A Silicon Valley investment expert says it will be possible to manufacture a single product in the factories of the near future.

Matt Finegold is an associate at Manchester-based GP Bullhound and helps the technology investment firm’s clients raise funds on the West Coast of America.

He sees the fourth industrial revolution as a convergence of four key technologies – Internet of Things, Big Data, artificial intelligence and robotics – which will mean the cost of making any product, from a car to a doll, will be equivalent to manufacturing it at a scale of thousands.

“If these big four technology advancements come together on the manufacturing floor there’ll soon be a time where you can rapidly prototype a product and manufacture it with the same efficiencies that we are seeing today at scale,” he told BusinessCloud at an event to discuss GP Bullhound's 10 technology predictions for 2018.

“With these advanced robotics you can introduce a completely new product to the manufacturing plant and have it built via the machines communicating with each other [with no human input].

“The manufacturers haven't traditionally been willing to invest into the technology that we've seen in the Valley. It’s one of the last industries that's been left behind – but it now makes sense for them to really dive in on this.

“The ROI (return on investment) they see clearly now, more than ever – and they’re ready to invest a lot of money into the manufacturing plants to increase efficiencies.”

The deadline for entries to GP Bullhound's annual Northern Tech Awards is on 23rd February. You can enter here.

Sherry Coutu CBE, Jacqui Ferguson and Melinda Matthews have joined the judging panel for the event on 22nd March in Edinburgh.

Finegold often drives past Tesla’s giant manufacturing plant in Fremont and says that is an indicator of where manufacturing is headed.

“It’s one of the most advanced on the planet,” he said. “They don’t use much labour, their robots are the latest technology and everything is new. That’s the future.”

GP Bullhound founder and managing partner Hugh Campbell predicted that manufacturing is set to shift from a push model to one that is led by demand and said Industry 4.0 does not mean blue collar workers will necessarily be out of work.

“Manufacturing and industrial groups, as a result of competition, are being forced to make these sort of investments [into technology],” he said.

“Tesla is now worth much more than Ford – and Ford have to react to that by making changes in their core business. If they don't become more efficient, they will lose their core proposition. 

“It will give these factories and workers another chance. Without this innovation, this change, there's really no future for old-style push manufacturing.

“Right now you could go to a car dealer to buy a black Volvo and find the dealer offering you a red one because they need to shift them. It’ll take three months to have a black one delivered.

“That's the problem with push-based manufacturing: people try and predict six or 12 months ahead of time how many black or red Volvos people will want to buy. 

“The future needs to be demand-led.”