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We recently hosted a roundtable discussion in conjunction with Insider, covering topics such as workplace culture, data, and the next Industrial Revolution.

Recent research suggests only one in four manufacturers have invested in Industry 4.0 technologies such as big data, cloud solutions and rapid additive manufacturing/3D printing. Many manufacturing businesses report concerns about the cost of investment.

This roundtable featured manufacturing businesses from several industries looking at the advent of Industry 4.0 and the impact of new technologies on higher productivity, increased speed of production and improved product quality.

The discussion also assessed the importance of workplace culture, keeping control of data and IP protection once big data analytics are used more widely.

Dorrien Peters, Partner and National Head of Manufacturing at Irwin Mitchell, said: “It is encouraging to hear how business is collectively grasping the nettle for a competitive advantage. Putting sensors on a machine is not expensive; the greater effort is in the skills and the cultural shift needed to implement Industry 4.0 beyond just operating a machine. It’s also the quantum leap of what you do with the data once you have collected it.”

Adam Carnell, Managing Director at Bluetree Group, said: “We are online web print specialists, and see ourselves as trying to disrupt the print industry and move it from craft to an almost industrialised process. The key thing for me if that we have a lot of data but no way of using it, so how do we take that to the next level and mine it for benefit?”

Professor Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), said: “Unfortunately we are now in a transitional phase where we have mixed demographics on the shop floor – 60% of engineers are over 50. We need to merge and blend new skillsets and transfer the knowledge of the younger and older people.”

David Wilson, Operations Manager at Inspired Pet Nutrition, said: “We were operating at 50% efficiency and have increased it to 75%. For us, it wasn’t just about putting sensors on pieces of kit, but understanding why. The bigger change was a cultural perspective – people understanding that downtime is an issue, and if it happens we have to implement corrective action.”

Laurence Gavin, Corporate Partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Something that will ultimately cost money but bring benefits is the connectivity and relationships. The disaggregation of capacity will bring with it an awful lot of complex new relationships, which people will have to invest in along with machinery and IT and systems. If you are relying on people outside of your company, unless you are in charge of that relationship or at least actively engaged in it, some of the other things you are invested in aren’t going to pay you back in the way that you expect.”

Vince Middleton, Chairman of Newburgh Precision Engineering, said: “We are not a high volume manufacturer, so it is low-volume, high-value, niche products. We are engaged with a servitisation project  with Innovate UK looking at how we can integrate sensors into machines to monitor performance. We are also writing software to almost interface machine tools to our maintenance to our machine tool suppliers so that we have cloud-based integration.”

Keith Jackson, founder of 8-Q Ltd, said: “If you think about the current measures on return on investment, they are pretty crude and if we are trying to predict ROI it is difficult. Given that Industry 4.0 is such a transformational change, we have to think about different metrics. How are we adding value by maybe improving capability?”

Simon Norris, Managing Director at Contract Production Ltd, said: “We are a contract manufacturer assembling electronic products. We were running machines that were 15 to 20 years old, so we have made an investment. We have just increased our capacity by 400% by investing in new capability. Customers said we had limitations. Now they said those have gone.”

Dr Roy Woodhead, Senior Lecturer in Digital Construction Innovation at Sheffield Hallam University and owner of IoT Transforms Ltd, said: “I would say Industry 4.0 has completely changed the business mindset. What I think is unfolding is an opportunity to build relationships.”

Dan Stephenson, Machinery Sales Manager at Pryor Marking Technology, said: “Traditionally we made tools and stamps for putting marking and serial numbers on a whole range of equipment. We now make the equipment for doing that. Automation is used to remove any chance of operator error and everything is recorded to a networked database so that all the data generated can then be interrogated. We know that automation is not right for everyone, but using a unique ID to track a part with simple software tools and a few handheld readers should be.”

Tom Martin, Managing Director at Eric Richmond, said: “We have been looking at putting a cloud- based material requirements planning (MRP) system into our business. How to justify that and go from systems that have depreciated way beyond their economic lives to something that is hundreds of thousands per month on a recurring revenue stream is a tough management challenge.”

Richard Halstead, Membership Director – North at EEF, said: “I always say I lived through the third industrial revolution. I joined Lucas in 1985. We had a typing pool and a telex facility. Look at offices today.

Everybody has a computer. To embrace Industry 4.0, we need to take that ageing workforce and complement it with youth and innovation. That will create challenges and tensions, so leadership is the key.”

(With thanks to Insider Media Limited).

Published: April 2018


Focus on Manufacturing - Edition 7

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