Business Matters: We need brains and boxes if we want smarter manufacturing

Improvements in machine efficiency will positively impact the UK’s lagging productivity - a key drag on the UK’s economic performance - and create a workforce fit for the modern-day manufacturing sector.

Encouraging SMEs to invest in smarter working to re-energise UK’s manufacturing base
The Government-backed Made Smarter programme, with the North-west as the pilot, is encouraging SMEs to invest in smarter working to re-energise the UK’s manufacturing base, a transformation of the supply chain which will benefit larger companies and the wider economy.

Access to free, impartial, specialist advice will help you to understand what is possible
Made Smarter aims to help SMEs tackle technology adoption. Access to free, impartial, specialist advice will help you to understand what is possible for your business and the benefits and growth it will bring. There are also match-funded grants available to support firms ready to invest in new solutions.

Many companies think new digital technologies will be hard to integrate into their existing operations, and some may be fearful that changes may lose them their long-established heritage ‘brand equity.’

Made Smarter recognises these issues and introduces interventions which can make a real difference to their bottom line, while retaining the distinctive character of the business.

Other support includes how to bring staff along on the digitalisation journey, as a great barrier to IDT adoption is the lack of skills.

Reskill and Upskill a million workers over the next five years
Made Smarter has set an ambitious goal to reskill and upskill a million workers over the next five years. The main focus will be on SME workers (a third of industrial sector employees) through increased coordination of technology-related initiatives and institutions which teach skills and apprenticeships.

Equipping business leaders to drive change & future skills
The Made Smarter Leadership course delivered by Lancaster University Management School will equip business leaders to drive the change, while cross-sector work is identifying employers’ future skills needs, to inform government on technical education policy.

Although, industrial digital technologies are not all about ‘techies’ - skill-sets required include analytical thinking, information management, problem solving, understanding and interpreting data.

One example of a business where a modest investment in digital has had a transformational effect is RS Components. Its 65,000sq ft distribution centre in Nuneaton ships 44,000 orders a day using 7kms of conveyor lines which run 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Thanks to retro-fitted, internet-enabled applications supplied by Liverpool company Brainboxes, RS Components’ warehousing, packaging, crane and conveyor systems can utilise their existing machine sensors, to provide valuable data - supporting their maintenance staff and managers to make significant improvements.

Companies like Brainboxes are helping to bring about Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, for manufacturers of all sizes.

They allow businesses to monitor machines and extract the hidden data, helping to solve common factory automation issues by answering questions based on real data. In this case, Brainboxes provided an Internet of Things solution, which presents real-time data in a usable format for the maintenance team on the factory floor and stores it for review by managers in offices on the other side of the vast site.

Similar digital hardware and software integrated solutions are now being successfully used in all kinds of industrial settings; automotive, food and beverage, subsea, the energy industry, and in oil and gas.

The Brainboxes’ solution also allows predictive maintenance models to be built which, identify the best times for taking systems offline to perform routine maintenance. This results in process improvements which maintain up time and manage down time more effectively, improving the longevity of on-site assets, and ultimately saving costs and boosting productivity.

Luke Walsh, Managing Director of Brainboxes explains: "To start moving from preventative maintenance to ‘gold standard’ predictive maintenance, we need a model of the machine’s health. You can start to do trend analysis when you get data over a longer period of time – building and layering insight about where you need to target your maintenance strategy to get better longevity and health out of equipment."

Brainboxes believe that the ultimate demonstration of industrial technologies will be when businesses experience automatic resupply of critical parts. When skills and solutions are fully in place, the digitalised system will automatically understand the health and life expectancy of equipment, so that before the machine breaks down, the replacement part has been re-ordered and is ready to fit, preventing down time and saving cost.