5 National Manufacturing Strategies For The Digital Age

Countries seek to consolidate their strengths in the globalised, digitalised manufacturing industry

Digital, or smart manufacturing, is the use of digital technologies such as cloud computer systems, data visualisation, advanced analytics, and virtual and augmented reality to improve manufacturing processes. Digital manufacturing strategies can range from the use of individual technologies on the factory floor, to fully scaled and integrated digital systems.

In order to realise their potential in the age of digital, many countries have developed systematic manufacturing strategies. Although these policies vary in line with the priorities of their respective governments, they generally seek to further the use of technology in manufacturing, in a holistic and interconnected way. Here we take a look at five different countries pursuing manufacturing goals via the use of national policies.

1) Germany – Industrie 4.0

Industrie 4.0 – coined in reference to the fourth industrial revolution that is currently being heralded by digital technology – is perhaps the most well known of all national manufacturing strategies, with the term gaining traction all over the world. In 2010, it was named one of 10 projects by the German government which would make up the country’s High-Tech Strategy 2020, designed to keep Germany at the forefront of innovation. Its focus is on connectivity, artificial intelligence and automation – which practically includes technology like the IIoT, 3D printing, advanced robotics, virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, and big data.

Industrie 4.0’s emphasis on smart manufacturing has seen the establishment of innovative, digitalised factories in Germany such as Adidas’s Speedfactory in Ansbach. Nevertheless, the strategy also has implications for SMEs. One of the most important Industrie 4.0 investments made by the government is ITS OWL (Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe), which received €100m over five years. ITS OWL is an alliance of businesses, universities and institutes in the industrial area of OstWestfalenLippe, with a focus on research and the development of SME capabilities.

2) China – Made In China 2025

Made in China 2025 was launched in 2015, with the aim of transforming the country into a high tech manufacturing superpower. It reflects China’s desire to become self-sufficient in several core technologies and industries, and thereby vie for power on the global stage. Main areas of focus for the strategy are fields such as pharmaceuticals, automotive, aerospace, semiconductors, IT, and advanced robotics, which will help China to produce more of its own high value goods and materials, and reduce its dependence upon foreign countries such as the US.

In fact, by 2025, China hopes to achieve 70 per cent self-sufficiency in these kinds of high tech industries, with a view to dominating global markets by 2049. The main tactics pursued by the government to realise China 2025 are the provision of state funding and tax breaks to companies, encouraging investment in foreign firms to gain access to advanced technologies, and mobilising state backed companies. The latter has led to controversy, with private tech companies such as Huawei seeking foreign contracts, raising fears of security backdoors into the West for the Chinese government.


In February 2012, the USA’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) published a National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing, which sought to increase investment in advanced manufacturing technology, expand the number of workers with the relevant skills for this sector, and promote investment in advanced manufacturing research and development. Six years on, in October 2018 the NSTC presented an updated vision for American leadership in advanced manufacturing, designed to ensure the country’s economic prosperity and security.

This included the three goals of 1) Developing and transitioning new manufacturing technologies; 2) Educating, training, and connecting the manufacturing workforce; and 3) Expanding the capabilities of the domestic manufacturing supply chain. One of the most notable initiatives in this plan was the creation of a Cyber Hub for manufacturing within the Department of Defense’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) in Chicago. This Hub will address manufacturing related cybersecurity vulnerabilities and support the adoption of best practices in American companies – with a particular focus on smaller manufacturers.

4) Japan – Robot Revolution Initiative

One of Japan’s greatest technological strengths is in advanced robotics – a fact which has led the Japanese government to focus its development efforts in this field. Their Robot Revolution Initiative (RRI) – an open innovation platform to promote the aptly-named ‘Robot Revolution’ – was established in 2015 with 226 members, including companies, associations and individuals.

The RRI is designed to make it easier for stakeholders to collaborate and realise targets. These include the transformation of Japan into a world-leading centre of robot innovation, making the country the greatest global user of robots in all areas of life, and ushering in the new robot age with IoT technology. Interestingly, Japan’s RRI roadmap also identifies the need to promote cyber security and support SME adoption of technology such as the IoT. This demonstrates the fact that grassroots technological adoption is the true measure of success in any national digital manufacturing strategy.

5) UK – Catapult programme

While the UK isn’t home to any giant technology companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon, isn’t renowned for its AI prowess like China, and doesn’t have the robotics dominance of Japan, it does have historic strengths in the fields of engineering, design and IT. Several recent government strategies demonstrate a desire to build upon this expertise. In 2016, the government renamed the Department of Business – transforming it into the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – to reflect a greater emphasis upon the country’s industrial potential.

Linking industry with research and development institutes is the aim of the UK’s Catapult network – a group of centres where businesses, scientists and engineers work side by side on research and development to create new products and services. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult group is a further network of seven centres, designed to provide technology and workforce development, problem solving, and policy insight and intelligence into manufacturing. In 2018 the centres had 3,763 private sector clients, who were helped to turn their ideas into commercial opportunities.



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