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Manufacturers are spending as much on IT as on plant and equipment, a survey claims.

Traditional old economy companies ploughing funds into new technology to keep up with rivals made IT a joint top ranking spending priority for the first time in 12 years. This is according to a survey of 300 companies worldwide by US-based Bourton Group.

The shift in spending was especially noticable in the Midlands, it added.

One of the biggest areas of investment was in company extranets to enable B2B transactions. The Web was speeding up heavy industry operations such as ordering components and raw materials, James Bentley, Bourton MD, told the FT.

"One example is steel stock holding, where it sometimes used to take a series of calls to find a particular grade of metal.

"Now you can find 20 potential suppliers quickly on the Web," he said.

Other cyber advantages included engineers being able to monitor machinery problems remotely.

The report also suggested industry was optimistic about future trade - around a quarter of those surveyed said they expected hefty sales growth over the next year, with a fifth predicting a strong increase in profits. ®

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