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Chinese and US companies are leading in the use of digital Industry 4.0 technologies

An international comparison shows that Chinese and US companies are the frontrunners in the use of digital technologies in an Industry 4.0 environment. The United Kingdom, though slightly off the pace, is managing to keep up, due in some part to the early course set for Brexit. These are the key findings of the Industry 4.0 Barometer 2021, compiled by the management and IT consultancy MHP in cooperation with the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) Munich. 776 experts from industrial companies in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, China, the UK and the USA took part in the survey, which was conducted for the fourth time last year. The barometer shows the status quo of Industry 4.0 activities at the companies surveyed and provides insights into market-specific features in the regions studied.

Associated Partner und Head of Operations Performance & Strategy at MHP Tom Huber says: “In addition to the four topic clusters of technology, IT integration, strategy and goals, and drivers and obstacles of digitalisation, which are surveyed every year, we also analysed the focus topics of digital leadership and supply chain resilience in more detail. Our international comparison shows that different directions of development can be observed in the different countries.

Digital Leadership: DACH stagnating, while China sets a fast pace

Companies in the German-speaking region are performing worse overall than in 2020: the results in the technology categories surveyed have remained at the same level as in previous years or fallen even lower. DACH region companies do not make a convincing impression in international comparison either.

In Chinese companies, for example, use of digital twins is 20 percent higher, supply chain transparency is twice as high and there is twice as much automation and remote control of plants. US companies also achieve high scores – more than half have advanced technology infrastructures that enable them to use artificial intelligence.

However: not everyone in the US can keep up with the rapid pace. SMEs and established companies in particular are in danger of losing touch. The situation in the UK is similar: Just about half of companies with less than 100 employees have implemented additive manufacturing processes, while 75 per cent do not use sensor-equipped systems and autonomous robots.

Cross-nationally: High costs and a lack of expertise

Prof. Dr Johann Kranz, Professor of Digital Services and Sustainability at LMU Munich: “Companies globally are under enormous pressure to digitalise, now that customer requirements for products and services are undergoing massive and continuous change as a result of digitalisation.

In hesitant companies, the economic potential of this change is not being sufficiently exploited and thus appears too small in comparison to the investment costs. However, current challenges such as the Corona pandemic or the supply chain problems show that companies that have done their digitalisation homework can manoeuvre their way through these crises significantly better.”

In addition, there is a lack of qualified employees with digitalisation skills, China being the one exception here. “There is often simply a lack of employees with the know-how to implement Industry 4.0 successfully and quickly,” adds Prof. Kranz. In addition to the lack of qualified staff, difficulties with internal coordination and bureaucracy slow down the progress of digitalisation projects, especially in German-speaking countries.

“The DACH companies need to reduce their digitalisation deficit quickly in order to remain competitive. Internationally, a CIO in the management, customer focus and collaboration are proving to be universal guarantees of success,” states Tom Huber.

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