Robin Hartley and Chris Iveson are on a mission to provide Industry 4.0 productivity gains to every CNC machine in every job shop factory in the UK. Tall order? The Manufacturer caught up with the founders of tech spinout FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics to find out about the launch of their plug-and-play MachineLink.
The Holy Grail of the digitally connected factory, which lies at the heart of the government’s flagship Made Smarter programme, remains as elusive as ever for the majority of manufacturers. Despite several high profile launches, a fanfare of publicity and a former Siemens CEO at the helm, small and medium sized firms across the country have been reluctant to come on board.
“It’s not that UK manufacturers have seen the future, folded their arms up and declared that they don’t want to improve productivity by extracting value from machine data,” says Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow Robin Hartley. “Quite the opposite. They all want to improve productivity, but what they are being offered is not what they want or what will get them there. Made Smarter and Industry 4.0 start out with tech solutions – artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality – and then go looking for industrial problems to solve.
Robin Harley and Chris Iveson, founders of tech spinout FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics.
“We’ve turned that approach on its head and spent time listening to manufacturers and understanding their problems before developing a fit-for-purpose solution that is appropriate, affordable and accessible to any manufacturer of any size.”
As a result, even before this month’s launch of FourJaw’s MachineLink– a fag packet sized box of tricks that simply plugs into shop floor machines and extracts, curates and decodes machine data securely in the cloud – firms across the UK, from Sheppey to Sheffield, have been trailblazing the smart software that lies at the heart of FourJaw’s innovative tech.
In the case of Durham-Duplex this has led to a five-fold productivity boost in a key part of its operations. “We have gone a long way with our own innovations, but there are times when you realise you need fresh thinking to spur you on to the next level,” says Charles Turner, Managing Director of Sheffield-based Edward Turner and Son, which owns the group of companies that manufacture machines, knives and industrial blades under the Durham-Duplex brand in the UK and overseas.
The connectivity of power unlocks the power of connectivity. Image courtesy of the AMRC.
“We fitted FourJaw’s system to two of our CNC grinding machines,” says Charles, who is also Chair of Made in Sheffield and the 245-year-old Sheffield Assay Office. “It immediately showed us that while we weren’t getting bad machine utilisation rates, we could be better.” He explains how a hand-held tablet displays data from the machines that shows “when we are setting up, when the machine is warming up, when it is running on a product, when its resting and when it’s dressing. By running through each of these processes you realise you can refine the dressing process by halving the dwell time, and all the way through you are able to save time and improve productivity on the machine.
“Once our operators had seen the benefit they were very quick to adopt better ways of working using the data displayed on the FourJaw tablets. And here’s the rub, in the CNC cell we have doubled the number of operatives because of the efficiencies we have been able to make. So we are employing more people in the cell, producing more product and the cost per unit of the product has gone down. That’s a big win.”
In the milling cell, FourJaw data revealed that machine utilisation was significantly lower. “We suspected this but everyone appeared so busy,” says Charles. “The beauty of this data is that it makes it easy to identify and eliminate pinch points. By removing these bottlenecks on one grinding process we boosted productivity from five to 25 products a day.
Providing our people with the facts on the shop floor empowers them to address the productivity issue themselves. You can see the mental process as they interpret the data to develop better ways of planning the work. It’s not the boss telling them what to do, it’s a measure that has come off the machine which enables us to ask ourselves whether our machines are maximising returns all the way through.
“We knew about Industry 4.0 before we met Chris and Robin. But to be frank, it seemed mostly academic buzz words and marketing spin from expensive majors. FourJaw has stripped through that by working with people like us to understand the real world of the shop floor rather than solutions invented by academia. I am a Sheffield manufacturer and I am not going to spend my money on something that doesn’t work. If it doesn’t make a difference to my productivity and profitability I am not interested. Plug the Fourjaw system in and you will get direct, recognisable benefits today rather than pie in the sky promises.”
This is a view shared by Ed Stevenson at SFC Capital, one of the group of Venture Capital investors who backed FourJaw in its first funding round, valuing the embryonic start-up at £2m. When the six-figure funding was announced last month, Ed said: “Much of UK manufacturing is tired with the hype surrounding Industry 4.0. But FourJaw has created a data-driven, productivity booster that is simple to install, easy to use and affordable to run. It is a technology right for its time, driving a manufacturing renaissance for post-Brexit and post- COVID Britain where productivity and competitiveness will be essential.”
While both Chris and Robin have an enviable engineering pedigree – both worked in the machining labs at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) – the last six months have been an exhilarating and sometimes exhausting ride. Both the founders quickly realised that they would have to distil and simplify the research upon which the FourJaw platform was based. So why now?
“Our plug-and- play system could not have been developed five years ago. The advent of cloud computing and big reductions in the cost of high performance hardware are changing the game, providing the tools for a productivity boosting tech that we are able to exploit to the full,” says Chris.
Without this happy synergy of changes to software and hardware, speaking to machines in their native language is a major challenge, because each different control type has a slightly different way of doing it. Some machine tool manufacturers make their own controls, but even they have multiple communication protocols. Other firms, like DMG Mori, don’t make their own controls so manufacturers have to buy in from Siemens or Fanuc. That’s before overcoming the wider problems of whether the factory floor has good networking, whether the machines are plugged into the network and whether they need an ethernet cable run or need an IP address.
View from the shop floor
To leapfrog these challenges, FourJaw enlisted the support of another young Sheffield business with a similarly impressive pedigree. The Curve is a self-described elite group of software engineers who had previously designed, built and run the UK’s most successful global telematics platform from the ground up. With Chris and Robin they helped create the MachineLink; a device packed with lots of IoT cleverness that elegantly bypasses the need to talk to controllers in their native tongues. The MachineLink powers the FourJaw web application, which provides manufacturers with a consistent view of shop floor operations.
Robin, FourJaw’s Chief Technology Officer, adds: “We have always said the heart of our business is combining manufacturing challenges with focused tech solutions. Paul and James, who set up The Curve, have both done global scale IoT data analysis and presented it on a web app successfully, so the great thing for us is that they know our challenges before we know them and the technologies that will solve them. So it is a very powerful collaboration.” The two firms now share the same office space near Kelham Island, an historic manufacturing district of Sheffield.
“One of our key principles is to give the machining production manager a single, uniform view of the shop floor, regardless of the make, type or age of the machine from which the data has been extracted. The very first step we take when data comes into our system is to abstract its source, to provide a standardised view of when each machine is machining, how long it is machining for, what the cycle times are and the gaps between,” says Robin.
It is this universal language that caught the eye of Alex Harding, CEO of Cajero, a Kent-based high value-added manufacturer whose OEM customer base reads like a Who’s Who of the aerospace, defence and space sectors around the world. “Our ideal is to enable our customers to be more brilliant. We’d been looking at Industry 4.0 but ran into a number of hurdles. First, it has to be the machine tool builder’s software, if they even have it. Second, there is the cost aspect of it. And third, we don’t just have one machine type here. So the universality, accessibility and price of FourJaw’s technology sparked our interest.”
But it was more than this: “FourJaw just cuts through all the bull. Visibility and access to data is a big part of taking our business from where we are now to where we need to be, not just for our own performance but for our customers. We have set out a goal to become an Industry 4.0 smart factory within five years, having data help drive decisions across multiple machines, and we feel that FourJaw supports our ambition. It’s accessible, and we like the idea of plug-and-play.
“We also like the fact that these are two young engineers who are forging a path ahead, striving to make a difference. The entrepreneurial spirit of what they are doing inspires me. To work with tech partners like this will help make us more remarkable: we can help each other. It will help us create a better working environment for our people to work; a smarter environment; a more productive environment that gives our customers and us all more security for the long-term.”
Clip network and connect
FourJaw’s MachineLink enables manufacturers to connect their CNC machines to a productivity boosting machine monitoring platform in a matter of minutes. All it needs is power, wifi and access to two power cables that feed the machine. At only £179.99, the MachineLink costs little more than a few End Mills. The manufacturer then has a choice of software subscriptions starting with a completely free offering, called FourJaw Lite. Machine Link has none of the installation hassle of traditional machine monitoring platforms.
No more visits to the factory to undertake disruptive and time- consuming on-premise installations. No more high up-front costs, resulting in a long return on investment. Instead, immediate access to secure, business critical data on a tablet that enables operatives and managers to ‘see’ for the first time the machine utilisation on the shop floor. MachineLink is designed to be inexpensive and easy to install, resulting in rapid ROI and continuous productivity gains, empowering firms to better compete on the global stage.
More information www.fourjaw.com
Images courtesy of FourJaw and the AMRC