Smart Factory Expo 2023: Bigger, better, sooner…

Posted on 5 Jun 2023 by James Devonshire

Smart Factory Expo is back for 2023 and if you’re thinking it seems like it came around fast, that’s because it has. From its new home at the NEC, Birmingham, as part of Manufacturing and Engineering (M&E) Week, Smart Factory Expo 2023 will take place on 7-8 June.

And even though it’ll have only been six months or so since the last instalment, this year’s Smart Factory Expo is shaping up to be even bigger and better. The Manufacturer’s James Devonshire sat down with some key partners to learn more

What better way to kick off my Smart Factory Expo 2023 coverage than by finding out what we can expect from Innovate UK, the UK’s national innovation agency, at this year’s event.

Innovate UK is a non-departmental government body with a mission to drive sustainable economic growth through business-led innovation, by investing in innovation and giving businesses access to support.

At Smart Factory Expo 2023, all of Innovate UK’s services will come together to deliver two core aspects of the show: Made Smarter Innovation Alley and the Innovate UK Innovation Village. To find out more about both offerings, I caught up with Innovate UK KTN’s Anna-Marie Taylor and Matt Wasley and James Crossling from HVM Catapult.

There’s still time to register for a free pass HERE.

All the pillars of UK innovation under one umbrella

The most notable difference about Innovate UK’s presence at Smart Factory Expo 2023 is its structure. In previous years, the agency’s different streams have showcased the amazing work they are each doing to drive innovation, albeit usually via separate stands and showcases.

For 2023, all the organisational elements that make up the overall Innovate UK system will come together under one umbrella in the Innovate UK Innovation Village. This will include Innovate UK KTN, Innovate UK Edge, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (with all of its seven centres) and Made Smarter Innovation.

Showcasing leading edge innovation in low carbon advanced manufacturing, the Innovation Village and Innovation Stage will feature companies supported by Innovate UK, investment support and funding opportunities, as well as a series of speakers who are leaders in their industry.

At the Innovation Stage, exhibition visitors can learn from inspirational speakers and partners championing and demonstrating innovation in low carbon advanced manufacturing: from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s (AMRC) open-access smart factory framework, Factory+, to the National Composite Centre’s (NCC) certification by analysis project. Apprentices from the HVM Catapult network will also talk about their careers and aspirations.

Innovation Village

The Innovation Village will demonstrate innovation across four areas that Innovate UK believes are fundamental to capitalise on the huge opportunity the UK has to become a world-class destination of choice for advanced low carbon manufacturing:

  • Net zero: Materials and manufacturing will be technically advanced and play a vital role in achieving the UK’s net zero target by 2050 and meeting global sustainable development goals
  • Resilience in supply chains: Enabling companies to deal with uncertainty around changes to process, demand or supply, so the UK can create more resilient supply chains, creating more value with less cost and waste
  • Digitalisation: Innovate UK is working with manufacturing and digital industries to help the UK gain maximum advantage from the digital revolution
  • Skills and diversity: Courageous leadership, critical skills foresight, upskilling the current workforce and attracting diverse talent to drive UK manufacturing in all regions and nations

There will also be the opportunity to have your say on the Materials and Manufacturing Vision 2050, which looks at challenges and opportunities; it will outline a route to building on manufacturing capacity to make the UK a global centre for net zero sustainable production and reimagines the industry of the future.

Innovate UK’s Materials and Manufacturing Vision 2050 will be of significant importance for both our economy and society as the UK moves to establish itself as the destination of choice for advanced low carbon manufacturing in a net zero focused world. So why not come along and join the conversation on this crucial area of future manufacturing and learn about where Innovate UK funding will be directed going forward.

By providing access to inspiring talks, innovative companies, innovation and investment support, the Innovate UK Innovation Village represents a significant opportunity to progress your innovation aspirations.

Innovation that’s right up your alley

A regular feature at the heart of Smart Factory Expo, Made Smarter Innovation Alley will be back once again this year, showcasing a host of the UK’s leading edge digital technology start-ups and scale-ups. These exciting, disruptive companies are ones to watch in the digital manufacturing space and will likely change the sector landscape over the next five to ten years.

Funded by Innovate UK and supported by Innovate UK KTN, Made Smarter Innovation Alley will feature no less than 30 game-changing innovators in the digital manufacturing space, each of which is younger than five years old or employs less than ten members of staff. Confirmed Innovation Alley exhibitors (at time of writing) include:

  • Sensor IT
  • E-Nano
  • TrackMyMachines
  • Veribli
  • FC Labs
  • Clyde HSI
  • iov42
  • SMSTech
  • Emerging Data Technologies
  • CUEInterative
  • DataFlowIQ

One Innovation Alley exhibitor that caught this reporter’s eye last year was FC Labs, with their incredibly powerful CoreTech technology which monitors fluctuations in mental attention. By tracking this data in real-time via two non-invasive sensors, CoreTech can flag when a potential workplace accident or incident due to human error might occur. This simple yet highly effective solution can empower individuals, teams and businesses to perform at their best, avoid accidents and injuries and improve overall health and wellbeing. Do check it out!

As well as getting to showcase their innovative solutions to manufacturers and other attendees, Innovation Alley exhibitors will also get access to Innovate UK experts, to help them hone their presentation skills and get the most out of their interactions with connections at the event. Furthermore, each Innovation Alley exhibitor will get the chance to pitch their solution(s) on the Innovation Stage to a select audience of interested individuals.

If you’re going to be at Smart Factory Expo 2023, make sure you call in on Innovation Alley and see some of the amazing solutions on show first-hand.

Dr Megan Ronayne, Head of Industrial Technologies and Manufacturing at Innovate UK KTN said: “Made Smarter Innovation Alley is a key event in the manufacturing calendar, showcasing the most innovative, game-changing digital technology companies that are helping to advance the global manufacturing sector. At Innovate UK KTN, collaboration is core to what we do, and it is great to play such an essential role in connecting companies on the alley to potential partners, suppliers, customers and funders.”

If you are interested in being a part of Made Smarter Innovation Alley in the future, click here.

Navigating the digital manufacturing space

As part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) will have a presence in the Innovate UK Innovation Village. However, it will also have its own separate stand outside in the main Smart Factory Expo arena to showcase the specific help it can provide manufacturing organisations. MTC Director, Andy Barnes gave us a flavour of what’s in store for MTC stand visitors this June.

A digital focus

The Manufacturing Technology Centre’s big focus for Smart Factory 2023 is digital transformation and, in particular, how organisations throughout the supply chain can learn to navigate the array of technologies and capabilities within Industry 4.0 in order to unlock new efficiencies within their manufacturing organisations, realise significant business outcomes and have a positive impact on society.

“The digital manufacturing landscape is very complex and that can be pretty daunting for many businesses”, said Andy. “One of the ways we can help is by guiding businesses through it using the frameworks and roadmaps we have developed, which can be applied to specific businesses and sectors.

“To help them on that journey from where they currently are – wherever that may be in terms of maturity or commitment – towards realising some of the benefits of smart manufacturing.”

Andy added that the MTC is seeing more businesses embarking on this journey, driven both by the traditional benefits, such as productivity gains, as well as benefits which add value to their offerings. A good example of this is manufacturers using data to start taking advantage of and generating additional revenue from servitisation.

Such an approach not only adds value to customers but also to their own business. However, it requires a certain approach to data – both legacy and new – to ensure they are not only capturing the right information but getting genuine value from it. “That’s a lot of what we’re doing now,” Andy said.

Leveraging tech to get the best out of data

Andy told us that as well as supporting industry within the UK on routes to industrial digital transformation the MTC is also focused right now on leveraging new disruptive technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to help businesses maximise value from their data.

By using real-time data (providing it’s being captured), organisations can look to evolve and improve their machinery to make it work harder for them. Such an approach might include adding sensors to a piece of legacy equipment so that insights into its performance, availability and other metrics can be gleaned. Improvement plans can then be drawn up to boost the machine’s performance going forward. The MTC will be showcasing such sensors at Smart Factory Expo.

In a similar vein, technological advances like digital twins are making waves in the manufacturing industry. They enable organisations of all shapes and sizes to model various aspects of their businesses, both in design and operation, such as their production line, production facility and supply chain, so they can test changes to better determine their potential impact.

Through digital models, businesses can discover what a new product introduction might look like and also what it will entail, before they make any real-world changes. This allows organisations to effectively de-risk their investments, as well as be more agile and adaptable.

Specific SME support

Oftentimes, we see SMEs, in particular, reluctant to take the digital plunge, whether it be because of costs, lack of skills, etc. How can the MTC help in that regard? Andy continued: “With such a complex digital environment, there is a hesitancy for SMEs to step foot into the landscape. But where can they go for help? “SME’s are hesitant to reach out to one of the big consultancies, simply because of their size. “Likewise, if you contact a software vendor, there’s a good chance they’ll sell you their solution, whether it’s a good fit for you or not.

One of the roles the MTC plays is to provide independent support to SMEs who want to take advantage of digital and working with solutions providers who can help them do so. The experience and advice its experts can offer is so valuable and relatable because they simply understand manufacturers and their pain points.

Come along to the MTC stand and talk with experts, engineers and thought leaders who have decades worth of experience between them in specific manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, defence, automotive, construction, agritech, etc. You’ll be able to see from real world examples and demonstrators how the MTC has helped businesses like yours.

You can also discover more about the MTC’s Manufacturing Training Centre, which boasts a whole range of offerings designed to help businesses both big and small overcome their upskilling challenges.

Digital transformation doesn’t need to be difficult (or necessarily cost a fortune)

For many manufacturing organisations – particularly the SMEs who are the lifeblood of British industry – digital transformation presents a number of challenges. Whether it’s having the right skills to proceed, or justifying the necessary investment, digital transformation is often prohibitive for SMEs.

However, digital transformation doesn’t need to be a one time, big time effort which costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and takes years to complete. Most companies can realise tangible benefits by making a few small changes and taking it from there. It’s a reality that RS Industria Founder and Managing Director, Richard Jeffers, knows all too well.

Start simple, grow smart

“There’s a lot of hype around digital transformation. A lot of the messages focus on how it’s got to be significant and enterprise-wide but even for large companies that can be challenging,” Richard said.

“One of our key messages will be how digital transformation can be for everyone and you shouldn’t be put off by the jargon. You don’t necessarily need to become a digital specialist or data scientist to realise results.”

Start simple, grow smart is the message the RS team wants to once again portray this year, highlighting to manufacturers that you don’t need to spend large amounts of time and money to start reaping some of the benefits associated with digital transformation.

An example of how a simple change can lead to significant cost savings can be seen in RS’s work with a food and beverage manufacturer to set up alerts. It became evident that the main bearing on a high-speed canning filler was vibrating abnormally. Upon further inspection, the cause was found to be a blocked lubrication feed. This simple alert, which led to more scrutiny, saved the manufacturer somewhere in the region of £100,000.

If you’re attending Smart Factory Expo 2023, please visit the RS stand (C60) and talk with their experienced solutions engineers to discover how one simple change can begin a digital transformation journey which can deliver continuous improvement and reduce production losses – at a controlled pace and within a highly cost-effective budget.

There’s still time to register for a free pass HERE.