Live coverage Future Factory: Automate UK

Posted on 25 Feb 2014 by The Manufacturer

Jane Gray blogs from #AutomatUK2014

9.40: Graeme Philp, CEO of Gambica opens TM’s AutomateUK event.

“This is a period of time when automation is becoming more important, not just to industry and those in the profession but to politicians and society.”

Dr Philp encourages delegates to make use of the networking sessions for sharing knowledge and responses to the presentations they see during the day.

9.50: Bob Lloyd of BARA (British Automation and Robot Association).

Mr Lloyd gives a picture of the relative level of investment in the UK compared to global competitors.

He also spends some time ‘myth busting’ the idea that automation causes jobs loss. He shows data which proves higher investment in automation in Germany and the US has in fact enhanced job creation.

Lloyd admits that robots are often not as flexible or capable as people for a specific task but clarifies that they will achieve a result consistently and reliably. “They will maintain quality,” he points out.

Also, “In this litigious age, a robot can work where people can’t,” adds Lloyd.

While showing case studies which highlight flexibility “within a boundary” and which demonstrate quick payback Lloyd comments “It’s hard to find these case studies in the UK.”

To highlight potential robot flexibility Lloyd picks on palletising robots which are now able to stack flexible pallet loads for supermarket customers in the food and drink industry.

“A robot is pretty much a commodity,” continues Lloyd. What makes a difference is the unique tooling it carries for you applications.

“Don’t think you application hasn’t ‘been done’” – that it can’t be automated, says Lloyd. “Someone will have taken a look at it.”

“Robotics and automation can bring a wide range of commercial benefits. They are faster and more intelligent today than ever before.”

Trust automation professionals, urges Lloyd. “They are very experienced and will be able to help you find the solutions you need.”

Regarding finance for automation investment Lloyd reveals that BARA is working with banks and finance houses today to “help UK PLC compete with Europe and the rest of the world.

Lloyd closed his presentation with a range of videos showing automation of barrel loading and processing at a whisky distillery.

“This automation solution, including conveyors and robots among other systems has revolutionised this business,” says Lloyd. “It was a craft business before.

“Companies large and small can invest in this technology,” Lloyd sums up.

10.10: TSB delegate asks if high proportion of UK SMEs might be a reason for low UK robot density.

Lloyd responds that smaller firms are often quicker to convince. “It is the mid-sized forms that are slowly beginning to realise they have significantly underinvested in this kind of technology,” Lloyd responds.

10.20: Neil Lewin from Festo talks about the people element in successful automation.

Mr Lewin explains Festo research which identifies different characters within the workforce and highlights their characteristics so that delegates can develop strategies to deal with them during automation programmes – and for the longer term.

Lewin says that, according to research just 16% of the UK workforce is currently classed as ‘engaged’ while 60% is disengaged and around 24% is actively disengaged.

Lewin shows a group of recordings which get a good response from the audience. Everyone can identify with the character types he shows as being commonly present in a manufacturing firm.

After each snippet he explains questioning techniques, motivational strategies and management approaches which respond intelligently to the different character types and their tendencies towards scepticism, feeling hard done by, undervalued or unaligned with company values.

Neil has written for TM in the past on this topic. See his Champion or Saboteur article here.

Some of the characters Neil represents are perhaps hard to palate – he talks about ‘thieves’ and ‘well poisoners’ in organisations. But reluctantly, delegates agreed they could identify parts of the character types in their own organisations – people who are looking for what they can take from the company including time and training.

10.40  Delegate question asks, if 60% of the UK workforce is disengaged – is it the workforce or the management which is causing this?

Lewin – it often comes down to poor communication strategies from management. “It means that when we come to apply new technologies and strategies people are not ready to move with the business.”

10.45 Brian Holliday, divisional director drives and controls at Siemens UK takes the stage.

Mr Holliday talks about Siemens awareness of global megatrends like urbanisation and population growth which are having an impact on society and on our requirements from infrastructure and manufacturing.

Holliday references discussion at TM’s Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinner last night. “There was a consensus that manufacturers are experiencing demand for customisation and individualisation,” he tells the Automate UK audience.

“But people are also commonly struggling to understand what this demand will mean for their business and manufacturing operations,” he continues.

Holliday identifies different drivers, motivations and barriers for investment in technologies which answer megatrend challenges in key markets.

In the US investment renaissance has been aided by low energy costs.

China is leapfrogging the West in its infrastructure investment to pre-emptively address the ways in which labour cost increases and other influences will change it manufacturing value proposition.

Germany is currently guided in its investment strategy by the Industry 4.0 programme.

In the UK there is a will to rebalance and the Foresight report can act as a guide to manufacturers says Holliday.

Returning to Industry 4.0 Holliday explores some of the requirements for this vision of industrial competitiveness.

He references his recent attendance at the Royal Academy of Engineering event which saw Professor Kagermann, a leading German industrialist, speak about the origins and aims of the Industry 4.0 programme in Germany.

Holliday talks about the challenges Kagermann acknowledged at that event and notes the highly social focus of the project.

“In Germany it is impossible to make changes in a factory without getting it past the unions,” he says. So Industry 4.0 has improved living standards and and wor/life balance for employees at its heart as well as enabling greater efficiency, reduced time to market and enhanced flexibility in production.

Holliday highlights the importance of industrialised IT in realising Industry 4.0-type automation.

Summarising UK opportunities for progress with Industry 4.0 style competitiveness Holliday praises the virtues and the Catapult centres and in particular the Manufacturing Technology Centre for its work developing intelligent systems, industrial communications systems and embedded technologies in production equipment.

“The UK has pockets of excellence for integrated technology,” he says.

But in order to compete with leading industrial nations around the world Holliday urges manufacturers to “start today” in developing the people and skills they will need to embrace new technology and think innovatively about creating competitive differentiation through its application.

11.20 Andy Sellers from the Technology Strategy Board asks if he can highlight a current £4.5m fund to support manufacturers in developing in built intelligence in their processes.

Justin Ogleby from Eastman restarts AutomateUK after first coffee break.
 11.50: Justin Ogleby from Eastman restarts the conference following coffee.

He talks about the drivers which pushed Eastman onto the control systems project which has reaped benefits for the company.

“We need to be able to evolve as the market evolves to deliver constant, sustainable value,” he explains.

Highlighting the importance of addressing skills and workforce development alongside automation needs Ogleby refers to research which shows 75% of maintenance call outs are to address process deviation not tool or equipment failure.

“There has been a lot of talk about networking today,” says Ogleby. “We needed to integrate all our systems to create an open networking systems,” he continues.

Addressing the cost of investment for this automation project Ogleby says “Cost is a four letter word and I don’t like it. It’s about the return you get.”

One of the biggest influences on Eastman’s competitiveness is the cost of energy and Ogleby says investment in its new fully integrated, real time data capture control system is helping the company manage energy efficiency.

He also says it helps with environmental compliance and is having a strong influence on maintenance and operations strategies. The intelligence it gives decision makers allows better allocation of resources and assets Ogleby says.

He also says the system has helped reduced the amount of money Eastman has tied up in spare parts inventory because diagnostics give a much more accurate expectation of maintenance needs.

Social and mobile technologies are slowly integrating into industrial technologies says Ogleby.

He says this is important because social and mobile technologies can help to “embed your workforce” with automation investment.

Ogleby emphasizes that people are “the glue that ties automation and technology together”.

Rachel Trombetta, GE, at Automate UK

12.15 Rachel Trombetta, CIO within GE’s energy storage, renewable energy division takes the stage.

Ms Trombetta works in one of GE’s most automated plants.

She explains the automation and data exploitation strategy at the company to date.

Trombetta shares how partnership with GE Intelligent Systems and the implementation of a new intelligent MES system has helped take 25% off the plant’s costs.

With the plant capturing tens of thousands of data points per second, Trombetta says that “2013 will be all about learning from our data”.

She is partnering again with GE Intelligent Systems and with a new division GE Software to embark on a big data project which will help the company use its data more effectively.

12.35 Delegate question thanks Trombetta for a “fascinating” insight into her factory and asks if there are plans to build similar capability elsewhere around the globe.

Trombetta responds that due to rising demand for battery cells millions more will be needed and that an announcement regarding investment for increased capacity should be expected in the next few weeks.

She says this investment will not be in the US and will be based on a diagnosis of the best overall location following assessment of a combination of competitive characteristics in a range of countries.