The Manufacturer talks to Rab Scott about the role of the AMRC in preaching the digitalisation gospel to the UK’s SMEs.
The recently released Made Smarter report produced by the Industrial Digitalisation Review paid tribute to the High Value Manufacturing Catapults as the highlight of an otherwise frequently muddled, scattershot manufacturing support system offered by government.
In an interview last November with The Manufacturer, Siemens CEO Juergen Maier, who led the Review, said even the Catapults needed to reform their programmes in order to drive more benefit to where it is most needed – the SME community.
Nick Peters put this to Rab Scott, director of AMRC.
Rab Scott: I agree with what Juergen’s saying: we’ve got all the bits of the jigsaw, they’re just not providing the full picture yet.
We have a role to connect digital to manufacturing – which is part of the AMRC’s Digital Meets Manufacturing Campaign – because the digital community doesn’t know what the manufacturing community wants, and the manufacturing community doesn’t understand what the digital community can offer.
So, it’s about educating both those parts of the ecosystem. We can show SMEs PowerPoint presentations until the cows come home, but can they go and touch it, see it, really relate to where they are now, which in some cases is Industry 2.0 and in some cases, Industry 3.0?
It’s about giving them the visibility of the art of the possible. And that’s really what the PTC programme at Factory 2050 is all about, emphasising you can start on this transformational journey at low cost. It doesn’t have to be a full implementation of a full software suite. You can just do it piecemeal.
And that’s where partnership comes in, because one of the big drivers around Industry 4.0 is not about ripping everything out. It’s looking at how can you connect things to allow you to make better decisions based on your existing infrastructure.
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When I was touring Factory 2050, there was a Colchester lathe and Bridgeport mill, and it was absolutely wonderful to see them there. They’re all ‘sensored up’, beautifully illustrating that even if you’ve just old kit in your workshop, you can still make it Industry 4.0 compliant, or compatible, for just a few hundred quid for the sensors and software.
That is one of the biggest messages we want to get out there, and people smile when they see it.
We told the CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Dick Elsy, that this was our latest acquisition, provided by MTA, and that we’re taking it to MACH 2018 in April to show SMEs that this is the future – he went white! But this is where the future starts for so many SMEs. People relate to it.
There’s no point in showing them a disconnected future. Show them how it starts with what they’ve got now, and then how the sensor system and digital architecture can enable them to get to that future vision.
Let’s talk about AMRC. Is it true you are setting up AMRC branches in different areas across the Pennines and into the North West?
Yes, we have set AMRC up in the Preston area next to BAE Systems at Salmesbury. That was actually identified within the Science and Innovation Audits report that came out last year. We’re also opening one in North Wales next to the Airbus Facility of Broughton.
How does that fit within your remit, given that there are other members of the HVM Catapult? I’m guessing you feel you’ve got the freedom to do this, but where’s the coordination? How does it fit with everybody else?
Those centres will be part of the AMRC, so there will be a direct coordination through the AMRC. But all of this is really exemplifying the benefit of the connected ecosystem. You don’t have to be co-located to collaborate and work together. We’ve actually been invited to those places through the partnerships that we’ve developed.
If you look around, you will see other parts of the HVMC have outreach activity. So, the MTC is working very closely with Liverpool John Moores University around LCR4.0 (Liverpool City Region 4.0). The nuclear AMRC has got a satellite operation over in Birkenhead working with Cammell Laird.
So, an awful lot of this is about providing support to UK manufacturing, where the support is needed.
I have heard grumbles that the AMRC, MTC, all of you, rely on funding that comes from big client manufacturers. That has, according to some people, skewed your attention away from SMEs. Is there any validity in that argument?
I don’t really think so. You look at our members’ board and obviously the big names jump out at you, but we work with SMEs as much as we do the big players.
In fact, an awful lot of the work that we do is potentially for the Rolls-Royces, the Airbuses of this world, but it’s actually done in their supply chain. So, there’s no particular horizontal, there’s no vertical that we actually are focusing on.
We will support UK manufacturing where UK manufacturing needs our support. Over 90% of manufacturing takes place in SMEs, and that is why the HVMC and the AMRC are working with SMEs to enable, to educate, to raise their awareness and their capabilities. It is absolutely key to the whole message.
Will you in any way change your outreach mechanisms or channels to take on board what Juergen Maier was saying in Made Smarter? Is there anything that you are actually going to change about the way you operate?
I think that we are really going to start working more and more as engagement centres, and build up local networks, because if you look at his digital innovation hub model with hubs and spokes, we are in a perfect position to act as those hubs. We’re independent and we’re neutral, and we’ve got reach.
It’s about reaching down into the academic base where the invention takes place. It’s about reaching out into the supply chain where they need the innovation, to de-risk that invention-to-innovation phase, to show people the art of the possible.
So, are we going to do anything differently? Possibly not – maybe we’re just going to tell more people about what we do.