Digitisation – What you need to know

Updated on Monday 15 April 2019, 7:32 AM

15 Minute Read

Tanya Weaver attended a two-day Digitalising Manufacturing conference at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), which focused on how digitalisation can transform UK manufacturing. Here she summarises the event’s key themes and takeaways

Terms such as Industrial Internet of Things, digital twin, artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing are becoming more than overhyped buzzwords. As the Digitalising Manufacturing conference proved, we are seeing manufacturers either having already implemented digital technologies in their factories and workplaces or are on the journey to.

Now in its fourth year, the conference, which is organised by the MTC in Coventry and features seminars, workshops, panel discussions, demonstrators and various networking opportunities, aims to provide businesses with practical knowledge, information and support as they take their first steps towards this Fourth Industrial Revolution or, what has become known as, Industry 4.0.

With this year’s theme being ‘Grasping the opportunity’, Day one focused on policy, international collaboration and skills whilst Day Two centered around the practicalities of driving forward digitalisation in business.

At last year’s conference, Prof. Juergen Maier, chief executive at Siemens plc, launched the Made Smarter, a government-commissioned review on industrial digitalisation in the UK that aims to support the transformation of manufacturing across sectors with digital technologies such as robotics, connectivity, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing. One year on, he was back to chair the conference and provide an update on how the programme is progressing.

Whilst progress has been made in that Made Smarter has moved from a review to becoming an implementation and an adoption programme has already started, which is called the National Adoption Programme and is currently being piloted in the North West, work still needs to be done in the crucial area of skills and particularly upskilling of existing staff. “We are working very hard on this within Made Smarter but I would say that all of us as manufacturers have a responsibility to be training our people to at least better understand what is possible through digital technologies in our manufacturing operations,” says Maier.

Rather fortuitously on the day of the conference, Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivered his third budget and within it the government promised investment of up to £121 million for the Made Smarter programme. As Maier says, this will all be going towards developing digital innovation hubs and demonstrators to allow SMEs to engage on some of the key digital technology areas.


Collaboration is key

Next on stage was Marcus Burton, director at Yamazaki Mazak and vice president of the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) as well as a member of the Made Smarter leadership team, who provided an international industry perspective and discussed the challenges that need to be addressed to accelerate our journey toward digital manufacturing. His personal recommendations include: collaboration from the technology providers such as Siemens, Yamazaki Mazak, Renishaw, DMG MORI and others to provide solutions and standardisations; catapults and digital hubs need to demonstrate the application integration of technologies usable by SMEs; the skills shortage has to be addressed; and any new funding should be used to support SMEs in the adoption of digital technologies. “Many SMEs are under huge pressure because they don’t have the spare resources or separate departments to start looking at what the impact of digitalisation will be on their businesses, so they need advice and support on how to develop those strategies,” says Burton.

There were a couple of international panel debates throughout the day. The first focused on ‘Progress in Digital Manufacturing – International collaboration and learning’ with representatives from Germany, Mexico, Japan, UK, Italy and France. Amongst the various discussions, Maier was keen to hear from Ennio Chiatante, head of digital transformation at Comau, an Italian industrial automation company, about Italy’s investment in machine tools, which has led to an increase in productivity, following an Industry 4.0 incentive that was set up in the country a couple of years ago.

“Yes, this investment in technology has shown up very nicely on a graph but it will not give the boost to industry and to the SMEs that really want to get results out of it,” says Chiatante. “However, there is a second part to the incentive, which is aimed at supporting SMEs and that is the setting up of competency centres. Here, companies like Comau, can work with SMEs, which are the real backbone of industry in Europe and especially Italy. It’s a win-win situation where we can transfer our technologies and know-how to the SMEs and learn what the requirements are and continue developing technologies for specific applications.”


Addressing the skills gap

Whilst collaboration was a recurring theme during the conference so were skills and the issue of upskilling existing staff. During his talk, Christian Warden, head of skills development at the MTC’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre (AMTC), said 96,300 engineers need to be upskilled in the next three to five years just to replace those who are leaving the industry. However, for the UK to remain globally competitive that amount will be closer to one million.

“We need to start putting people first rather than investing in technology first. When we do that, individuals will feel empowered and productivity will undoubtedly improve and when that improves it will improve local and global competitiveness. That, in turn, will then directly correlate to bottom-line benefits and will give a genuine business impact that is measurable,” says Warden. He went on to introduce some of the courses available at the MTC to help upskill staff such as additive manufacturing, intelligent automation and advanced CNC activity.

Skills were debated again during the second panel discussion, which saw representatives from Germany, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Mexico and the UK, providing an outlook on the impact digital manufacturing is currently having and will have on individuals and society. The perspectives were diverse; on one hand we had Stephen Phipson, chief executive of EEF, an employers’ organisation in the UK working with manufacturing, engineering and technology-based businesses, describing how the UK government plans to boost skills through the recently announced national retraining scheme and, on the other, we had Switzerland, which is built on small family-owned manufacturing SMEs like the watchmakers who consider it their own social responsibility to innovate and invest in new technologies and would never consider approaching the Swiss government for funding.

As Day One drew to a close, Maier provided a few final remarks on the importance of industry driving forward the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “We are increasingly building great ecosystems to collaborate in and so my leaving comment to all of you is to get onboard and also help others who are not already onboard to do so. All those companies in your supply chains, engage with them and encourage them to get onboard and really grow this movement and this optimism that we have for the future of our sector.”


Making digital manufacturing a reality

Whilst Day One was more about leading change and the long term approach, Day Two focused on the practicalities of making digital manufacturing a reality. As Day Two’s chair, Dr. Steven Barr, managing director of Edge Digital, said in his opening address, “Unless we can convince SMEs in particular that there is value to be had we are going to be stuck in the mud and the huge benefits from investing in digital technologies won’t come through as quickly.”

With many businesses asking where to start on their digital journey and what to do now, the keynote speaker Dr. Carlos Lopez-Gomez, head of Policy Links, IfMEducation and Consultancy Services (IfMECS) at the University of Cambridge, spoke about the practical impact of digital manufacturing. Having published a recent report that reveals the evidence-based findings on the potential benefits that can be derived from the adoption of digital technologies, delegates learned that the areas where most companies focus their application of digital technologies are not necessarily the ones that are adding the most value. The takeaway from this keynote was that it’s really important to have a strategy to ensure that businesses derive the most value from implementing digital technologies.

To help businesses derive this value and address the challenges of making digital manufacturing a reality, the day consisted of a number of industrial presentations and workshops around asset utilisation; quality; new business models; flexibility and digital manufacturing; as well as labour and human-centered environments.

In the Asset utilisation presentation, Iain Crosley, managing director of Hosokawa Micron, a global supplier of process equipment and systems for the powder and bulk processing industry, discussed how the company is utilising a data-driven manufacturing solution – Hosokawa Gen4 – in its contract manufacturing business. “Within our contract manufacturing facility there are a lot of process changes, different condition changes, issues around availability and efficiency of processes and quality. Having applied smart factory initiatives has led to a few key results. One of which is growth – in 2013 our contract manufacturing capacity was 65%, in 2017 that grew by 34% and by 2020 we will have doubled capacity but without increasing the asset number so it’s all down to process efficiency, process improvements and scheduling and logistics,” explains Crosley.

In the quality presentation, Desi Bacheva, customer validation lead at HiETA, a product development and production company specialised in the use of AM, reveals the challenges and opportunities in the AM process and the lessons learnt from HiETA’s own experiences of developing heat exchangers.

In the new business models presentation, Peter Corby, relationship manager at the MTC, introduced a new business model for manufacturing called Factory in a Box (FIAB). Working with industry, the FIAB concept is a rapidly deployable, remotely managed, modular manufacturing supply chain network enabled by industrial digital technologies. “With FIAB our aim is to give industry a rapid route to market, faster return on investment in manufacturing innovation and new business models for supply chain. We are in the final six months of this three year project and in March 2019 we will be launching the FIAB demonstrator at the MTC,” describes Corby.

In the flexibility and digital manufacturing presentation, Kostantinos Efthymiou, AR&T technical architect at Meggitt, an international aerospace, defense and energy engineering group, revealed a collaborative project that it has been working on for the past three years that uses digital technologies to create a factory with flexible production lines.  Called M4 Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing, the aim is that it will lead to cost reduction, increase in digital traceability and operations visibility, increase product and operations flexibility, and the upskilling of factory operators. Key to this project is the intelligent flexible workbench known as the Closed Loop Adaptive Assembly Workbench (CLAAWII). An industrialised version of CLAAWII will feature in Meggitt PLC’s new manufacturing super-site at Ansty Park in Coventry, which is due to become operational toward the end of 2019.

In the labour and human-centered work environments presentation, Martin Dury, learning design manager at the MTC’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre (AMTC), discussed the skills gap in emerging technologies, particularly AM. To address the current shortage of skills in AM, the AMTC has been developing new AM apprenticeship programmes that cover the whole range of competencies necessary in an end-to-end AM production environment. In September 2018, AMTC started the first AM Level 3 apprenticeship programme.

With regards to the upskilling of existing staff, Dury went on to explain that the AMTC has a number of courses available that are delivered in numerous ways. “Obviously here at our facility in Coventry, but also in a smaller condensed format of virtual classrooms, where you still get that rich conversation with our experts but from your own workspace. There is also an e-learning module where you can manage your own self study in and around your work load,” he explains.

Of the various themes and topics raised over the two-day Digitalising Manufacturing conference the one that was mostly hotly debated was skills. As Dr. Lina Huertas, chief technologist of Technology Strategy at the MTC, said in the conference’s final session, “The word ‘skills’ has come up time and again in the presentations and panel discussions. It’s all about people. We need to turn fear into opportunity and really empower people to drive this digital manufacturing revolution.”

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