and businesses, lowering costs and project complexity and improving product consistency and interoperability, supporting market uptake. Supporting trade. Technical standards should facilitate digital trade by minimising regulatory requirements and technical barriers to trade.
  • Giving UK businesses more opportunities. Standardisation is a co-creation process that spans different roles and sectors, providing businesses with access to market knowledge, new customers, and commercial and research partnerships. Delivering on safety, security and trust. The Integrated Review set out the role of technical standards in embedding transparency and accountability in the design and deployment of technologies. AI technical standards (e.g. for accuracy, explainability and reliability) should ensure that safety, trust and security are at the heart of AI products and services.
  • Supporting conformity assessments and regulatory compliance. Technical standards should support testing and certification to ensure the quality, performance, reliability of products before they enter the market. This includes providing a means of compliance with requirements set out in legislation. 2

Further, we can expect an increase in available assurance frameworks to ensure products meet standards. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) will be publishing an AI assurance roadmap that will identify the steps needed to deliver this framework.

Next steps for manufacturers

With this national strategy only just announced and a significant number of items on the Office of AI’s TO DO list to flesh it out, it’s early days for manufacturers. Right now, it’s important to start thinking about the role of AI in manufacturing, preparing your business for AI- related disruption, and trialling AI in non-critical systems to build up your acumen. Getting involved in research and innovation projects, getting support from manufacturing innovation organisations like Made Smarter, and investing in staff training should all be on the TO DO list for forward-looking manufacturers in the next 6-18 months.

Further Reading

  1. UK AI Council Roadmap
  2. UK National AI Strategy
  3. UKRI welcomes national AI strategy
  4. New ten-year plan to make the UK a global AI superpower
  5. Understanding the UK AI labour market: 2020 Executive Summary

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