Industrial digital technologies for UK SME exporting manufacturers


Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) including such technologies as the industrial internet of things, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented and virtual reality (AVR), have the potential to radically transform how firms manufacture and deliver products. These IDTs enable the revolution toward smart manufacturing which is a fully integrated, collaborative production ecosystem that responds, in real-time, to ever-changing demands. This means the integration of IDTs into every facet of manufacturing is a strategic priority for manufacturers. 

However, research indicates that UK small and medium enterprises (SME) manufacturers have not effectively utilised the government’s support and IDTs to enhance export performance. Research by Make UK (2020) shows that the adoption of IDTs is not across the board; for example, 45% of manufacturers are aware of the benefits of IDTs but few are adopting them, especially SMEs. This indicates a low level of investment in IDTs by UK SME manufacturers, which can make exporters less competitive. A weak or vague business case for investment in IDTs can weaken export SMEs. Therefore, we need research to support decisions to adopt IDTs for enhancing UK SME export manufacturers’ export performance.

This project is funded by the InterAct Network (UKRI). Funding reference: J17293 / ES/W007231/1 – OFC#1 Pham.

Research overview

This project aims to enable UK export manufacturing firms, especially SMEs, to decide how to adopt and utilise IDTs to enhance performance in international markets. To achieve its objectives, this project will undertake mixed-method research in collaboration with two partners. The research team will collaborate with Harriman from Oxford Innovation Company (OIC) which runs the Manufacturing Growth Programme to engage with UK SME export manufacturers to collect primary data via interviews and a questionnaire survey to obtain both in-depth and generalizable findings. The data will be used to develop the IDT decision-making model by working with McKee from Slingshot, a digital solution company and an export manufacturer. (OIC will help select appropriate manufacturers.) This approach helps enhance the model's applicability and functionality. 


This project will increase the awareness of UK manufacturers on the adoption and utilisation of IDTs, especially when managing their export performance. Better informed decision-making resulting from improved knowledge disseminated from this project will help enhance the efficiency of investment in IDTs and utilisation of the adopted IDTs of UK SME export manufacturers, hence increasing their export performance. Accordingly, more income from the export and more job opportunities in the manufacturing sector for the UK society will be generated. 

This project will also improve the understanding of the needs and challenges facing UK export manufacturers when using IDTs. Understanding these insights, government agencies including DIT, DCMS and BEIS can make policies that meet the needs of this market segment better, leading to a more efficient IDT market and a more competitive IDT industry. 

Publications and outputs

Media coverage