14 Jun 2024

A digital vision

Aaron Blutstein spoke to Brian Holliday, the managing director of Siemens Digital Factory UK, about the challenges and opportunities of the digitisation of UK manufacturing.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy Green paper has essentially fired the starting gun on a period of consultation with businesses to create what manufacturers have been calling for – a modern, comprehensive and robust way forward.

To ensure this is a strategy which supports manufacturers to meet their ambition of higher levels of productivity, investment and net trade – all things which will gain a significant boost as they embrace Industry 4.0 – a new review group has been created to be led by Juergen Maier, to advise on the opportunities and challenges for UK Industry offered by digital technology. It will be known as the Industrial Digitisation Review Leadership Team and is intended to work for six months producing the review report. Maier has chosen a team from across industry and commerce to form this new group and this includes one member representing the automation industry – Brian Holliday.

As a contributing member of the Industrial Digitisation Review Leadership Team Brian Holliday explains that although the forthcoming review has only just started, it’s evident that there is a lot of really great content out there already: “For example the High Value Manufacturing Catapult has done a tremendous piece of work – a bit of a landscape review. And of course the Industrial Digitisation Review will look at, and is looking at, what’s there already.” i.e what are all the leadership group members being guided by in their organisations and from their perspectives? So in addition, he says, there is an opportunity for others to contribute to the review.

He continues by highlighting that it is very clear the areas it’s looking to try and understand, such as the potential benefits to industry of exploiting technology and having the right skills, of having the right policy instruments to help investment: “So I think starting with where are we, how are we doing, is incredibly important. And if you look further afield, these are the conversations that are taking place at governmental level with our near neighbours and further afield.

“Commissioner Oettinger has been looking at this in the EU as part of digitising European industry, but further afield you will see re-industrialisation discussions under way in Singapore, in the US as well. So it is not just that it’s a UK specific topic but we are like other regions – trying to understand what should be our response.

“The principles of taking a productivity leap in manufacturing are now well understood, well documented, well discussed – from the World Economic Forum in Davos right through to the Government’s initiatives. So now is the right time to absolutely have that review and look at the UK’s strengths…There are some obvious strengths today, in research, in innovation and small company start ups. There are also some strengths in flexibility of work force and the way that we handle data, from a legislative, or regulatory perspective. But we are less good when it comes to the implementation of automation for example in factories, so I think there are some early topics that could be explored here. But the industrial digitisation review will need to look at data examples, case studies and take all of that to try and come up with a clear picture of the things that industry and government could can do together to try and help address those top topics of productivity, of growth, of jobs, of regionalised benefit to the UK economy.”

Long-term intent

Holliday explains that you have to separate the longer term intent behind Industry 4.0 and what’s available today: “Whether you could call it hype, I’m not sure, but I would agree that many companies are taking the opportunity to imply a degree of Industry 4.0 compliance.” But he says it is understandable that they want to associate themselves with something that is digital, something that is future oriented.

“But the original piece of work to look at: How do you create a significant productivity shift? Or how do you capitalise on the technology developments that are happening at such a pace, and apply those to advanced manufacturing as a start, are ideas looking at a 15-20 year horizon. I’m not sure that anyone can claim compliance today.”

He highlights that Siemens’ view is that Industry 4.0 has been useful to get the conversation started on an international scale about how exactly do you derive increasing productivity from new ways, fundamentally different ways of doing things?: “And it’s not just manufacturing of course, it’s supply chain and it covers design, and make, and services in a way that I don’t think any global initiative has in the past.

“Industry 4 has been very useful to create a revision of what might be possible in the factory of the future and that’s become just as discussed in Beijing as it has in Birmingham. Siemens’ view on this is we are inspired by Industry 4, to think about the way we are developing our products, about the way we have conversations with our customers, about the business models we are engaging in, but also it is inspiring us with the companies we are acquiring and continue to acquire.

He adds: “There are some really useful pillars to Industry 4 that we think just help companies get going, specifically having a data backbone – thinking about how do you consolidate data in one place; putting in place an industry communication backbone – something that helps you with the real time, control or supply chain information; having an eye on cyber security, so you are compliant and safe from those that might want to understand what you’re making or how you’re making it. And finally the data services – being able to now exploit what is fast developing in terms of cloud and analytics capability to be able to apply that to the broad range of data in the manufacturing and industrial applications that would help us understand what’s happening and how to improve over time.”

Holliday says these four pillars of data backbone, data communications, data security and data services, now create for us a strong digital threat for manufacturers that will help inspire the types of activities they need to undertake on a journey to Industry 4:”Understanding what skills do they need, what pilot projects they might want to undertake, what benefits can be derived from investments in each of those areas, so as to prioritise. I think there is a reasonable set of principles there that might get towards the types of short design cycle, highly customised manufacturing, highly connected product for the future that’s been described by Industry 4.”


Holliday explains that there is no question that the Industry 4 narrative has been derived from the big company and supply chain challenges: “But digitisation will increasingly or industrial digitisation will increasingly benefit small companies too. And in this context I would say that digitisation in industry is already shifting to a model that we are familiar with in the consumer world in which we are using mobile devices and low cost apps, and digital is accessible to everybody. The same is happening through cloud in industry, such that small companies might write apps that could appear in the industrial cloud…

“But small companies can benefit from either making capability much more widely available than the networks that they would have had or local geographies they’d had to date. Or they’ll be able to benefit increasingly from the type of expertise that is being captured in those cloud-based services in the future.”

He emphasises that the entry point to a digital future is considerably lower than it was: “We shouldn’t wrap digitisation up in the big companies and their challenges all the time. We should be looking at what’s the low cost entry point to then digitise and capture a machine or a factory or to think about simulating a piece of work. Small companies like large ones will suffer too when expertise is embedded with people. So using digital tools is a simple way of increasingly capture what you do, how you do it, why you do it – that’s just as relevant to small companies as it is for large ones. Being able to tap into an increasing range of tools for product life cycle management for design of product or for the increasingly lower cost of robotics and autonomous systems or the increasingly low cost of just being able to either access or put data in the cloud, that’s just as relevant for small manufacturing companies as it is for large.”


Holiday explains that awareness of digitisation, is the number one challenge which is why he thinks the Industrial Digitisation Review itself is so potentially useful to shine a light on just how rapidly technology is progressing: “We’ve got to have a conversation that raises awareness of the possibilities in industry. Of course that then immediately follows onto what are the skills that we’ve got in the industry to be able to exploit digital technology fully or to be able to realise productivity benefits. You need that mix of application understanding with the tools that can be used to help make progress as well.

“So skills – the right skills, the right number of skills – for organisations I would say is a challenge, but I think, showing rather than telling if I can put it that way, having demonstrators of what’s possible, is also incredibly important. And that’s partly being addressed now with the Catapults for example, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, or the Digital Catapult.”

UK awareness

The UK is sometimes accused of lagging behind our leading European competitors such as Germany. However Holliday says he doesn’t think the UK can be accused of being behind generically as “we’ve got some tremendous strengths such as in IT”. He does however identify that we’re certainly behind when it comes to the uptake and adoption of automation technology. He continues by stating however that the Industrial Digitisation Review will assist in identifying areas where we could perhaps be more specific, to help give our manufacturing base even more of a boost: “So as the Industrial Digitisation Review looks at the strengths we’ve got, it may well be that data science and artificial intelligence apply to industry becomes a significant strength – I don’t know that yet – it may be that we find that we are ahead in certain areas and have opportunities to catch up in others. I think at that point you need the policy instruments to help make more specific investments in perhaps technology, perhaps the skills that are needed to identify the gaps.

“My personal view is we have relatively blunt instruments like corporation tax, that don’t necessarily help stimulate investment in plant and equipment. But we’ve got some very good instruments in innovation sphere – R&D tax credits, the patent box, and assets and institutions such as the Catapults – that are a significant help for companies on the innovation side.


For Siemens Brexit is business as usual in the UK. He explains: “We’ve been here for 170 years, and it’s our intention to continue to operate here and serve the UK market. In the creation of more jobs – the vast majority of which are technical, engineering and manufacturing – and building the factory in Hull, which created a thousand jobs in the last twelve months, I think is a statement of clear intent that we want to be here and will continue to add value here.”

“Like all major employers we want to have access to the right talent, that helps us to continue to grow, and there are certain acute shortages around, for example power electronics engineers for research jobs. So that isn’t going to go away after Brexit. All I think we can do is to continue to invest in the training and development of domestic talent needed, but not close the door to those skill gaps where they still exist or may exist for a time. Identifying where those gaps are, and trying to work together with government, and the education sector to close them is of course going to be an on-going and important activity.”


Holliday concludes by stating that manufacturers are adopting new ways of doing things and they are being inspired by Industry 4 and digitisation to help shorten life cycles or improve flexibility and manufacturing whilst keeping an eye on sustainability. But also, he says, helping us to get better access and exploit data associated with manufacturing: “All of these things can be undertaken today while technology companies continue to develop tools that will help us. So I can see the UK being able to offer some of the tools and better exploit technology and ideas. I think the UK being able to increasingly do this, manufacturing remains and will remain a global topic, so I think we’re mindful of that and the UK has some strengths that it can build on in exactly this space. From start-ups to our larger companies, it’s useful now that we have the Industrial Digitisation Review to shine a bit of a light on the opportunity and perhaps make that a little bit clearer for the UK.”


Brian Holliday started his career as an apprentice with Texas Instruments in Bedford, with a four year computer systems apprenticeship and went on to university to study computer systems – electrical engineering and computer science at Cardiff University. He started as a graduate with Siemens in July 1993.

His career has been a variety of technology, projects and support roles, product management, business management and over the last few years as a division lead for Siemens’ industrial activities in the UK – a division today called Digital Factory.

In addition he is currently a member of the supervisory board for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a main board member of EEF and he chairs the Electronic Systems Council.