Mark Swift, Head of our SME Programmes and Robert Harrison Professor of Automation Systems, talk to New Manufacturing about the digital futures and the challenges posed by Industry 4.0.
WMG has always stood for championing innovation that will have a real-world impact in industry. When it comes to Industry 4.0 that mission is no different.
Since its establishment in 1980, WMG has sought to add value to industry through the development of innovative technologies and the fostering of new skills. A department of the University of Warwick, WMG has successfully brought an academic rigour to the tackling of real world industrial problems.
It should be no surprise therefore that WMG is leading research into many facets of Industry 4.0 practice. As an academic department, applied research group, and host of one of the UK's seven High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult Centres, WMG is instrumental in developing tools and methods to prepare industry for a digitised future. Projects vary from the wholly commercial, in which WMG is funded by a particular company; to matched funded (part government, part private sector) initiatives organised by bodies such as Innovate UK or the Advanced Propulsion Centre; to the research-orientated end of the spectrum where projects may be funded entirely through the national or European research councils.
We have all experienced first-hand how easy it is to perform a routine task rather than a new one. The repetition allows us to gain all the skills needed to accomplish it, and the opportunity to learn smarter ways to complete it. Looking for similarities and addressing them in the same way is a simple form of resource management. Companies could apply the same principle to increase productivity too, but they often miss the opportunity.
The Infrastructure industry is a good example. Infrastructure companies build the fundamental facilities and systems serving countries. They operate by projects, and for each one they have to perform a set of repetitive activities such as design, purchase of material, and construction. Each project is considered unique, and therefore these companies repeat the same each time to recreate supply chains or purchase a set of materials. Doing this can result in project overruns and low productivity. What these companies haven't recognised is that there is a simple underlying, repetitive level of demand within each project. Therefore, they should look for similarities and address them in the same way to save time and effort.
In conjunction with Costain Concentra we have explored ways in which the effectiveness and efficiency of infrastructure portfolios could be improved. The objectives were to identify the repetitive and predictable levels of demand in projects, and the development of tailored supply chain strategies.
Dementia is not an ordinary part of ageing. Dementia has now replaced ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of death in the UK and represents the growing problem linked to our ageing population. There are over 850,000 people with the condition in the UK alone. This means that more and more of us are affected by dementia either as someone with the condition or someone with friends or family with the condition. Although dementia is caused through specific physiological changes to the brain that are increasingly well understood, there is not yet a cure for the condition. This means that managing the condition and enabling people to live well with the symptoms is very important.
What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimers disease?
Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a variety of conditions. The four most common types of dementia are Alzheimers disease, Vascular, Lewy body and Frontotemporal dementia. There are also many other less prevalent types, as well as mixed dementias.
Recently I was invited to a roundtable discussion on the future of the smart factory. It was couched in terms of Industry 4.0 and majored on the disruptive nature of the changes facing companies in the manufacturing sector. I was asked to lead the discussion by talking about my experiences.
Throughout my career, I have observed that people like to talk about disruption and step-change, but I'm not sure they are as good as predicting them as they like to think. Big changes do happen but, in my experience, we only recognise them with hindsight. And often step change is code for a steep learning curve and a reason not to act. The main reason for predicting them I have seen seems to be that it tends to unlock large amounts of funding from people scared of the change!
Manufacturing is the word used to describe how we turn raw materials into products on a large scale. Given that most products are complex assemblies of components and sub-assemblies, most start-to-finish manufacturing processes comprise many companies in a supply chain, but it is, for the most part, a very physical activity.
Back in early May, the CBI held its annual conference at the University of Warwick. Alongside the plenary sessions, there were two workshop, one on digital skills and one on innovation. From what I saw, the innovation workshop ended up being mainly about the skills needed to be innovative, as many participants said they couldn't be innovative because they did not have the right skills in their organisation. There seemed to be an assumption that if only they could access those skills, life would be easier.
Skill is one of those words that has morphed its definition in recent times. The dictionary definition of the word is the ability to do something well. The important word seems to be the last one. But the focus of discontent seems to be on adding new skills to an organisation.
Every organisation must have some skills. They would not be able to start unless they had the skill of identifying a problem, the skill of envisaging a solution, the skill of raising money, the skill of assembling a workforce and so on. How well they apply these skills will determine how successful they are, but they do seem to have them at some basic level.
Not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up, and manufacturing probably isn't the expected career choice for most 15 year old girls; but in the 1980s Japanese manufacturing was at its pinnacle, and I was fascinated by it. Attending an "Insight into Engineering" course at Brunel University while I was in the sixth form only cemented my decision.
I was fortunate to be accepted onto a sponsored programme with ICI at 18, where a pre-university year allowed me to gain a basic grounding in engineering skills, plus the promise of summer placements in the future. Those of us on the programme started in the ICI workshops at the same time as the 16 year-old apprentices, and I remember that we were all given the same speech; even though we were taking different routes, our paths would cross in the future. This showed there wasn't just the one standard route for our careers, which I feel is really important to impress upon both young people and employers today.
After being accepted onto a four-year MEng in Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing and Management at The University of Birmingham, I continued to take summer placements with ICI. A year at Nanzan University, Japan, with two company internships, only further reinforced my conviction that manufacturing was for me, even though I was the only female engineer there.
It is 15 years since the release of the first Bridget Jones movie, and the famous "hello mummy" quote as Daniel Cleaver, played by Hugh Grant, discovered that Bridget, played by Rene Zellweger, was wearing absolutely enormous panties.
With that one scene Bridget and Daniel made it acceptable, even sexy, to wear support pants and talk about them. Today, the market for support pants, now more widely known as shapewear, has grown significantly. The UK-based retail chain Debenhams recorded a 75% increase in shapewear sales between 2009 and 2013, a trend which has continued. This growth has been led by an unprecedented level of innovation within the sector. Manufacturers have invested in the design, of shapewear, reducing the size, increasing the comfort and improving the style.
Sri Lanka is at the forefront of shapewear innovation, design and manufacture having invested heavily in R&D over recent years, leading to a successful market position. Manufacturers have worked hard to develop products that consumers want at affordable prices, and have built a strong supply chain around it. Through this investment new materials are being used including, patented technologies, such as silicone technology, which have transformed the industry. The supply chain involved in the production of a typical pair of shapewear pants covers 70,764 miles, 16 different manufacturing sites, across three continents, to provide a pair of pants to a customer in London.
Professor Irene Ng talks toThe Manufacturer about IOT and the future of making things.
The advent of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) has transformed our world into one of connected things and connected people. With data being collected and exchanged by both people and objects (communication devices, vehicles, smart buildings, hospitals, even our fridges), firms can harvest customer data in real-time as we move towards the Internet-of-Everything.
This means that a great many disparate companies are gaining access to personal data about the way we, as individuals, live. Although an unintended side effect of the digital economy, this can still be a positive development, as companies are better able to understand their customers and thus can create more relevant offerings. At the same time, it can also have negative connotations, with individuals becoming increasingly concerned about the security and confidentiality of their own data.
The faceoff between Apple and the FBI, over the unlocking of an iPhone used by one of the terrorists responsible for the December 2015 San Bernadino attack, has also highlighted the conflict between society's demands for protection from crime and terrorism against its need to retain some measure of personal privacy in our digital lives. With both the US and UK governments looking at new legislation that would require companies to provide greater access to customer information for the sake of national safety and security, this has given rise to an increasingly complex issue of possession, use, and disposition for personal data.
From a commercial viewpoint, batteries must get cheaper, lighter, having the ability to store more energy. From a consumer viewpoint, knowing that the battery is going to last for the length of their journey and what to do when their batteries go wrong. There is also the economic and safety standpoint to consider.
Overall, affordability falls into both viewpoints. We need to research technologies to make future electric vehicles both capable and affordable to a larger market. Tesla has demonstrated that at the top end of the market, it is possible to deliver vehicles with excellent range â€“ but with a price tag to match. Cars like the Nissan Leaf BMW and future Tesla Model 3 are lowering this barrier to entry, but are still at the high end of prices for vehicles in their category even after government incentives.
One question is whether we need electric vehicles with an extended range if charging is done conveniently overnight at home, with no need to visit a charging station then is a smaller range acceptable? We can liken this to the change in mobile phone batteries -when moving from GSM mobile phones with one-week battery life to smartphones which we mostly charge every night.
The sound a car makes is important. Read any review of a new car and you will find that the sound it makes (or doesn't make) invariably gets mentioned. We judge the engine speed (especially before tachometers became standard) by the pitch of the sound it makes. We can tell when it doesn't sound right and needs to be taken to a garage. For those of a more adventurous disposition, the sound of the exhaust note when the engine is working hard adds excitement to the experience of driving. Which is why it is also part of the way we identify the brand of the car. And it is as important from outside the car too. Despite the fact that we complain about the general level of pollution caused by road vehicles, we have also learned to judge the danger presented by a nearby car from the way we hear it is it near or far, is it accelerating or decelerating, what size is it, and so on? This latter appreciation of sound is one of the reasons legislation is on its way to ensure electric vehicles emit a certain level of sound. It is not that electric vehicles are silent. There is still the sound made by the interaction of the tyres and the road and the displacement of air as it moves, but at low speed these are not easily distinguished from other urban sounds and so pedestrians would have to use their eyes more to avoid collisions. We have adapted and use the sound we cannot really avoid made by the internal combustion engine as a warning signal.