Smart Factory Expo 2021 – Day 1 Round-up

In its sixth year, Smart Factory Expo brings together all the technologies enabling the digital manufacturing revolution – creating a carefully-curated shop window for manufacturers at all stages of their digital journey, offering a showcase for the revolution in technology, process and thinking behind Industry 4.0. The Manufacturer takes a closer look from Day One at the show.

Despite ten years of fanfare and investment, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0 as it is more commonly known) hasn’t yet come to pass. The business value of smart and connected factories cannot be disputed, however, factors such as Brexit and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain and complex world, which in turn has slowed industry adoption of innovative manufacturing technologies.

In their talk around accelerating the journey to Industry 4.0, Jack Fitzgerald, Head of Manufacturing UK, Softserve; and Zerrin Derin, Customer Engineering Manager, Google, highlighted that Industry 4.0 holds the key to delivering on critical business imperatives. They explained how the adoption of AI/ML, cloud, and big data solutions increase factory productivity, eco-efficiency, agility, and resilience.

However, despite these clear advantages most manufacturers still view the transformation to Industry 4.0 as a pipe dream. To turn this dream into a reality Jack and Zerrin explained that there are a number of common barriers to Industry 4.0 adoption that need to be overcome, and offered a practical guide to help achieve this – and as such garner immediate business value to both factory operations and beyond.

Jack Fitzgerald, Head of Manufacturing UK, Softserve said:“There have been over 10 years of ‘Industry 4.0’ talk and our research has shown that only 28% of use cases have been adopted. There are many reasons behind the smart manufacturing lag but some include issues with system integration, lack of clear ROI in new technology and lack of buy-in from the top management board.”

As discussed earlier, wider, ongoing disruptions have led to a reluctance among many organisations to make any initial forays towards the use of new and innovative technologies – viewing them as an unnecessary and costly risk not worth taking during times of upheaval and uncertainty.

As an example, automation projects are costly, complex and resource-intensive, and getting them wrong can leave a business with hard to manage legacy challenges. In the Cambridge University Institute for Manufacturing Theatre, Liz Salter, Industrial Associate, IfM Engage, introduced a systematic approach to decision making, and how this informs good equipment sourcing choices.

She explored the potential downsides of automation alongside the more frequently presented benefits, as well as considering the implementation challenges that a specific solution needs to overcome in order to ensure business expectations are met.

Moving from automation to people, in his presentation in the IIoT & Connectivity Theatre, Thomas Hughes, World Class Manufacturing Leader at Zaptic, explained how to unleash the potential of your people through world class digital connected workers.

Workers are the strongest and weakest link in a $12tn global manufacturing industry. Workforce inconsistencies cause hundreds of billions of downtime, quality and safety losses every year. Human error is the cause of 23% of unplanned downtime, 68% of defects and 70% of safety incidents. While, at the same time, 71% of the value created for manufacturers comes from human knowledge and action, while 72% of factory tasks are still performed by humans.

With the cumbersome, manual and paper driven processes that still exist throughout manufacturing, it is difficult for workers to be empowered, autonomous and motivated to help collectively achieve operational greatness in an organisation. However, through digital, mobile and lean daily work instruction, preventative and autonomous maintenance, knowledge retention, upskilling and a no code approach to workflow creation, manufacturing leaders will be able to sustain and quickly scale up their operational excellence systems.

From the exhibition floor

We went round some of the fantastic stands at the show to check out the latest technology on display. CNC Robotics, who specialise in automated machining solutions had one of their KUKA Robots on display.

After being a brand new company to the UK, Cognite shared their thoughts on the first day of the show: “It’s been a brilliant day, after having a two year gap in big events like this it’s been superb to be out speaking to people again. The amount of people we’ve spoken to already has certainly put the wind in our sails and it’s been really refreshing.”

“We’ve had lots of conversations about sustainability, reducing energy consumption, production optimisation, preventing interruptions to production, which obviously has impacts on cost effectiveness.”

The MTC also had some collaborative robots on display. Phil Jackson, MTC explained: “Today we’ve been demonstrating to people that robotics and automation can bring tremendous value to their business. We’re all about helping people to get robots in and cobots are a great way of showing what’s possible with low cost equipment.”

“It’s been a fantastic first day, the turnout has been amazing under the obvious challenging circumstances. It’s been great to see so many people here and we’ve had some very productive conversations,” explained Dan from OMRON.

“Over the next few days, we’re focusing our stand on the current challenges that manufacturers are having with labour shortages. We’re looking at all the automation technologies which we can help support.”

If you missed the first day of Smart Factory Expo 2021, don’t worry. There’s still time to register for Day 2. Click Here.