Change the dynamic to harness digital

01 March 2021

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s Chief Technology Officer, Professor Sam Turner, tells James Crossling how a new pilot involving the AMRC will help UK firms harness the potential of new digital technologies.

UK manufacturers faced unprecedented challenges during 2020. Across many sectors, accurate business forecasting and order books were ripped up and supply chains disrupted, exposing concerns over national resilience. Now, as a new year brings new energy, a huge number of manufacturers are looking at how to build more resilient supply chains, creating opportunities for domestic businesses.

“To remain competitive, productivity and agility are more important than ever,” said Sam. “The ability to move quickly, to bring new products to market and rapidly scale or repurpose production facilities and supply chains will give a competitive edge to businesses wishing to exploit new markets, with automation and resource efficiency a key to reducing lead times.
“Industrial digitalisation will play an important role in enabling improved agility, productivity and resilience. The Made Smarter Review identified that artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, advanced robotics and visualisation have the potential to drive manufacturing performance up by 30 per cent across UK industry, while digitalisation can improve factory productivity, accelerate the ability to bring new products to market and develop new business offerings.”

Sam says digital tools and technologies can also play an important role in resource efficiency and traceability of embodied carbon emissions.

A recent MakeUK report, Bouncing Back Smarter, found that 80 per cent of UK manufacturers now recognise that Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) will be a reality in their business within the next five years, but the UK is still falling behind its international peers, with UK investment lagging well behind key competitors.

“Many businesses struggle to understand the direct commercial benefits of bringing in new technology and will hesitate in the face of the perceived risks and barriers they could face such as cybersecurity and poor access to skills or trusted partners. Too often firms can feel that the business case just won’t stack up for them,” said Sam.

“To accelerate take-up of IDTs in UK businesses we need to change the dynamic. To make progress, that means starting with real industry problems and highlighting clear examples of how digital technologies can address them. Shared peer-to-peer use cases can be a powerful tool in shifting the perception of digital technologies but, crucially, firms also need a safe environment to explore and test the solutions that could be right for them.”

To tackle this, the HVM Catapult will host the Made Smarter Smart Factory Innovation Hub pilot scheme. The programme will offer 16 physical and virtual testbeds across the HVM Catapult’s UK-wide network to give firms of all sizes, from all manufacturing subsectors, an opportunity to reduce the risks of implementing new digital technologies within their business.

The AMRC’s Factory 2050 and Factory of the Future facilities, both on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire, will host the Legacy Systems testbed. Factory 2050 will also be the Connected Factory testbed while the AMRC will additionally lead the Cybersecurity for Manufacturing testbed.

Sam continued: “One of the trends seen in the industrial digitalisation space is how manufacturing expertise is increasingly embedded in the manufacturing systems. As this trend continues, manufacturing businesses may find it challenging to differentiate themselves and the skills of manufacturing engineering in the marketplace, resulting in a greater dependency on the solution providers.

“While the UK’s manufacturing technology sector has fallen into relative decline with a small share of the global and domestic market, the UK does have the largest tech community in Europe. There’s real potential to attract that community into the manufacturing sector alongside resilient manufacturing equipment providers, integrators and starts-ups.

“The disruption we’re seeing across the engineering world in electrification of transport, clean energy and digitalisation means that new products being brought to market will demand new manufacturing solutions. This provides an opportunity for UK manufacturing technology providers to enter the market, not with ‘me-too’ solutions,

but with solutions that build on the strengths of our tech and manufacturing sectors and that address new market opportunities.

“A barrier for some of these domestic manufacturing solution providers, particularly start-ups or those coming from outside of the sector, is the ability to test and iterate their solutions in safe industrial type environments before taking them to market. That is why we have joined forces with Made Smarter to host the Made Smarter Smart Factory Innovation Hub pilot.”

The hub will allow businesses to test quick-fire projects and early-stage technologies at one of its 16 testbeds - a safe, industry-like environment with expert support. For manufacturers, it will be an environment to test new integrated technologies and de-risk rapidly configurable projects. For technology providers, the hub is a chance to test, develop and showcase new technology solutions in a real industry setting.

“To encourage adoption, it’s clear that we need to make digital technologies easier for businesses to engage with and provide an environment where UK manufacturers can explore digital manufacturing solutions and undertake quick-fire innovation projects before moving to deploy solutions within their businesses,” said Sam.

“Technology providers will also have the opportunity to test, iterate and demonstrate their solutions. These environments will each have a sector or manufacturing process focus with a broad coverage of geographical locations. The hub will be ‘plug and play’ environments where a range of technologies can be evaluated by developers and users.

“Best of all, during the pilot phase, the Made Smarter Smart Factory Innovation Hub HVM Catapult service comes at no-cost for eligible companies thanks to funding from UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. We’re breaking down barriers to digital adoption so that in 2021, manufacturers can fill the order books they ripped up in 2020.”

Originally published in the 13th issue of the AMRC Journal. Read here:

For more information on the Made Smarter Smart Factory Innovation Hub pilot, go to page 34 of the journal.

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