Based on interviews with senior leaders at 110 companies, Future Fit: Trailblazing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution looks at what makes a successful manufacturer and reveals the habits of the sector’s most successful leaders.

While nearly 8 in 10 (78%) of respondents said that they have the internal capability to implement forward-thinking strategies, less than a quarter (22%) have put the development of strategic plans for the next five years at the top of their agendas.

Richard Hill, NatWest’s Head of Automotive & Manufacturing, said: “The manufacturing sector is a vital part of the UK and global economy and in my experience, manufacturers generally have a confident view of the future. However, with the convergence of rapid changes in technology, data analysis and other macro-economic issues, it’s clear that in order to prepare for the future, leaders must bridge the gap between their intentions and actions when it comes to innovation and R&D.”

With the Internet, big data, digitalization, artificial intelligence and changing labour demographics coming together to provide an unprecedented set of challenges, 80% of those surveyed agreed that innovation is crucial to be competitive in the next 5-10 years. In addition, a lack of innovation was cited by more than half (54%) as the number one international challenge they’re facing.

However, only 15% of companies said that future-proofing their business was top of the agenda.

Richard added: “During our research a sub-group of manufacturing leaders emerged who we’ve called ‘Trailblazers’. They have similar and distinct attitudes to challenges, opportunities and planning. These businesses have prioritised the development of strategic plans, ensured they have the staff to deliver them internally and have built a resilient business system that is proactively seeking to diversify.”

Future collaboration within the supply chain was cited by 67% of Trailblazers as “much more important” for the resiliency of the wider ecosystem, nearly double the figure of other respondents. This is despite nearly 42% of all respondents not feeling that their ecosystem is sufficiently resilient to plan for future disruptive opportunities and threats.

The full report can be downloaded at