Manufacturing and Engineering Week: Keynotes and key thoughts

Posted on 13 Jun 2023 by Joe Bush

The Manufacturer editorial team look back on the amazing showcase of UK industry at the NEC in Birmingham.

As the curtain falls on Manufacturing and Engineering Week 2023 we have taken the opportunity to reflect on what was an incredible and vibrant exhibition at the Birmingham NEC. The week saw Smart Factory Expo, Maintec, Design & Engineering Expo and the Drives & Controls come together for a festival of industrial innovation.

The NEC also played host to the two-day Manufacturing Digitalisation Summit and the SME Growth Summit. Now in its second year, Manufacturing Digitalisation Summit brought together the UK’s most senior digital-minded manufacturers and provided an opportunity for industry leaders to come together to discuss how digital technologies and processes (such as IT/OT convergence, AI, machine learning, IoT, 5G, digital twins, automation and advanced analytics) can improve their competitiveness and profitability, as well as reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impact.

The SME Growth Summit provided a crash course in business growth tailored for the strategic leaders of SME manufacturers with a turnover of less than £100m. It focused on linking platforms and technologies to drive development of strategy, product and workforce.

The Manufacturer editorial team were also on hand at the show, interviewing keynote speakers and discussion table leaders on the major trends and challenges impacting the sector. Please find some of our key takeaways and insights below.

Juergen Maier (CBE), former CEO Siemens UK and former Chairman of Made Smarter, on the current climate for UK manufacturers: “In my keynote at Manufacturing and Engineering Week I certainly wanted to be upbeat and there’s been a real buzz around the show.

“For the last few years there’s been something of a COVID hangover but now I think we’re at the end of that permacrisis moment and in a place where we can really celebrate what manufacturing has achieved. Look at what’s been thrown at us over the last few years – we’ve got through it as a sector, we’re massively more resilient and there’s a real grit to UK manufacturing to take on the challenges that may follow.

“We’ve become the masters of fighting crises (obviously that’s not ideal and we need to get out of that mode). When compared to other countries such as the US and Germany, there is more support for manufacturers around adoption of new technology and managing energy costs etc, but that means that UK companies have to be even more innovative to continue to thrive in a globally competitive world and we have learned how to do that.”

Juergen Maier
Juergen Maier (CBE), former CEO Siemens UK and former Chairman of Made Smarter, gave the keynote on day one of Manufacturing and Engineering Week

Brian Holliday, Managing Director, Siemens Digital Industries, on how manufacturers can take advantage of innovation and Industry 5.0: “It’s been great to see the interest in future innovation – to take what today is a stretch with Industry 4.0, and think about what that might mean in the long-term.

“Industry 4.0 has become the most viral industrial idea of the 21st century and I have the pleasure of co-chairing the Made Smarter initiative. However, it came about because we didn’t do a great job of adopting Industry 3.0 – robotics and automation technology, so we still have a productivity deficit as a result of not really deploying technologies that help augment physical human effort in the factory. Industry 4.0 is about exploiting those digital technologies. Some firms have commenced that journey, but some haven’t started yet so we still have work to do.

“One in three machines globally feature a Siemens control system so we have a lot of insight into manufacturers. In terms of the challenges they are trying to solve, we’re commonly hearing about supply chain resilience challenges, which means moving beyond spreadsheets and experience and into tools that can help manage the business and predict future challenges. There are also issues around complex BOM challenges and the interaction between people and machines.

“These sorts of problems are aided by the digital toolsets that are available today. So, digitalisation is clearly a driver for business where we can see direct benefits to resilience, competitiveness and productivity.

“The other big topic of course, is sustainability. In the last few years, as we’ve become more aware of the damage we’re doing to the planet, so manufacturing has realised it has to do more to reduce its footprint.

“We estimate that around 24% of total carbon emissions result from industrial activity. Manufacturing moves, heats, compresses, cools, welds, prints, stirs and grows, and all those processes have an associated carbon footprint and are one of the reasons why companies are looking towards technological solutions.”

Dr Megan Ronayne, Head of Industrial Technologies and Manufacturing, Innovate KTN UK, on Innovate UK’s vision for the future: “The Materials and Manufacturing Vision 2050 is a live document for the manufacturing industry. It has 35 innovation strands and ten innovation areas focused on how we make UK manufacturing a world class location for low carbon manufacturing.

“There’s a lot to work on as it’s a vision document where we need people to work together, rather than a blueprint on how we achieve our low carbon, net zero ambitions. We need feedback from industry to help shape that document. Some of the elements featured in the report include responsive and resilient supply chains, net zero and digital technologies.

“Over 500 people contributed to the report. It’s very comprehensive and it’s had input from all the catapults and government. However, we need that additional feedback because of the constant change within industry and we need to understand what we’ve got right, what we need to work on and how we can improve. We’re therefore looking at producing a new addition this summer.”

Steve Penver, Group Head of Digital Integration, Babcock International, on how manufacturers can unlock the power of digital twins. “Data and digital is a key part of our strategy and digital twins are maturing at a really fast pace, primarily because enabling technologies are advancing extremely quickly. IoT, big data platforms and the use of analytics allow us to collect more data around our assets, analyse it and put it into the appropriate context.

“This in turn, allows us to make much better decisions on, not only the assets we support as a business, but our whole infrastructure and supply chain. It also enables us to model our business so we can optimise our services and proposition.

“The benefits of digital twins are wide ranging and increasing as they allow us to truly understand how an asset operates, its material state and even predict how it might operate in the future in terms of potential for failure. They allow us to then inform and model our supply chain to be able to respond to the use and operation of the assets in a much better way.

“And as we bring digital twins together, we can start to look at the whole asset or platform and model that against our supply chain – we create digital twins of our supply chain, organisation and resources, so we can drive enterprise performance.”

Stacy Dyer, Product Development Lead, Deloitte on how digitalisation can meet sustainability objectives: “Research from the EU Commission has revealed that although five percent of R&D costs are associated to the whole product, 80% of the associated emissions can be saved through the design development process.

“When you think about manufacturing with that metric in mind, then designing products in a sustainable manner is at the forefront of decision making. For example, one of our four levers is material selection and how they can be replaced and/or substituted. This is a factor that many people don’t take into consideration.

“That then leads into circular design and what happens to the product at the end of life. That recycling piece is a big topic at the moment, especially when you look in the auto space where companies are transitioning to electric vehicles. Eventually those batteries are going to need recycling. What’s going to happen to them? Will they get used for power storage, go into electric scooters or are the critical minerals removed and reused?

“How does that then affect the manufacturing process? How can you then make sure that you’re sustainably manufacturing and that you get the best from your facility?

“We also spoke about modularity and durability. As much as we think products are going to last forever, they don’t, and they need to be replaced. And therefore, actually having an easy way to replace the systems, subsystems and components, in a nice, easy, modular manner, is something that we’re seeing a massive uptick from in the market.

“In addition, how are companies collaborating with software and hardware engineers, and bringing them together? Whether we like it or not, they work very differently and follow different methodologies. If we use digital tools to enable that (PLM, MES, ERP, quality management systems etc), the digital thread will bring those elements together and can support and optimise sustainable design, durability and recycling.

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