Digital technologies & manufacturing leadership

Now is the time for the UK to decides its position on Industry 4.0, that of a leader or a follower. Professor Dr Phill Cartwright, CTO at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, explains why.

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.

phill-7-200x309This fourth industrial revolution, or ‘industry 4.0’ creates impressive new and sometimes unimaginable business opportunities for those who are innovative and agile. Which is why pro-active thinking on the part of individual entrepreneurs and businesses, but also on the part of industry and government, is essential.We now need to decide what position we
take in the fourth industrial revolution, which is driven by digital data, connectivity and cyber systems.

It’s incredibly promising and exciting that major industry stakeholders in the UK have come together in the Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Leadership Group to consider the threats and opportunities digital technologies present to the engineering and manufacturing sector.

The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult heavily supports the group, helping it to articulate guidance on how to make the UK the best place for the exploitation of such technologies.

To date, the group has made three key recommendations to UK government

  • Conduct focused research into application of digital technology for the greatest economic benefit;
  • Build demonstrator projects around the country and focusing on different sectors and applications in order to showcase the possibilities and benefits to a wide section of UK business and industry;
  • Establish a bespoke SME outreach programme to help SMEs overcome specific barriers to the update of relevant and appropriate digital technologies and applications in their businesses.

In addition, the group recognises the need for a comprehensive framework of industry standards to govern the use of digital data, the application of digital technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and the deployment of automation and robotics in a wider range of settings.

And of course we will only be able to successfully roll out all these recommendations if we have sufficient talented people with the right types and levels of skills to do so. Ensuring digital skills are developed in this country underpins the entire programme.

Already, the group has plans in place to take forward its six priority focus areas: business models; standards; cybersecurity; research; implementation, and skills.

There is a lot at stake. We know we could significantly increase our productivity – which is currently much lower that of many of our peer countries – by increasing the uptake of automation and robotics, for example. 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 the quick pace 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. For example: manufacturing on demand, i.e. producing goods when, where and how the customer wants them.

More localised production reduces ‘maker miles’, so customer knows the goods they buy have not had to travel far, therefore cutting out much of the cost and environmental impact. Make to order products can be personalised to customer specifications, increasing the value for the customer and the profit margin for the company.

The Leadership Group has already made a strong start, launching its Digital Network+ initiative at the EPSRC Research Council, with all relevant universities working together. At our HVM Catapult centres relevant projects are already well underway.

Factory 2050 at the AMRC in Rotherham, for example, is the UK’s first fully reconfigurable R&D factory floor, featuring the most advanced automated and reconfigurable assembly technologies.

Among the first projects is a big initiative integrating technologies used in manufacturing, such as 3D printing and virtual reality, and apply them 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 worked with a British energy company developing hydrogen-based energy sources for refrigeration and power, on the ‘Factory in a Box’. These mini, self-contained factories are built inside a standard shipping container and can be deployed when and where they are needed.

The factory might be used in a particular site for a specific period of time to meet a specific need and can then be packed up and shipped elsewhere. Similar examples can be found in all seven centres. The opportunities from digital technologies are limitless.

Professor Dr Phill Cartwright is speaking at The Manufacturer’s Annual Leaders Conference

Nov 2 – 3, The NEC

This year, the nation’s biggest manufacturing-led event focuses on Industry 4.0 – the technology-driven digitisation of manufacturing processes, from design and engineer, to manufacture and service.

On day one of the conference, Cartwright will demystify Industry 4.0 with a discussion on the opportunities arising from more digital manufacturing and the the challenges which need to be addressed.

TMALC 2016 sets the stage to answer all of UK manufacturing’s questions regarding this fundamental shift to the industrial landscape, with experts from across industry providing analysis and commentary on the biggest wave of disruptive innovation since the dawn of robots more than half a century ago.

Visit www.tmalc.com to book your place.

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