The UK is a global leader in manufacturing. With an industrial heritage second to none the sector currently has an employer base that spans almost 90 000 organizations and there is a major drive to implement leading edge technologies as part of the global megatrend that is Industry 4.0. As recognized by the UK Government, the relevance of adopting and implementing such technologies is of long term strategic importance. This short article will provide a snapshot of some of the great things currently happening in the UK in this regard.
Government Policy - the Made Smarter Review
The UK Government commissioned the 'Made Smarter' review with the aim of industry providing recommendations to ensure that the UK will be a world leader in the 4th industrial revolution by 2030. Professor Juergen Maier, the CEO of Siemens UK led this with an aim to set out how UK manufacturing can be transformed through the adoption of Industrial Digital Technology. The review brings together a series of recommendations that include the views of over 200 organisations from industry and academia. These include:
- The building of a national digital ecosystem and 'physical spaces' where SMEs can experiment with new technologies
- The creation of 12 digital innovation hubs where startups can work in collaboration with universities and established companies
- The review also calls for the establishment of a Made Smarter UK Commission to ensure a long term commitment to the digitalization of the manufacturing sector.
Highlighting the development of a digital ecosystem is an important point to single out. From research carried out by Accenture and Oxford Economics, the UK is already the second most advanced digital nation in the world. This initiative would seek to expand that capability within the manufacturing sector. In addition, and in the context of Industry 4.0, use of the term 'ecosystem' is significant as it is widely accepted that successful implementation of IIoT requires a strong and capable support ecosystem.
Interestingly, the UK already has a network of centers designed to support the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and Made Smarter looks to expand this model even further.
At the publication of the review it was stated that these recommendations would be fundamental in influencing future UK Government policy in this area. The Made Smarter Review can be downloaded here.
High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres
The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult consists of 7 Technology and Innovation centres who work with companies to bridge the gap between technology concept and commercialization. With a mix of funding equally from Government, Business R&D contracts and Competitively won R&D projects the centres give companies access to expertise and equipment that may otherwise be unavailable or financially out-of-reach. They are designed to be the catalyst for future manufacturing growth in the UK and with over 2 000 employees supporting industry HVM have already supported 3 387 private sector clients of which 1 383 were SMEs. I believe the HVM centres provide an extremely valuable service to UK industry and this will only expand on the back of Made Smarter. However, there has to be an increased focus on working with SMEs to develop the necessary ecosystem to support a strong UK IIoT capability going forward.
In particular, I work closely with the Manufacturing Technology Centre and can see on a daily basis the focus placed on Industry 4.0 and collaboration with industrial partners.
Further information about HVM Catapult can be found at hvm.catapult.org.uk/
IIoT platforms for large organisations
The 2 dominant platforms being provided in the UK by industrial companies come from GE Digital and Siemens. Both are global giants and both are very active in this market. GE Digital's Predix and Siemens Mindsphere are both cloud based systems used to connect products, machines and plants. Both are open to connecting proprietary and non-proprietary equipment and provide advanced data analytics. A recent GE Digital Foundry event I attended in London was hosted by President & CEO of GE UK & Ireland Mark Elborne - a clear indication of how important the organization sees digital transformation in the future.
In addition to the platforms being offered, every major organization I come across is pushing an Industry 4.0 initiative. Jaguar Land-Rover, Rolls-Royce, and Unipart are all traditional, well known companies currently embracing digital technologies to transform their businesses. The key point here is that we have moved on from the major consulting companies predicting potential benefits into a phase of assessment, implementation and use by a wide range of businesses.
The role of SMEs & Startups
Large companies can't do everything. As mentioned previously, the development of a strong digital ecosystem will be fundamental in creating a world leading IIoT capability. This is where the role of SMEs and Startup companies will be essential and where exciting development can happen at a rapid pace. Indeed, large companies are actively looking to engage with small technology companies to identify new areas where they don't have capability. This is a new way of working. Magna International had a great approach to this when they hosted the 'Enabling Innovation Showcase' at the last Advanced Engineering UK trade show. 50 Startups & SMEs participated on a single stand in an effort demonstrate new technologies and solutions.
Unilever Foundry is another example of collaboration to promote innovation. Within specific application areas they have invited small companies to help solve problems and get exposure to the 400+ brands under the Unilever umbrella. There are various other similar examples in manufacturing as well as utilities and other sectors.
Startups are of particular interest to me and pointFASE is one small company looking to make an impact in this space. It is a company with easy to use drag & drop automation software to rapidly digitize and automate manufacturing environments. However, they are also developed an analytics platform to view data insights on the cloud for whatever the application focus is. Be it historical trends, live performance monitoring or predictive analytics, the pointFASE VLEPO platform is looking to fill a particular gap in the market. It may benefit the company to focus on one particular application, however, the technology can certainly make a difference and this is one startup looking to disrupt a fastly evolving market.
Industry 4.0 Exhibitions
As discussed above, the Advanced Engineering show is a great exhibition of capability and innovation with a dedicated area for Connected Factories and returns to the NEC on 31st October. A small selection of other notable events are:
The ever growing number of IIoT focused exhibitions is another indication of the market growing rapidly and the technology and expertise on display is very impressive.
The UK has an abundance of innovative companies working on Industry 4.0 technologies to provide IIoT implementation and success. With a foundation of world-leading Universities (not even discussed here) to industrial giants, the capability is growing by the day. Supporting this is an IIoT supply chain of Startups and SMEs all eager to make a mark in the sector. It is an exciting time to be involved in manufacturing, and based on my recent exposure to the industry, the foreseeable future will only get brighter.
This article was written by Brian Reilly, a tech entrepreneur, Co-Founder of pointFASE and a Consultant specializing in digital transformation for small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies. His company pointFASE is a UK based startup developing low-cost drag and drop automation software to help rapidly introduce the benefits of a connected factory.
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