As part of The Manufacturer’s annual event programme and Digital Manufacturing Week showcase, the Smart Factory Expo has firmly established itself as one of Europe’s largest digital manufacturing shows. For the past four years, the Smart Factory Expo has drawn digitally savvy manufacturers to Liverpool to explore the latest ideas and technology developments, and connected manufacturers with partners to help develop their own digital ecosystems.
This year, it was fantastic to see a wide range of suppliers offering the tools and techniques necessary for the successful implementation of Smart Manufacturing. On offer were solutions in robotics and automation, VR and AR, Internet of things including sensors and communication networks, lots of 3D printing solutions, AI and Machine Learning (ML), and importantly cybersecurity solutions.
It was also interesting to see traditional digital manufacturing solutions from Online Accounting, CAD/CAM and ERP solution providers; very important tools for the first steps in productivity improvement.
3 Key Takeaways
My main takeaways naturally gravitated towards 3 keywords that I believe can be a mirror of the industry and that can play a relevant role in understanding where Smart Manufacturing is going and what the next trends will be.
The first thing that hit me compared with last year is that Smart Manufacturing has moved from R&D to the early adopter stage but is still not yet in the mainstream. Albeit, there are great case studies emerging of prototype deployment and some success in productionising 3D printing, I believe that in order to be competitive, the UK needs to adopt these technologies more quickly. This is a challenging area that we are trying to help manufacturers solve.
The second thing is that you don’t have to automate your factory with robots or replace all your machine tools with 3D printers to get early benefits from Smart Manufacturing. There is low hanging fruit to be had. Rather than look at Capital Intensive solutions, manufacturers need to look at Intellectually Intensive solutions. The leading offering in this space is the application of Machine Learning (ML), which can have a short-term impact on your productivity and business offering at a relatively low cost.
Consider my example below:
Significant R.O.I and payback
T-DAB have been working with a packaging manufacturer to reduce the downtime of their production lines caused by material tearing. The ML algorithms have learnt how to predict when events happen so corrective action can take place to prevent waste and the downtime.
The cost of implementing the ML is a small fraction of the significant costs saving that will be made by removing the tears and much lower than any Capitally Intensive investment. And the implementation time – months not years.
Cost effective-time optimised ML solutions can positively impact a business without the requirement of six figures or 6 years, and we’re enjoying guiding manufacturers on this journey.
My final observation – I was only at the Expo on Day One and even though it was well attended it was not heaving as it should have been. In countries like China, Germany or the USA there would have been queues at the door and much greater engagement from across the industry.
A level of urgency with the UK manufacturing sector is required. Those in the sector need to embrace innovation and explore the advantages of new technologies, an area which other industries are already benefitting from.
Through our work with the sector, we’ve defined a Machine Learning Transformation Framework to minimise the risk in this exploration and encourage those willing to champion the benefits of data and machine learning to explore it.