Andrea Hough attends launch of UK's first Smart Factory test bed at AMRC

I was thrilled to be able to attend the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre for the opening of the UK’s first Smart Factory test bed last week, along with the 18 other members of the Made Smarter Commission. Factory 2050 was born out of a powerful private sector consortium led by Rolls-Royce and Accenture and a collaboration with the University of Sheffield AMRC. The result - a connected facility that will de-risk investment in the digital technologies at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy and Made Smarter initiative.

At ATEC Solutions, we have been operating for over 50 years and I am becoming more and more aware that as the world around us moves to digital operations, we cannot be left behind. We have always been an innovative, forward-thinking company and I’m keen to ensure we continue on this journey.

As a small SME we are in a position where we would perhaps like to consider some level of automation, but we are unsure exactly how this can be achieved throughout our processes. I feel better use and understanding of our data would be hugely beneficial, but we are struggling with how we would create an efficient system, which incorporates all of our machines and processes into one central system. I thought I would share some of my thoughts as I participated in the factory tour, as I know these are issues that many manufacturers face.

The day itself was a fantastic event – we met with and heard insights from Business Minister Greg Clark, and Juergen Maier, CEO Siemens, who spoke about the future of manufacturing.

Several demonstrations stood out to me, in particular the automated kitting process, which highlighted the possibility of digitising our paper kitting sheets and creating an electronic kitting system that could then highlight the relevant bins for the operators. I think this is something that we could investigate and would have the potential to reduce wastage and errors, as well as speeding up the process.

An over-reliance on paper and documentation is one of our main issues at the moment, but the 3D schematics demonstration drove home how easily we could improve this aspect of the business. Our recent upgrades have meant some paper processes have become electronic, yet these are complicated, particularly for any new operators and staff. I’d like to consider using our facilities to create 2D and 3D drawings, as well as a 3D printer to combine and create interactive build instructions. This would help existing staff and further reduce our paper usage.

One of the other benefits of digitalisation demonstrated to me at the ARMC was the impact it can have on the workforce and new employees. At ATEC we are always looking to recruit new talent and ensure our workforce have the necessary resources to succeed in their roles. The smart desk could provide an excellent solution to recent problems we have encountered with training new staff. At the moment, our long serving and experienced operators must take time out from the production line to train new employees. The creation of a smart training desk could minimise these lost hours and provide new staff with the tools to learn how to disassemble and reassemble our products, without the risk of mistakes and time pressure. This is something that so many manufacturers, of all types, could implement easily, particularly with the financial assistance of Made Smarter.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the AMRC - the Smart Factory was an eye opening experience to the many levels that new manufacturing technology can have across all departments of a business. The momentum building behind Made Smarter is really inspiring and I believe with the support and innovative of institutions like the AMRC, UK manufacturing will become a digital leader. There were so many solutions to problems that manufacturers have dealt with for years, and with the support of Made Smarter pilot in the North West, I would urge manufacturers to consider implementing some element of these exciting technologies.

Made Smarter