‘Digital twin helps us to reduce costs by over 50%’

Posted on 20 Oct 2017 by Jonny Williamson

Martin Leeming, CEO of packaging manufacturer TrakRap, speaks about why a digital twin is essential for his company and how to discover more contemporary ways of financing assets.

During his time at Asda, Leeming led a major change programme to lower the cost of goods.

Leeming is a retail professional who joined the business after working for Asda for 15 years, holding director roles in buying and supply chain.

During his time at Asda he led a major change programme to lower the cost of goods from source to shelf, including the development of Retail Ready Packaging and effective supply strategies.

At TrakRap, Leeming has led the development of an energy efficient alternative to shrink wrapping which has delivered energy savings more than 90% for companies including Dale Farm and EM Pharma. Requiring no capital expenditure, the TrakRap solution works on a cost-per-case agreement which includes ongoing technical support.

The Manufacturer recently spoke with him about how to offset the traditional low-cost labour approach, the impact of data on TCO models and, of course, his expectations around The Manufacturer Leaders Conference in Liverpool – 15-16 November.

How would you describe the current state of UK manufacturing?

It is definitely on the up – we have a buoyant economy and a weak pound now, which is helping, but the reality is that there are massive productivity gaps which have to be closed.

And we can only achieve this by adopting new technologies – something which UK manufacturers have traditionally been reluctant, and slow, to do. Manufacturing is in our blood and we’re good at it, but we could do better.

The pace of technological change is increasing; a massive change is going on which we have to talk about in terms of digitisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and this is putting pressure on existing manufacturing assets.

Some manufacturers believe these new technologies are beyond their reach because of the cost of investing in new equipment. This view is based on an outdated idea that machinery and equipment must be purchased outright.

How a cardboard box is made at Kite Packaging.In reality, the savings generated by these new technologies are often enough to pay for the new assets and deliver substantial operational cost savings to boot.

New asset finance models have now emerged which allow manufacturers to lease equipment on a ‘cost per use’ basis, without any upfront capital expenditure.

These models can also underpin a whole new way of working between machinery manufacturers and operators that leads to enhanced performance and productivity.

What areas of the business are you currently seeing significant success in?

We are a machine manufacturer. We work across a number of industries but we are currently enjoying significant success in the food industry.

The supermarkets are demanding lower prices from suppliers, but we can’t go on squeezing the pips in the same way we have done before – we need new ways of doing things in order to revolutionise the cost base and ensure we remain competitive in terms of productivity.

Martin Leeming will be a keynote speaker at The Manufacturer Leaders Conference in Liverpool in November. 

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We are seeing particular success in the fresh and ambient grocery sectors at the moment, where people are looking to adopt new technology in order to improve on-shelf presentation and drive down costs through improved productivity.

Another area which is growing is co-packing. We are working with DHL as they have a vested interest in bringing new packaging technologies on stream to offset the traditional low-cost labour approach. And obviously, with the future looking less certain, in terms of being able to attract low cost labour into the country, those developments are going to be very important.

What excites you most about the future of manufacturing?

What gets me excited is the exploitation of simulation – digital twins, the Internet of Things and so on – and the fact that mass customisation is becoming more achievable.

I think this is what is going to excite all manufacturers going forward and I honestly don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be a manufacturer or an engineer, especially for young people just starting out. Think computer games, instead of machinery, shifts and scheduling!

Are you excited about speaking at the Leaders Conference?

I am excited about it! As well as manufacturing, I am passionate about the UK – it has always been great at three things: inventing stuff, making stuff, and fighting. I’m no good at fighting, so I get excited about making and inventing stuff.

What will the audience learn from your discussion?

As machine developers, we are one step ahead of the manufacturing industry because we are already working on the next level of machinery that they are going to be utilizing in future.

With this in mind, I’d like to demonstrate to the audience that SME’s can play a major role in industry 4.0. I will be unveiling the fourth generation of the TrakRap machine, demonstrating how it aligns with Industry 4.0, and showcasing the materials and energy savings that it’s already delivering for several big brands in the UK.

What are you hoping to learn from the two-day-event?

With so many new ways of working in manufacturing, I want to make sure that we are aligned with the way people are thinking, and hopefully influencing it as well.

I am always up for learning and listening. Networking with a wide range of manufacturing leaders is a great way to do it. I’m particularly interested in anything which shows me how to accelerate the uptake of new ways of working to drive productivity.

How automated is your business in which areas and why?

We emphasise that we are the machine maker making the machines which are going into the factories, and the machines we build are fully automated. We work very closely with Siemens to deliver cutting-edge machines that are digital, delivering everything from low level automation to full automation.

As manufacturers, we like to think we concentrate on the bigger issues and how automation can contribute to them. In terms of making packaging machines, this means the ability to build in flexibility, both in terms of packaging speed and pack sizes, as this is vital for mass customisation.

Could you provide me with some concrete figures?

We don’t cut metal on a machine until we’ve built its digital twin, which is vitally important to the physical machine’s ongoing success.

It allows us to simulate and test the machine, so we can inspect every component until we are happy with it, and only then do we cut any metal. This enables us to reduce the development costs of our next generation of machines by well over 50%.

When did you implement the technology of the digital twin?

Our digital twin is coming out now. We recently won a grant from Innovate UK as leaders of a consortium to develop the next generation of packaging machinery for the aerosol industry, so we’re currently working with Siemens, DHL, the manufacturing technology centre in Coventry, which is where we are building our digital twin, and the University of Bradford.

Together, we have the skills to build a digital twin that can be tried, tested and refined before we cut any metal. We can also simulate the environment or factory that the physical twin will work in and even virtually commission it.

But the digital twin is not finished there – it will then sit in the Internet of Things, continually monitoring the physical machine and any variance to optimum performance will be flagged, enabling us to take preventative action.

How important is data to your business today and do you think that change will going to move forward?

Incredibly important. Every aspect of our machines generate data, as all our assets have Simatic Drives which are web-server enabled, allowing us to put a huge amount of data up into the Internet of Things.

A digital twin is a computerised version of a physical asset, data from sensors in the real world can be inputted in to the twin to create simulations - image courtesy of APS
Digital twin – Image courtesy of APS

This is vital for improving efficiency on preventative maintenance and lowest cost of ownership going forward.

Data really is transformative for manufacturers. In the past, you had to raise the question first and then work hard to collect the data in order to answer it.

Now, you can collect all the data and then when you have a question to ask, you simply access the right set of data and answer it. Continual monitoring through the digital twin is now a reality.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges data driven manufacturing presents?

In the short-term, mindsets and skills to deal with the new technology. Some manufacturers will need retraining and others will need to become more open-minded in terms of incorporating and embracing this new technology.

This is a big challenge that calls for a whole new relationship between machinery suppliers and operators, with the suppliers taking on a much more active “partnership” in ensuring optimum machine performance, right through it’s life.

What market demands are encouraging you to become more proactive towards data or connectivity?

Our mission statement is to be the lowest cost, most environmentally friendly packaging solution available – that drives everything we do and the way we do it.

Thanks to new data and connectivity opportunities, the laws have been rewritten in terms of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

If you think about the supermarket industry – which I work in – it has access to massive amounts of customer data, meaning, it knows exactly what the customer wants. It now has to adapt to ensure that the right products are reaching the right people at the right time in the right stores, in the most efficient way. Big data opens up a whole new route to achieve this.

Overall, a big driver for us is to make improvements to overall efficiency, help reduce levels of stock holding and reduce supply chain costs