In the last decade, technology has developed rapidly. Ongoing developments are lowering the costs of the latest technological breakthroughs and making these new technologies available to the wider industry. Regardless of what you call it - Industry 4.0, the industrial Internet or the Internet of Things (IoT) - the shift towards connected technologies has become prominent across most industry sectors.

This shows no signs of changing any time soon. These technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, providing new opportunities to UK businesses that promise to offset the potential impact of Brexit. So what are these technological advances and how will they affect the UK's industries?

Smart supply chain

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Alongside IoT, we are also beginning to experience first-hand the advantages of IoT in our everyday lives, with the concept of ‘smart places’. Many will be familiar with the concept in relation to smart cities and the use of technology to improve sustainability and energy consumption. However, this notion can also be applied to buildings, factories and supply chains.

Smart sensors, vision systems, data analytics software and cloud computing are the building blocks of the connected manufacturing facility and the smart supply chain.

Whatever happens with Brexit, export interest will increase and so businesses need to have a transparent and integrated supply chain that incorporates the exchange of real time data from customers, suppliers and partners. Doing so will help manufacturers source and manage the variability of materials from numerous new sources.

Data management

To be constantly adaptable and cost-efficient, manufacturers in all industries need to have an accurate understanding of what is going on at every level of their facility. Transparency is vital and, in this instance, it allows managers to identify where improvements can be made.

Many businesses have begun implementing technologies that collect data but have little understanding of the value of what they are collecting. More importantly, they rarely know how to use the data effectively.

To monitor a plant correctly, managers need to have a control system in place that can collect the most granular of data. Platforms like GE Digital’s production management systems can offer manufacturers greater functionality than traditional ERP systems. In addition, they also offer flexibility so that businesses can scale up or down systems to meet demand. Given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, we expect this flexibility will be reassuring to concerned managers and so many will take advantage.

Not only is the data from GE Digital’s suite shared across the core functional systems such as reliability analysis and material tracking, the suite also offers machine learning tools that can help to determine a solution for difficult consistency, quality or reliability problems.

Digital twinning

The increase in connected technology in conjunction with the development in machine learning has also led to the creation of intelligent digital twins. Like most emerging technologies, digital twins were previously restricted to industries working with large budgets and maintaining expensive machinery. However, an increasing number of companies are now able to take advantage of the technology.

Digital twins combine artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and software analytics with spatial network graphs to create digital simulations that update and change as their physical counterparts change.

The digital twin gathers historical and real-time data from a physical asset to learn its behaviors. Once the machine has gathered the data, it can simulate various scenarios and identify trends, such as increased wear on a certain part of a device, to mitigate the chances of unplanned downtime.

While the technology may have been around for some time, the exponential advancements in digital twinning mean companies can simulate any technological device. In our increasingly interconnected world, it is for this reason that we expect more companies to integrate digital twinning into their facilities in the coming year.

These are just some of the trends and technologies we expect to drive businesses and their expanding ecosystems in 2019. Other pivotal changes will include the wide adoption of edge computing and advancements in wireless technology, particularly in relation to 5G. However, we expect this trend to really take off among businesses in 2020.

These technology trends will undoubtedly have impact all around the world and, with Brexit looming and no clear understanding of the long-term effects, businesses need to prepare and stay ahead.