ATI Guest Blog: Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Leadership

Professor Sam Turner HVM Catapult CTO

Professor Sam Turner, CTO at HVM Catapult

Britain was the birthplace of the first industrial revolution, led the second (technological – industrial revolution), and was an early adopter of the third (automation driven –  industrial revolution).

The country now needs to establish its position in the fourth industrial revolution (industry 4.0), which is driven by digital data, connectivity and cyber systems and which creates impressive, often unimaginable business opportunities for those who are innovative and agile. The UK has all the ingredients to exploit the fourth industrial revolution.

World class research and academia, a strong tech sector that could couple with manufacturing expertise, ongoing success in sectors such as aerospace and automotive, high levels of entrepreneurship and the hugely successful High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult translational R&D mechanism has enabled the UK to adopt technology quickly and in volume.  Digital engineering and manufacturing could deliver a double-digit productivity improvement by 2035, generating a predicted additional £91.6 billion to the UK economy and creating over 300,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.

Major industry stakeholders in the UK have come together in the ‘Digital 4 Industry’ (D4I) group to consider the threats and opportunities digital technologies present to the engineering and manufacturing sector. The HVM Catapult – the go-to -place for advanced manufacturing technology in the UK – is at the core of the group, helping it to articulate guidance on how to make the UK the best place for the exploitation of such technologies.

Since its initiation, the D4I group has focused on key areas – such as research, technology demonstrators, skills, cyber security and business transformation programmes – that enable the effective adoption of digital technologies, processes and business models by UK Industry to drive productivity, competitive separation and economic growth.

It is encouraging that the UK government also understands the importance of Digital Manufacturing, as illustrated by the current Industrial Digitalisation Review undertaken by Siemens’ CEO Juergen Maier on behalf of Government. We work closely with the review to ensure our findings are taken into consideration.

There is a lot at stake. We know we could significantly increase our productivity by increasing the uptake of automation and robotics. The adoption of these technologies across value chains would not only boost productivity for the companies and sectors involved, but for the entire UK economy. Using digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, sensor technologies and automation makes companies more agile and better equipped to respond to, or even act ahead of, changing consumer demands, supplier conditions and technology availability. And in today’s world, agile makes competitive.

It’s not just about business improvement. Digital technologies can enable business model transformation, such as servitisation and manufacturing-on-demand. These models increase the value for the customer and the profit margin for the company.

As part of our role to help industry bridge the gap between innovation and commercial application, the HVM Catapult offers capabilities that are at the heart of digital manufacturing, including Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology, Digital Manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing and Intelligent Automation and Robotics. Our seven centres across the country offer companies of all sizes open access to industrial scale equipment, leading expertise, and an environment of collaboration between industry, academia and Government. Examples of our facilities and projects include:

  • Factory 2050 – the UK’s first fully reconfigurable R&D factory floor, based near our AMRC centre in Sheffield – features the most advanced automated and reconfigurable assembly technologies. It currently operates a big initiative integrating manufacturing technologies in the construction industry. In the near future, we may see buildings being assembled on site from manufactured components, we may see 3D printed concrete pieces and the use of VR in the design stage of any construction project.
  • The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) worked with a British energy company on ‘Factories in a Box’; mini, self-contained factories built inside a standard shipping container. They can be deployed when and where they are needed. The factory might be used on a site for a specific period of time, to meet a specific need, and can then be packed up and shipped elsewhere.
  • Rolls-Royce has produced the largest ever civil aero engine component using 3D printing, working with the new National Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the MTC. The component –  the front bearing for a Trent XWB-97 engine – is made from titanium, measures about the size of a tractor tyre and contains 48 aerofoil-shaped vane components, which were also made by additive manufacturing.

Similar examples can be found in all seven centres.

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