A digital manufacturing revolution

Posted on 18 Oct 2016 by Jonny Williamson

The Manufacturer and Atos recently hosted their second annual roundtable event, bringing together leaders from across industry to discuss how the UK can better embrace digital manufacturing technologies.

On October 5, senior decision-makers were invited to the Atos Business Technology and Innovative Centre (BTIC) in London for an exclusive opportunity to meet and debate the latest digital manufacturing trends impacting the sector.

Atos & The Manufacturer Directive on Digital Transformation: Manufacturing Report
Download a copy of the first edition of the Directive on Digital Transformation: Manufacturing report, here.

Building off a successful inaugural event in 2015, the event provided attendees with a platform to input into the second edition of the Directive on Digital Transformation: Manufacturing report.

Following a brief introduction from Jonny Williamson – editor of themanufacturer.com, attendees welcomed the first of two special guest speakers, Keith Jackson – chief technology officer (CTO) for global aerospace, defence and energy engineering group, Meggitt.

Digital manufacturing in action

Jackson explored the Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing (M4) project, a three-year research initiative which combines existing and future technologies in the hopes of creating intelligent, responsive environments, revolutionising component assembly and operators’ working conditions.

The project came about because many of the products manufactured by Meggitt play a critical role, they absolutely cannot fail over potentially considerable lifetimes. Such components have incredibly high touch-times, a factor which could tempt production to be offshored to a lower labour cost country.

Recognising this, Jackson explained that Meggitt had embarked on an exploration of how digital processes and technologies could improve its productivity and, importantly, mitigate the argument for offshoring.

Cross Section of the CLAAW Workbench
A cross-section of the CLAAW workbench.

An initial step towards Meggitt’s ultimate vision is its intelligent workbench, known as the Closed Loop Adaptive Assembly Workbench (CLAAW).

According to Jackson, CLAAW’s smart features and innovative technologies blend together control systems, operator guidance and tracking (i.e. data collection); however, he warned that, “data is useless, it’s information that is valuable, so don’t just gather data for data’s sake.”

Analysis paralysis

He continued, “Data can’t just generate insight and help drive better decision-making, it needs to be cleaned and qualified to not only ensure that it has been measured accurately and entered correctly, but the metric being measured is absolutely the right area to analyse.”

With the backbone of manufacturing increasingly focused on data, communication and connectivity, Jackson stressed the need for real computer scientists, those who truly understand data and analytics, who want to have a career in manufacturing and understand the problem areas.

stock market big data analytics stock image
Jackson stressed the need for real computer scientists, those who truly understand data and analytics.

“For now, the old adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ still holds true, so ensure that you plan and solve real problems, don’t just collect and hope,” Jackson concluded. “Try to avoid the hype, beware of those who claim to possess magic solutions, and look to engage with real experts.”

Interactive engagement

Attendees then split into groups and were invited to debate four key areas of digital transformation, focusing on real world examples and how manufacturers are dealing with the challenges that this digital and Industry 4.0 agenda presents.

This year’s topics were all based on the core directives of the initial Directive on Digital Transformation: Manufacturing report: Servitization & Industry 4.0; Business Transformation; the Impact on People & Culture, and Data Security, Trust & Compliance.

A variety of discussions were covered in these breakout sessions, from how Industry 4.0 should be seen as a warning bell as to the ways digital technologies could disrupt an organisation, to how digital technologies have now plateaued to a more mature price-point which should drive wide scale adoption.

The differing viewpoints and personal perspectives of the attendees sparked lively debate and provided a truly unique insight into the current mindset of UK manufacturers as they embark on their own digital transformation journeys.

Bloodhound SSC is essentially a missile with wheels and a steering wheel — image courtesy of Bloodhound.

Delegates reconvened for a pulse-racing presentation from the event’s second special guest speaker, Conor La Grue – business strategy and forensics lead at Bloodhound SuperSonic Car (SSC).

Full speed ahead

Bloodhound SSC is essentially a missile with wheels and a steering wheel, fusing a blend of design and engineering principles from aerospace and automotive all in the name of breaking the current world land speed record and exceeding 1,000mph.

However, the world record attempt isn’t the key deliverable of the project according to La Grue. The core objective is to help the next generation of designers, engineers, makers and scientists engage with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) – aiming to replicate what the Apollo 11 mission achieved in the 1960s.

To date, more than 6,000 UK schools use Bloodhound technical content in lessons, supported by 1,000 Bloodhound ambassadors who visit schools around the country, with over 25,000 K’NEX Air Rocket Cars built and raced since the project began and 2 million children partaking in Bloodhound activities.

“This generation is arguably the first generation who can truly be anything they want to be,” La Grue explained. “However, to help them realise the vast array of opportunities out there, Bloodhound replaces pervasive high-definition fakery with high-definition reality.”

BLOODHOUND microbit rocket car
To date, more than 6,000 UK schools use Bloodhound technical content in lessons, supported by 1,000 Bloodhound ambassadors who visit schools around the country – image courtesy of Bloodhound.

Bloodhound isn’t destined to just be the fastest moving land vehicle, it will also become the world’s fastest moving laboratory, as well as the world’s fastest broadcast trailer – live streaming a huge amount of data during its slow speed ‘shakedown’ test and both the world record attempt timed runs.

Reflecting the dual-aim of the project, this data won’t just be vital to help the team better understand Bloodhound, but to inspire others, particularly school children, explained La Grue.

Learning and engagement

With Bloodhound SSC aptly representing the convergence of Britain’s industrial heritage combined with modern innovation and digital technologies, the event was drawn to a close by Mark Ingleby – Atos’ senior vice president for sales and marketing UK & Ireland.

With the UK recently re-entering the world’s top ten largest manufacturing nations, Ingleby discussed how learning and engagement were absolutely vital in order for Britain to maintain its place on the global industrial stage.

The output from the event – the second edition of the Directive on Digital Transformation: Manufacturing – will be available shortly.

If you would like to pre-register to receive a copy of the report, please contact [email protected]

The challenges being faced by manufacturing and engineering companies run parallel to those being experienced by other markets – such as legal, retail and financial, especially in relation to business transformation and customer service excellence.

As such, establishing effective methods of cross-sector knowledge and technology-transfer, disseminating best practice and exploiting horizontal innovation are essential, Ingleby stressed.