Data is the new Oil – the Digital Impact on Manufacturing

| Information and Communication Technology

Andy Pye moderates debate on digital manufacturing

Andy Pye moderates a Digitising Manufacturing Conference panel discussion at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.

Last November, 16 experts in digital manufacturing sat round a table at the Digitising Manufacturing Conference at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry to discuss some of the key opportunities and threats. After moderating the panel, Environmental Engineering Editor, Andy Pye details some of the highlights of that discussion.

It soon became clear that the key issues concerning the panel were how to roll out digital manufacturing to the SME community,  what skills are needed to take advantage of the step-change in technology and (in a related issue) what effect is automation having on the current jobs market.

A list of the panel members referred to in the dialogue can be found at the foot of the article.

Andy Pye: What do we understand by digitisation?

David Bott: “Manufacturing is a physical thing. However, over the past decade, as computers have become more common and more powerful, we have created a parallel industry where people turn raw data into useful information. This has radically changed the business model. Often it is the new insurgent companies that have been more successful at navigating the change than the sitting tenants.

“When I started my career in the chemical industry chemical plants involved a lot of pipes and lots of people changing valves. Since then, computers have doubled in processing power every 18 months, and modelling rapidly became a real-time process. Then it got faster still, so you could predict in advance all the things that could happen in a chemical plant. In reality, this is running a computer game – a simulation – which models all the possible outcomes based on the control parameters. And so chemical plants are now managed by just two or three people sitting in a room with a coffee machine and the occasional person who goes out to maintain things.

“Now, there is no part of the manufacturing supply chain that cannot be affected by this change.  Everything can be monitored, controlled or logged digitally. It starts with a product specification stored and communicated as a digital file. A modern digital factory may only need management and maintenance – and even those are being taken over by artificial intelligence and robots.”

The impact on the SME community

Paul Walker: “While this is fine for larger companies, it represents a huge challenge for an SME. One of my key raw materials suppliers does not even possess a single computer! Delivery notes are handwritten; accounts are done in pen and ink in ledgers. It is so ‘dark ages’ it’s hard to comprehend. When I introduced mandatory labelling for my products, I had to send them barcodes to photocopy and place on their raw material. That’s how far behind some SMEs are in this country. There are hundreds of them who would listen to this discussion and shake their heads wondering what we are talking about.”

Chris Greenough: “Digitisation has been pushed through the large OEMs and First Tier companies and that hasn’t filtered down to the SMEs. Yet, this is where the biggest potential improvement is.”

Adam Payne: “As Chris says, it is easy to roll it out to the OEMs, they have the investment and teams. But it is the manufacturing SMEs that can make the biggest difference – they can get so much out of it – energy savings, remote monitoring. Therefore, we need to see a proper manufacturing policy, which involves everyone, so we all get to the same end goal.”

Justin Leonard: “With SMEs, we need to approach Industry 4.0 in small steps. For example, we can introduce smart products that can indicate how long they are going to last (say, warning 50%, 75% of the way through the lifetime). Users of these products don’t have a lights-out factory, and they are already using Industry 4.0 technology, they just don’t realise it.”

Paul O’Donnell: “I also agree with Justin. It is much easier for an SME to look at the technologies in a piecemeal way. An SME is not going to dedicate an Industry 4.0 change team and transfer processes overnight.”

Lena Huertas: “There is a group being formed called the Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Group, which has 20-30 industrial members. It is trying to bring together as many stakeholders as possible to outreach to the SME market. It is a key topic because 99% of our primary businesses are SMEs. The key thing is understanding where you are starting from and break down the journey into small steps, such as digitising CAD drawings.“

David Thomas and Alan Norbury: “There is a big responsibility for large companies like Siemens to work with our SME community. To answer Chris, here’s a good example – at Siemens, we engage with the supply chain to help our Congleton factory. One supplier used to come in and then replenish tote bins containing fasteners if they were empty. Now, they use a remotely-accessible weigh-scale and know whether or not they need to come in and replenish. What did it cost their business – nothing! The supply chain saves money and they own the stock, so everyone wins.”

Business risks

Andy Pye: Is it true that as far as risks are concerned, the financial side of the business is better catered for than the manufacturing side?

David Preece: “My concern is that while we rush to make a factory smart, we will not keep pace with the new risks to which a business opens itself up. If companies are still using the same IT systems that they were 10 years ago, they leave themselves open to intrusion.”

Andy Pye: “The cyber companies are beginning to be aware that there is a market on the manufacturing shop floor. Manufacturing computers are not always part of the system, not managed in the same way. It is easier to bring a mobile onto the shop floor, so there is a huge opportunity for providers of IT solutions, seeing new developments in security specific to machines, rather than for a business system or network.”

Andy Pye: With flow of data up and down a supply chain, who owns it?

David Preece: “This is a commercial issue, rather than one of security. Normally, the customer owns the data.”

David Bott: “We must not lump risk together in one basket. There have always been commercial risks in business. They are different to legal risks, such as data protection and cybersecurity. People who make the most money are the ones who get ahead of the curve.”

Alan Norbury:  We use the cloud-based Mindsphere to store data – the answer is that the customer owns it. We offer a service to help SMEs to optimise their machines – it needs specialist algorithms. We have a legal arrangement with the customer, so after many years we agree to delete the data if they want us to.”

Chris Greenhough: “I can see the benefit of that, but the potential legal issues haven’t been fully sorted out. We are diving Into Industry 4.0 before we have the management in place to handle it.”

Martin Strutt: “But we must accept that some commercial risks we will get wrong. It’s a change of culture and not just for small companies – take a risk, try something; if it doesn’t work, try something else.”

Job-eating automation

Andy Pye comment: In a Guardian piece called “The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces”, which does little to allay the fear of where society is finding itself in the impending Brexit/Trump world, George Monbiot includes the effects of automation. Monbiot says: “Automation will destroy jobs on an unprecedented scale, and because the penetration of information technology into every part of the economy is not a passing phase but an escalating trend, it is hard to see how this employment will be replaced. No government or major political party anywhere shows any sign of comprehending the scale of this issue.”

Adam Payne: “I believe we are on the cusp on one of the biggest issues we have jobwise. The number of people that will become unemployed just due to autonomous vehicles is phenomenal. While in Japan, there are restaurants that even have robots as waiters.”

David Bott: “This is true – if you look at record stores and bookshops, they are dead. There will be a lot of companies killed by the digitisation processes. It gives an opportunity to the people capable of embracing innovation and moving. But if you want to stay with handwritten ledgers, you will die.”

David Thomas: We need to address the problem of how we safeguard work. Where are our 400 people going to get jobs if we bring the robots in?”

Education and Training

Chris Greenhough: “We need to get into schools and teacher training colleges and train the people who are to fill the new jobs. Teachers now don’t know what manufacturing is, yet they are teaching it to the next generation.”

Chris Brown: “We are seeing progress in JCBs and WMG academy. But rapid rate of change is always going to be important.”

Alan Norbury: “It is vital to support colleges, because the national curriculum isn’t keeping up to speed with developments. Technology is changing at such a rate and we need to find a way of addressing that. Meanwhile, the disciplines of IT, gaming and engineering are merging.”

Olivia Kelly: “I came out of education recently and am just 20 years old. I learned CAD at college. I know that in five years 50% of traditional jobs will be gone. But there will be a new set of people who will have Industry 4.0 skills, brought up with IPads and IPhones. So when we come into an engineering business we expect to see digitisation, and not handwritten ledgers.

Panel Members:

Dr David Bott – Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), University of Warwick
Alan Norbury – Siemens industrial Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for Siemens UK & Ireland
David Thomas – Siemens Training and Development Manager
Olivia Kelly – Managing Director of the Siemens Junior Factory
Tim Jones – Recent Graduate and former MD of the Siemens Junior Factory
Dr Lena Huertas – MTC Head of Technology Strategy for Digital Manufacturing
Paul O’Donnell – MTC Head of Extermal Affairs  UK
David Preece – Associate, Business Law Solicitors FBC Manby Bowler
Laura Jones – Marketing Manager, Business Law Solicitors FBC Manby Bowler
Chris Brown – Business Development Manager, Made in the Midlands
Christopher Greenough – Salop Engineering and President of Shropshire Chamber of Commerce
Justin Leonard – Director, Igus
Adam Payne – Managing Director TCM UK
Martin Strutt – Consultancy Director, Engineering Employers Federation (EEF)
Paul Walker – Managing Director, Automotive Insulations

Latest posts by Andy Pye (see all)

About Andy Pye

Andy Pye is a graduate of Cambridge University and has had a high profile career in the technical press as well as being a pioneer in web publishing.

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