Unlocking the full potential of manufacturing’s digital revolution
Autonomous robots, internet of things (IoT), augmented reality, additive manufacturing and big data are just some of the Industry 4.0 technologies that are transforming manufacturing around the world.
The integration of digital and physical systems that began with computers and basic automation is evolving into responsive and intelligent machine learning. With minimal human intervention, processes on the factory floor can be streamlined and activities through entire supply chains adjusted in real time to cope with any disruption.
Smart sensors in machinery can capture performance and send alerts when components need fixing. In logistics, there have already been successful roll-outs of products that can help reduce vehicular down-time, maximise capacity and potentially cut emissions by reducing unnecessary journeys.
A digitisation challenge
With so much on offer it’s not just a case of prioritising, as Tom Hennessy, Chief Executive of Opportunity Peterborough, the economic development company owned by Peterborough City Council, explains, “Industry 4.0 technologies promise a lot – greater efficiency, higher-quality goods and reduced costs. For manufacturers in particular where so many processes can, and are being, automated, this is a huge catalyst for change and competition.
“This is a whole new way of working that’s encouraging manufacturers to look at their entire operating systems. Some manufacturers have already made great headway but it’s still an emerging area. People are aware of the components that make up ‘Industry 4.0’, but we need to look at how all of these channels and systems can work together in the most effective way whilst causing minimal disruption to productivity as they’re rolled out.”
To provide manufacturers with practical support to digitise, Opportunity Peterborough recently joined GrowIn 4.0, a European project (partly funded under the European Union Interreg North Sea Region Programme), that aims to help SME manufacturers across the East of England adopt these new technologies to their full potential.
The project is centred around change management toolkits developed by Anglia Ruskin University and TWI in collaboration with international partners that encompass awareness and readiness, benefits identification, ROI analysis and ROSF Assessments.
“While the toolkits and consultations can give manufacturers practical guides for adopting the technology, we want to use this revolution to address broader economic challenges around skills development and sustainability so we can really optimise growth across the manufacturing sector.”
Engagement through one to one consultations is supplemented with workshops featuring additional input from experts such as the Institute for Manufacturing, Innovate UK and Peterborough’s circular economy team to tackle broader obstacles for SMEs around cost effective solutions and sustainable growth.
The robots are coming
The rise of robotics and automation has made manufacturing one of Peterborough’s, and the UK’s, most productive sectors. At the same time though, ONS data shows a decline in manufacturing jobs, but, as Tom explains, this isn’t the result of a sector wide jobs cull
“It simply isn’t the case that once smart technology like autonomous robots come in that the human workforce is ejected – lower value work might be automated and digitised, but this frees up a business’ workforce to take on higher value tasks, often for higher pay.
“There’s also been a shift in line with the broader economy around contract working. Within ONS data, agency staff are counted in the ‘business and administration’ sector, rather than under the sector of the business paying for their expertise and time. There’s been a lot of debate about the gig economy but for many people that work in areas like manufacturing, and even teaching, contract work can sometimes pay better, and offer a preferable working pattern to permanent employment with one company.
“There’s a lot of nuance to this discussion, and it’s one we should certainly be having given the rapid changes across industry, and even society, as we become a much more digitally driven. While there is a need to tailor support for sector-specific challenges, we can’t always look at things in isolation – there needs to be an understanding of the economic context, how other industries are affected and what support we need to prioritise.”
The shift towards Industry 4.0 has seen greater demand for interpersonal and analytical skills from employers. A recent study conducted by Education and Employers 1 has proven a link between higher levels of business engagement with careers activities in schools and improved GCSE results for students.
“The jobs market has completely moved on from where it was 10 years ago. Businesses need to think long-term about talent attraction beyond sixth-form.
They can take time now to upskill their existing workforce, but if they want to develop their pipeline and get higher quality candidates through the door, they really need to engage with younger students.
“It’s all about bridging the gap between business needs and student aspirations. If we want to see talent stay in the area then we need to inspire them with what will be available so they’re work ready, regardless of whether they’re taking on a vocational apprenticeship or pursuing a more traditional, academic path.”
Growth at any cost?
As manufacturers review their entire operations to adopt and evolve these technologies, there is a unique opportunity to build in sustainable practices that cut costs, make resources last longer, find new uses for waste, protects the environment and secures business longevity.
The concept that’s helping businesses achieve all of these goals is “circular economy” which aims to move people away from a ‘take, make dispose’ model to a closed loop system with no waste, where resources are used to their full potential.
It covers the entire business process and goes much further than recycling – this encompasses redesigning products so they can be taken apart for repair or remanufacturing more easily, down to whole new uses for waste streams, such as turning waste coffee grounds into bio-fuel. Even underutilised resources are taken into consideration, such as opening up empty meeting spaces for use by others, to diverting waste like unwanted office furniture from landfill by listing it on sharing platforms.
“We’re extremely proud of what’s been achieved in Peterborough with our circular economy initiative and we want to share what we’ve learnt here with the surrounding areas and to learn from other businesses what they’ve found works practically” adds Tom.
“Circular economy is a brilliant way to find collaborative opportunities across sectors, and evaluate processes so resource efficiency is maximised, waste is minimised and given new purpose, and whole life costs of products are driven down. This increases competitiveness, resilience, productivity, and profitability, as well as promoting sustainable growth and minimising the negative impacts of the economy on the environment.”
The GrowIn project will run until July 2020 across the Eastern region to give free support to SME manufacturers as they consider adoption of 4.0 technologies.
Ongoing engagement will consist of workshops organised by Opportunity Peterborough, the first four being held in July 2019 across the Greater Peterborough area, to discuss the challenges, opportunities and support available around Industry 4.0, with additional regions to follow at later dates. In-depth consultations will also be available with Anglia Ruskin University to optimise tech adoption through the toolkits. All participation is free of charge.
To find out more about the GrowIn 4.0 project and the toolkits available, visit:
For details of upcoming workshops please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Motivated to Achieve: How Encounters with the World of Work can Change Attitudes and Improve Academic Achievement Education and Employers, June 2019. www.educationandemployers.org/research/motivated-to-achieve/?utm_source=Taskforce+Research+Mail&utm_campaign=f07577dcaf-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_11_10_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2a7dc8d67d-f07577dcaf-169524613