Business bosses need to embrace new technology to prevent the UK from lagging behind in the fourth industrial revolution, a leading figure in the UK manufacturing industry has warned.

Tom Bouchier, Managing Director of FANUC UK, a subsidiary of the world’s largest producer of factory automation equipment, said the UK was trailing badly behind other industrialised nations.

Speaking to more than 160 delegates from business and finance at an exclusive event during the Coventry and Warwickshire Business Festival, he issued a stark warning: automate to survive.

He explained to the invited audience: “We need to grow UK manufacturing. As it stands, there are just 71 industrial robots per 10,000 workers in the UK. That positions us behind 14 other European countries and as the only G7 country with a robot density below the world’s average of 73.

“In contrast, Germany has 309 robots and as a result their workers are 36% more productive than the UK. We have to automate.”

Questioning how the UK was going to catch up, he warned: “Many UK manufacturers are still using traditional methods that are no longer viable. How do we get past this and really take advantage of Industry 4.0?

“Through the adoption of new technology, we can become more productive and start to close the gap between the UK and the leading nations. The UK has fantastic engineers and a great history in manufacturing, and now is the time to adopt a proactive approach.”

The event at FANUC UK headquarters in Ansty on the edge of Coventry was organised in partnerships with Business Solutions, the commercial arm of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Hub, in partnership with Warwick Events.

Simply called “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Why Should You Care?”, the event highlighted the innovative work of a number of leading companies in the area, including FANUC, the global Japanese group that holds 65% of the world market share in robotics.

Among them was a self-driving electric ‘pod’ vehicle that is already being trialled on a dedicated route segregated from traffic in Cambridge.  It has been developed by Aurrigo Autonomous Vehicles, which is part of Coventry-based RDM Group.

Also, on show were some of FANUC’s high-precision robots and Rugby-based Off-Grid Energy’s portable solution for ‘green’ power, Grid to Go™.

While many iconic films such as Bladerunner and 2001: A Space Odyssey have portrayed a dystopian future where machines are to be feared, Warwick Events designed a programme which encouraged delegates to think openly and positively.

One of the key themes about Industry 4.0 was how the so-called “Internet of Things” will anticipate companies’ needs as machines analyse data and predict, for example, when parts will break down and enable companies to pre-empt any issues.

These latest innovations where machines feed back information about their performance is unleashing a new wave of efficiency not only in manufacturing but also businesses.

The audience heard how smart technology was enabling companies to keep their services running with no down-time, by sending out maintenance engineers the moment a fault was predicted to be about to occur, for example.

The UK is outstripped by more than 20 countries in the global race for using robotics, with Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, the United States, Italy, Belgium and Taiwan leading the field. The UK is also beaten by Slovenia, Slovakia and Australia.

Nigel Maris, MD of Assembled Electronics Solutions (AES) in Stratford-on-Avon, said that a “tsunami” of change was already here. His company has worked with hospitals to control the temperatures of drugs in fridges, with elite athletes to monitor performance and with carers to monitor bed-bound patients and help to prevent them getting bedsores.

Jeremy Moore, head of Business Solutions and Business Mentor and Commercial Manager at the Growth Hub, said: “We are delighted at the turnout which shows just how seriously companies in Coventry and Warwickshire are about seizing the opportunities on offer with new technologies.

“The area is already one of the most innovative in the UK and will be pushing hard to compete globally whilst at the same time preserving the region’s legacy for manufacturing and engineering excellence.”