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|More robots are coming||17/10/2017|
In the middle of September I visited Rittal at Herborn near Frankfurt in Germany (see page 48) and was fortunate that it coincided with the launch by the International Robotics Federation (IFR) of its "World Robotics Report - industrial robots - outlook 2020."
According to the IFR, by 2020 - that is no more than two to three years away - more than 1.7 million new industrial robots will have been installed in factories around the world. Today, the strongest growth in the robotics industry is in Asia – led by China as the world´s number one marketplace.
In terms of units, it is estimated that by 2020 the worldwide stock of operational industrial robots will increase from about 1,828,000 units at the end of 2016 to 3,053,000 units. This represents an average annual growth rate of 14% between 2018 and 2020.
China has significantly expanded its leading position as the largest market (with South Korea second) with a share of 30 percent of the total supply in 2016. With sales of about 87,000 industrial robots China came close to the total sales volume of Europe and the Americas combined (97,300 units). Chinese robot suppliers continued to expand their home market share to 31% in 2016.
Important drivers of this development are faster business cycles and greater flexibility. Robots can work around the clock, offer high levels of precision and improve worker health and safety by performing dangerous and unergonomic tasks.
As system complexities and data incompatibility are overcome, manufacturers will integrate robots into factory-wide networks of machines and systems. Analysts predict a rapidly growing market for cloud robotics in which real-time data collected by sensors attached to robots is compared to data from other robots in the same or different locations. Ultimately, the advent of big data in manufacturing could redefine the industry boundaries between equipment makers and manufacturers.
"Robots offer high levels of precision and their connectivity will play a key role in new digital manufacturing environments,” says IFR President Joe Gemma. “Increasing availability enables more and more manufacturers from companies of all sizes to automate.”
With a density of 1,261 installed robots per 10,000 employees, the United States ranked second in 2016 after the Republic of Korea. Germany is the fifth largest robot market in the world and by far the largest in Europe. The annual supply and operational stock of industrial robots in 2016 had a share of 36% and 41% respectively of total robot sales in Europe.
And in the UK? How much are we investing in order at least to keep the productivity of our regional and international competitors in sight? According to other sources, our investment in robotics is the lowest of the major European economies and we rank just above Thailand in the population of robots per 10,000 employees.
|Build it & they will come||31/08/2017|
More and more industries are ripe for automation. While manufacturing automation is well down the line, the automation of domestic duties receives much attention, and driverless cars and trucks are being trialled, below the radar, other industries are also exploring the benefits.
Agricultural vehicles have been at the forefront of developing and adopting autonomous navigation technology. Indeed, more than 320,000 tractors equipped with auto-steer or tractor guidance were sold in 2016 alone, expected to rise to 660,000 in 2026. These tractors use RTK GPS technology to autonomously follow pre-planned paths with centimetre-level accuracy. This makes agriculture the largest adopter of autonomous navigation.
The machines are still not completely reliable despite the technology being ready and accessible at the discrete component and software level. All this is predicted to change in the coming decade. Thus far, only a few field trials have taken place and here the experimental clock is inevitably limited by harvest seasons, further slowing down the adoption process.
Asparagus is one of the most expensive vegetables in Europe because harvesters have to painstakingly pierce each stalk individually. A robot could change this, and engineers at the Bremen Centre for Mechatronics (BCM) are developing one. It works with harvesting tools, which run on precision rails from HepcoMotion, a specialist in linear guidance systems.
The construction industry has begun the adoption of automation and robotics, with numerous projects underway to encourage use of the technology, such as the retrofitting of autonomous solutions into existing forklifts and diggers. There are clear advantages to incorporating automation technologies into construction, including uniform product quality, accuracy, speed and safety. Research is focusing both on the automation in existing machinery and on the development of new technology and robots for on-site and factory-based automation. As well as improving worker safety, increasing levels of automation could help overcome the shortage of skilled construction workers.
In parallel with agricultural automation, part of the challenge in adopting robotics comes from the unstructured and often unpredictable nature of construction sites, in contrast to more structured manufacturing production lines.
The increased use of modern methods of construction has led to the potential to manufacture off-site. Housing units or modules can now be manufactured in a controlled factory environment away from the construction site. The modules can then be transported to the site for final assembly. Swiss prototype robot bricklayer, In-situ Fabricator, can build a house in just two days.
In the United Kingdom, off-site manufacturing has received support from international engineering enterprise Laing O’Rourke, who is currently in the planning stage of an advanced manufacturing facility that will be used in commercial projects. Construction and manufacturing group, CCG has also created a manufacturing facility in Scotland that has the capability to manufacture 3000 buildings per year.
Off-site manufacturing can entail volumetric 3D units that are produced and fully fitted away from the construction site. Once they arrive, the modules are then stacked onto the building foundations to begin the building process. Chinese 3D printing pioneer WinSun claims to be able to print 10 houses in just one day using its innovative technology. These developments, however, are yet to become mainstream.
Collaborative robotics could see construction workers operating alongside robots in both factories and on the construction site to increase productivity and modernise construction.
|The road to digitalisation||29/06/2017|
Suppliers to manufacturing industry are queuing up to promote their respective views on the implications of digitalisation.
In the last month the automation equipment supplier Mitsubishi Electric hosted journalists at their UK headquarters in Hatfield for the launch of a 28-page whitepaper called Industry 4.0 - The road to digitalisation in future manufacturing. It sets out to explain the background, consider the challenges and offer approaches to the adoption of I4.0 related technologies.
The benefits which I4.0 can deliver for industry – and thus ultimately for consumers – include lower costs, faster production, better resource efficiency, higher quality control and greater product and component traceability.
The two key enabling technologies that should allow I4.0 to deliver benefits are the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cyber-physical systems. The IIoT enables multiple devices (as simple as a single sensor or as complex as a machine tool) to exchange data using Internet and Ethernet based technologies.
Cyber-physical systems are integrations of computation, networking and physical processes - the convergence of business systems with the physical plant control systems and machines. It is also about measuring actual performance against an “ideal model” - or norm - with a range of new initiatives.
While the paper works through issues of time-sensitive networks (determinism), developments in applicable standards, an interesting chapter - especially in the context of the UK's global trading ambitions - deals with the current and future state of I4.0 in various nations: China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, the US and the UK itself. Along with India and Japan, the United Kingdom is relatively ill-prepared: a recent survey undertaken by consultancy BDO and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that only 8% of a sample of engineers in management or director level posts in UK industry had a ‘good understanding’ of I4.0 and 56% had ‘little or no understanding’. Only a fifth of responding companies had some form of I4.0 strategy in place.
In mitigation, the UK government has established ‘high value manufacturing catapult centres’ across the UK and these centres have taken on a role as thought leaders and proponents of I4.0. It has already announced plans to establish an Institute for Coding to support digital skills.
Earlier in the month, Swedish bearings manufacturer SKF brought a collective of European journalists to London for a summit on the company's position on digitalisation.
"Further digitalisation of established technologies such as condition monitoring and smart sensors could have a revolutionary effect on manufacturing," said Bernie van Leeuwen, director product management digitalisation at SKF. "The ability to collect and manipulate vast amounts of digital information will catapult manufacturing into the future."
SKF has been monitoring equipment remotely for around 15 years, and now has around a million bearings connected to the Cloud. Data from them is gathered and interpreted daily. The ability to handle this data leads to enhanced analytics – allowing SKF to detect earlier potential failures in rotating equipment that affect overall equipment reliability and to get a better understanding of critical product and system design requirements.
The ‘connectivity’ of the data runs in all directions, and can be used in many ways. At its simplest, it connects a sensor to a remote diagnostics centre. However, the data – on the health of a bearing, for instance – can be fed right back to the design stage, and used to help redesign a better product.
Increased digitalisation has also begun to allow more customised manufacturing. Because it can cut machine re-setting times close to zero, there are fewer restrictions to making customised products. Recently, the owner of an aluminium mill required bearings that would allow increased output – through a higher rolling speed – as well as lower maintenance costs and the elimination of unplanned downtime. SKF was able to produce four-row cylindrical roller bearings – complete with optimised surface properties and customised coatings – to boost service life and robustness, as well as designing out product cost.
|There's always be a human (while there's a warehouse lane....)||15/05/2017|
Last year, the World Economic Forum said that more than seven million jobs were at risk from advances in technology in the world’s largest economies over the next five years. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, however, set out an even more concerning path. He said that up to 15 million jobs in Britain alone are at risk of being lost to robots.
A Chinese delivery warehouse in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, recently hit the headlines after a mesmerising video of its little orange robots sorting parcels went viral. Showcasing these cushion-sized robots darting around the large warehouse at speed, it highlighted how close technology has come to performing tasks currently undertaken by human workers.
But Phil Chesworth, managing director at Midland Pallet Trucks, rebuffs the idea and underlines the importance of humans in the workplace. “While it’s true that robots can perform some tasks just as well as humans, relying on robots and technology for every aspect of a business could be detrimental. Simple, repetitive processes will usually provide a place for robots to shine, but when processes get more complex, this is where robots fall flat,” he says. “Unlike robots, humans can create, form relationships, and respond to out of the ordinary situations should one arise. Building relationships with suppliers and customers, and being able think on their feet is something only conscious humans can do.”
The lower the labour cost in an economy, the lower the incentive to automate, which may go some way to explaining the relatively low take-up of robotics in the UK. Even so, robots are starting to appear in unfamiliar surroundings, including agriculture and construction, where they may hold part of the answer to impending Brexit-related labour shortages. But they will do nothing to help the demographic imbalance in the UK, whereby a large, active younger workforce is needed to contribute taxes to fund the pensions of the older members of society.
Equally concerning is that Britain’s economy has shifted more towards low-skilled jobs and less towards high-skilled ones compared with other European countries, according to Oxford University research. The findings, which admittedly cover 1996-2008, show that the long-term pattern of jobs growth in the UK, as in most other European countries, has resembled an hourglass: the share of mid-skilled jobs such as secretaries and machine operators, has been squeezed by technology and globalisation, while the share of low-skilled jobs — for example, shop assistants — and high-skilled jobs, such as managers, has expanded.
But the research paper argues that process has played out differently in the UK than in many of its neighbours. For every 10 middle-skilled jobs that disappeared, about 4.5 of the replacement jobs were high-skilled and 5.5 were low-skilled. In Ireland, the balance was about eight high-skilled to two low-skilled, while in France and Germany it was about seven to three.
“In the replacement of those middle level jobs, the UK has shifted far more towards lower-skilled service work than lots of other European countries,” said the paper’s author Craig Holmes, who is an academic at Oxford and a research associate at the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance.
|The Rules of State||04/04/2017|
As I write this piece, negotiations between the UK and EU on the former's proposed departure are two days into a 720 day cycle.
So far, even in this short time span, we have seen the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) strongly argue for Single Market Access, while the VDMA, the powerful association of German manufacturing industries, has warned there should be “no unilateral concessions” in favour of the UK.
Thilo Brodtmann, VDMA executive director, called for Brexit negotiations to be held swiftly, saying, “We must not run the risk of having no agreement in place two years from now,” when talks come to a close. But he said preserving the single market among the remaining 27 EU member states was more important to VDMA member companies than keeping access to the UK market, a position which contradicts a commonly expressed Brexit position that "they need us more than we need them".
Recently, the UK Industrial Strategy Green Paper, has also been published, designed to provide the foundations on which it is intended that the UK's future industrial success will be built. A coherent industrial strategy makes perfect sense, and all nations - and trading blocs - should have one.
Regrettably, we cannot get away from what Briefing Paper Number 07682 readily acknowledges, that our future industrial strategy is inextricably linked to Brexit. "In common with many areas of Government policy, industrial strategy could be radically altered by the UK’s decision to leave the EU," it states. "Aspects of industrial strategy that could see significant risks and opportunities from Brexit include state aid rules, trade, investment, and research."
The Government’s green paper states that the Government will welcome an agreement to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science and research and technology initiatives. It adds that procurement policy will no longer be constrained by EU law. EU State Aid Rules do indeed strictly prohibit most instances of financial support from Government to failing or threatened industries. But in practice, what would leaving the EU really mean?
The UK will be a member of the EU until negotiations have been finalised. Until the UK’s formal exit, State Aid rules will still apply, and one assumes throughout any transitional period.
Beyond that, the extent to which State Aid rules will apply will depend on the nature of the relationship with the EU that is negotiated. If the UK were to became a member of an outer shell, like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or the Ukraine, then State Aid rules would still apply since they are broadly replicated in the relevant agreements. If the UK negotiated an unique trade deal with the EU, then the likelihood is that some form of State Aid rules would still apply since the EU would probably require some form of state aid control – and vice versa.
But even if the UK were to leave without entering into any formal relationship with the EU, then theoretically, no form of State Aid controls would apply to the UK Government, and it would be free to provide any assistance to industries. However, the paper says, "various factors" mean that the UK Government would be unlikely to begin subsidising failing industries - not least that in recent history, the UK has been averse to providing direct financial support to failing industries. And even as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the UK is bound by the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, which restricts the use of subsides, although less stringently than the EU State Aid rules.
It is hard to see what constraints we are working so hard to free ourselves from. Perhaps a more relevant question is why it has taken Brexit to bring the need for an industrial strategy to the fore. It should be a core KPI of any successful economy and it is long overdue.
Just back from a brief trip to Venice accompanying my daughter's group who were appearing in the Venice Carnival, it took a trip down the Grand Canal on the Linea Uno waterbus to bring home to me how much of a Europhile I am. The buildings list out of the lagoon at jaunty angles, but most proudly carry the three flags of the City of Venice, the country of Italy and the European Union.
Fifty years ago, living in North East Essex in what is now a UKIP stronghold, I was already a Europhile, listening to Dutch pirate radio stations in preference to the domestic outpourings. I became a fan of many Dutch bands of the era, including Focus and Golden Earring, both of whom are still going, the latter having started in 1961 and having a line-up unchanged since 1970.
And so, 50 years on, I came to the Engineering Employers Federation 2017 Manufacturing Conference, held at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster. Hosted by BBC Breakfast star Steph McGovern, the impressive array of speakers included Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark.
McDonnell gave an impassioned speech about all that was wrong with Brexit, especially from a manufacturing perspective. So much so that one could barely contain the astonishment about why all the Labour MPs had been whipped to pass through the same Article 50 lobby as the Brexiteers. His arguments for supporting strategic industries and raising the UK's investment in manufacturing to 2 to 3% of GDP in line with our European neighbours resonated as sound pillars of an industrial strategy.
Meanwhile, just round the corner at the Policy Exchange, Tim Farron was giving an address on Renewable Energy, which has now overtaken coal as the world’s biggest source of power-generating capacity.
Though Britain has been at the forefront of developing this technology, the world is catching on. China, for example, is working towards becoming a green energy superpower, with huge investments in solar. India is making strides in their development of wind power. And Ireland has voted to become the first country to divest completely from fossil fuels.
Farron's point is that investment in the new energy sources of solar, wind and tidal would not only make the UK self-sufficient in energy, but also create hundreds of thousands of jobs. He lamented that the support secured for these industries during the coalition government was no being retracted in favour of reliance on the traditional energy sources of oil and gas, including fracking. "Brexit is but a flesh wound in comparison to the implications of not tackling the global climate issue," Farron asserted (not that he has any intention of giving up on the fight against Brexit).
Back at the QEII, the afternoon session kicked off with an interesting panel discussion involving Jurgen Maier from Siemens, Colin Lawther from Nissan and Stephen Cooper from KPMG. Maier called on UK industry to invest to get ahead. "Automation and robotics investment will increase productivity by 20%, but also jobs by 7%, he claimed. Digitisation could benefit the UK automotive industry by as much as £8.6 billion per annum.
Overall, manufacturers preferred to focus on how to make manufacturing better, than to focus on the implications of Brexit. Reluctant acquiescence seems to be the current mood. The CBI’s recent survey of London businesses (predominantly financial with only 9% in manufacturing) have seen what they describe as "a rebound" of confidence from 4% to 19% in the percentage of companies who feel more positive about the economy over the next six months. Some might see it as a fairly low bounce though, since 81% of businesses do not see it that way.
Forty one years ago in 1976, the aforementioned Golden Earring released a song called Sleepwalking. "Last night's blind date hit me like a hand grenade," go the lyrics. Unlike Radar Love, this one never made it big in the UK. Let's hope it's not an omen.
You can watch Tim Farron’s presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=72DYoLngbqM
|Brexit: You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!||13/02/2017|
Andy Pye offers a personal view on some of the consequences of Brexit for manufacturing and automation. A longer version of this article is posted on the CDA website
My grandfather always advised me to vote against the party in power, as this was the best way to prevent any of them doing too much irreversible damage. On the face of it, that advice now seems ever more valid, although finding a viable opposition party at the moment is something of a challenge - perhaps the SNP should migrate south for the winter?
Let me nail my colours to the mast: I voted Remain. In fact, of the seven members of my family, only one is on bread and water. Statistics based on voting profiles of age and education levels suggest that around three-quarters or more of our readers would have also voted Remain. The GAMBICA Trade Association announced that 87% of its members were in favour of Remain.
This journal is dedicated to the pursuit of ways to increase the efficiency of manufacturing, in the belief that increased efficiency leads to greater wealth and a healthier economy. Of course, the hidden consequence is that a big part of that increased efficiency revolves around robotics, which in turn leads to fewer low-skilled manual jobs. This is not just on the manufacturing factory floor, but in restaurants, agriculture, trucking and many other sectors. We expect huge numbers of further jobs to be lost to automation over the next two decades. These people won't be productive, they'll be an extra welfare burden - not through any fault of their own per se, but a burden nonetheless.
There is no doubt that the "left behinds" feel most disenfranchised. This is discussed elsewhere in the Round Table Discussion article on UK Manufacturing. It has been a major factor in deciding the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential Election. While this has little to do with the EU, it has fuelled the protests against the current Government - and the established "elite" style of democracy in general.
Increasing levels of automation is fine, provided that it is accompanied by distribution of wealth into those communities who have been "overtaken" by automated systems, without them having been re-skilled in the way that newer younger people have been. It is plainly unjust that, too often, globalisation involves paying the rich even more and the poor even less. There won’t be much mass consumerism if consumers cannot afford food and shelter.
Reflecting these concerns in a LinkedIn post, mechatronics engineering student Abhijit Menon asks if moving towards complete automation means we are moving towards a society with no work to do. Jonas Berge, Director, Applied Technology of Emerson Automation Solutions in Singapore replied "There will always be stuff to do. From the book Aundance: 'in 1862, 90% of our workforce were farmers. By the 1930s, the number was 21%. Today it's less than 2%.' He adds that humans have consistently demonstrated an ability to find new things to do that are of greater value when jobs have been outsourced or automated.
Berge continued "A positive way to look at it is that more and more people are getting higher and higher education. They don't want to do manual labour like data collection on hot, cold, rainy, windy days etc. They want to put their education to good use. Therefore plants have to be modernized not only for productivity, but also to fit the profile and expectations of future workers - those coming to the industry today."
Rajesh Mehta, Energy Controls Coordinator at City of Mississauga, reassured the young student, saying "Think about who is going to build these robots, program them and maintain them."
But Menon countered by asking if building and programming the robots would ultimately be done by the robot itself or some other automatic device, thus letting go of the middle man.
Stefan Mutschlechner, an automation expert for biogas plants in Bolzano, Italy commented that "Most people are still working more than 40 hours a week in our modern society. It's strange in a fully automatic world. I think the right way to invest our time is in our children, our families."
Such an opportunity requires a sea change of creative thinking to implement. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says there's a 'pretty good chance' universal basic income (UBI) will become reality - simply paying people regardless of whether or not they find work.
UBI has seen a surge in popularity in the last year or so. After a long period of dormancy since it was conceived in the 1960s, the idea has gained new life as tech entrepreneurs and businesspeople have started wondering what might happen when robots displace much of the workforce.
It is a massive irony that, as we prepare to leave, it is an EU country that is taking the lead in this initiative. Finland is to give 2000 of its unemployed citizens the equivalent of £480 every month, without any restrictions or conditions attached. Leaders hope the move will improve life quality, reduce unemployment and create jobs. Recipients will not need to prove they are looking for work and the money will be given regardless of any other income the person earns.
What about the Plan?
Some people may be wondering why there has been little semblance of a plan emerging from the May Government. This extract may throw a little more light on why, beyond the idea that we are holding our cards close to our chests so that the EU cannot take an early peek.
Gary Gibbon, the political editor of Channel 4 News, has written a book called Breaking Point that combines a campaign diary with reflections on what happened.
He quotes what he was told by a pro-leave Tory who worked closely with Michael Gove and Vote Leave in a conversation three weeks after the referendum. The source told him: "We weren’t meant to win. That line 'You were only meant to blow the bloody doors off’, it’s true. The plan was to run the Remain side close enough to scare the EU into bigger concessions. None of us thought we were ever going to win. With the possible exception of Dominic Cummings, who just wanted to drive a car into the Camerons’ living room. It’s all such a mess. I want a second referendum now."
As has been well documented, the referendum vote split the country down the middle in all sorts of ways - not just the haves vs the have-nots, but old vs young, graduates vs the rest, cities vs rural areas, north v south, indigenous vs non-indigenous, nation against nation within the British Isles.
Mrs May is keen now that we all unite around one negotiating Brexit stance, but that is unrealistic without major changes in approach and society. The last thing we need is an economic downturn.
Since the result was announced, the Leave camp has been very vociferous in insisting that it was a democratic vote, telling us that "we should get over it". Some in the Remain camp have indeed taken this advice, while others such as myself believe that the result should continue to be opposed.
So was the vote democratic? Should we unite and get over it? In one sense the referendum was an example in democracy, but it was advisory and non-binding. This is clearly recorded in Hansard and in other Parliamentary briefing documents. I respect it as that - and only that. There was and is no obligation on the part of Government to interpret it as a clear vote in favour of leaving the EU.
One could argue that had it been intended to be binding, a higher majority theshhold would have been imposed before a policy change could be forced through, or the referendum would never have been passed by Parliament in the first place!
What conditions might have been set for a referendum to be binding? Even for Muirfield to admit women to its golf course, a two-thirds majority of members (all men!) would be required - a system heavily weighted in favour of the status quo. Referendums in Australia require that all states should vote in favour, as well as there being an overall majority. Obviously, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all voting to remain, this condition would not have been met. Those same Parliamentary briefing documents also contain a table detailing all the various conditions that referendums are held under in countries worldwide. Nowhere is a straight majority without some other condition sufficient to implement a policy change on its own.
If we scratch beneath the surface, the vote was not at all democratic for many other reasons: any attempt to present this referendum result as "a clear majority" is simply a misrepresentation.
Firstly, three groups of people were denied the opportunity to vote: 16 to 18 year olds (who were allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum); UK citizens domiciled abroad (whose interests are affected by any reciprocal agreement between the UK and Europe, should Brexit happen); and the 3 million UK citizens already living here (excluding those emanating from Eire and Malta). This latter group also have a strong vested interest in the status quo prevailing.
The denial of the vote to young people seems particularly unfair, since it is they who will be affected for the longest period of time. It could equally well be argued that the oldest voters should be denied the vote, on the basis that they will not be around to experience the consequences - a kind of "you can't have your cake and eat it" scenario?
The most equitable solution would have been to give all of these groups the opportunity to participate. And had this been done, the referendum would have been more democratic, but at the expense of the result being reversed, as all those three groups heavily favour Remain.
Furthermore, statisticians are showing that over time, pure demographics will progressively sway the decision in favour of Remain. Since the referendum, over 120,000 Leave voters have sadly died, compared to only 39,000 Remainers (Table X). This is purely a function of the relationship between voting habits and age profile. Similarly, more 18 year-olds have become eligible to vote. The younger generation have different expectations - they are educated with a different skill set and have global ambitions to be free to travel, live and work where they choose. They are not content with living their lives in Hartlepool and holidaying in Southend. So simply with all other things being equal, as older voters leave us and more younger voters come on stream the result swings - sufficiently on its own to overturn the result by 2019, when the Article 50 negotiations are drawing to a close.
It follows therefore that by the time we leave, the country will be overwhelmingly in favour of not leaving. Many opinion polls suggest we have already reached that point, two years early.
My final point relates to the uneasy alliance of people that voted to Leave. We are told variously that they "all" voted to curb immigration, or to bring an end to perceived Brussel bureaucracy, or have the freedom to manage our own trade deals. But we know that another group voted Leave as a protest vote against the Government, and another against job losses to automation. I have also met a taxi driver who hates Germans, a family who oppose Cameron's views on gay marriage, and a lady who objects to the number of pigeons in Sleaford town centre.
All of these reasons are entirely valid reasons to vote - none of us are obliged to vote one way or another for any particular reason. But the main point is that this is an amalgam of reasons, and includes votes for many different outcomes. The current Cabinet of Leavers cannot even agree amongst themselves whether Brexit means Wotsits or Maltesers - should we leave the Single Market, and control (EU) immigration, or stay in the single market, pay for the privilege and accept EU immigration. Or can we indeed have our cake and eat it and bludgeon the EU into compromising on its Four Freedoms?
The Leave vote therefore represents an amalgam of different choices, not one single choice - divisions and compromises are emerging in the Cabinet as the implications of these choices are emerging. Ultimately, the May, Fox, Davis, Johnson axis may even implode.
There were no questions on the ballot paper about what type of Brexit we were voting for, just Yes Brexit or No Brexit. The various Brexit votes cannot be conjoined into one amorphous, all-defeating mass, against a bloc of Remain voters which is solidly in favour of just one outcome - staying in the EU. I would therefore argue that in fact the Remain campaign is already the clear winner, outnumbering as it does any of the other factions.
In any event, the result was extremely close - so close that the principal architect of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage said on the night that were the result 52-48 in favour of Remain, as looked likely at the time of the interview, he would immediately campaign for a second referendum. This is perhaps the only thing I shall ever agree with Farage on. Of course, he no longer feels that way....but neither he nor his fellow Brexiteers can blame any of us for feeling the same way.
So what are we left with? A vague snapshot in time of public opinion, and the certain knowledge that implementing it would exacerbate the splits which it has highlighted in the UK population. Really not a mandate for action.
Views from the front line
My commitment to the EU and the Single Market stems from having served the materials research and manufacturing sectors for over 40 years. My livelihood depends on it. And after studying the likely effects on manufacturing and the economy as a whole, both before the referendum and subsequently, I believe that the course we are embarking on is one of great risk.
Moving as I do in circles of manufacturing company executives, technical press and senior civil servants, I hardly ever come across anyone with a good word to say for Brexit (although a few companies have benefitted from the weaker pound). And yes, that view does prevail, even amongst civil servants in the government departments charged with managing our exit from the EU. Amongst American and European company executives, there is a mixture of sympathy and complete disbelief that any country could embark on such a course, which they largely see as economic suicide. More recently of course, Americans have been somewhat distracted by more pressing domestic affairs!
A couple of months before the referendum took place, I met a number of Siemens executives at a pre-arranged meeting at an exhibition. We had a number of topics on the agenda, of which one was Brexit. It has never been within the remit of the technical press to comment explicitly on political issues, so we discussed other aspects of automation in preference. However, before we went our separate ways, we agreed that it was (at the time) unlikely that the Leave camp would win, and all agreed that was a good thing for manufacturing and for the economy.
Before the vote itself, I started to look in depth at the views of other key players in the engineering community. One of the most persuasive - for me - was an economic analysis by the CBI into the true costs and benefits of EU membership.
In 2013, the CBI surveyed the academic estimates of the overall net economic costs and benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU, as part of its major report Our Global Future. This analysis was further updated in February 2015, noting that some aspects of EU membership are poorly or rarely analysed. This is particularly the case with (on the benefit side), the impact of the Single Market on competition, economies of scale and global value chains; and (on the cost side), the costs of poorly designed regulation.
The CBI analysis suggests that the body of academic evidence points to an overall net benefit of EU membership. The mid-range estimate is around 4-5% of GDP, or £73 to £91 billion per annum, which equates to £2700 - £3300 per household per annum. This estimate has not changed from that published by the CBI in 2013. Added to this must be the bill for leaving the EU, which has been estimated by the EU as £50 billion - this is the cost of commitments already made to research programmes, pension entitlements by EU employees and other forward commitments. This is not negotiable, even if the UK government thinks it is.
What about the costs of bureaucracy? The UK has 384,000 civil servants managing the affairs of a single country, while the EU has 33,000 civil servants looking after the interests of 28 countries. Ok, I accept that the individual country's civil servants have a wider remit, because (contrary to the Brexit argument) the vast majority of UK administration is still administered by the United Kingdom. But we have already heard that the UK will need to assign extra 30,000 civil servants to the job of unravelling all the EU-UK connections, a cost which must be also borne by the UK alone. This is a comparable number to the total number of EU civil servants, yet there the cost is shared across all member states. The claimed savings in bureaucracy claimed for Brexit by Gove and his compatriots appear hard to find!
The analysts note that there is an unavoidable degree of uncertainty over this judgment, and the benefit may be smaller, but it could also be considerably larger. The analyses considered cover a wide range of opinions and methods. It covered 12 studies and 14 different estimates, which range from a net cost of 13% of GDP to a gain of 31%. Five out of the seven estimates which the CBI regarded as credible concluded that the long-term economic benefits of the UK’s membership have outweighed the costs.
Conversely, the CBI says that those studies which find a net benefit from EU exit are based on some relatively ambitious counterfactual scenarios. Examples include: unilateral free trade, in which the UK abandons tariffs on imports for no reciprocal reduction in tariffs on its exports; major repeals of regulation - including some for which there may be limited political appetite (such as removal of all climate change legislation); or scenarios in which Britain undergoes a dramatic industrial shift from manufacturing to services with no impact on unemployment.
Finally the CBI analysis mentions additional empirical studies, including two examples which imply that the UK has received a substantial benefit from its EU membership.
In the light of this, it seems surprising that the CBI is now adopting a Nevill Chamberlain-esque approach of trying to make a success of Brexit, rather than continuing to resist it altogether.
If one truly believes that the annual cost of leaving the EU is between £60 and 90 billion, would it not be beholden to that organisation to fight to the end?
In Making a Success of Brexit, the CBI calls on the Government to consider the complexity of the modern economy where no business operates in isolation. Products come with complementary services, supply chains overlap across borders, and many companies do not fit neatly into a single sector.
The UK’s new relationship with the European Union (EU) must meet the needs of every sector of the economy to be a success, as the consequences of leaving any behind could have knock-on effects for others, says the CBI. This follows its largest consultation of members since before the EU referendum.
“Businesses in every corner of the UK are rolling up their sleeves as they prepare for life outside the EU and are committed to making it a success. Leaving the EU will be a highly complex process, and all sectors of the economy are making their priorities clear in order to get it right," says Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General. “The Government will need to take a ‘whole economy’ approach to avoid leaving sectors behind.”
The impact on pharma
According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK’s pharmaceutical sector is worth over £13 billion of gross value added (GVA), or around 9% of the country’s manufacturing economy. Analysts therefore suggest a Brexit would have serious consequences for the UK and for the industry itself.
An analysis ((GDHC1102EI) conducted just before the referendum by GlobalData, a provider of data and analysis for consumer, technology and healthcare businesses concluded that a close vote for either Brexit or Bremain would create much uncertainty. It says that it is difficult to envisage a positive outcome for the UK pharmaceutical industry in the event of the UK exiting the EU, but a close vote to remain might in fact provide a driver for great positive change in the industry.
Here are some of the arguments cited by the pharmaceutical industry against Leaving the EU:
Early in 2016, the BioIndustry Association penned an open letter in the Financial Times, signed by 55 executives, in favour of Remain. Eli Lilley’s CEO and the Head of R&D at Merck in the US have also both said withdrawal would be challenging for their scientists. While the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), unsurprisingly, thinks the UK’s departure from the EU would threaten scientific research and jeopardise the Member States’ system of drug regulation.
The newly created British Biosimilars Association, has also said Brexit would bring significant uncertainty to approvals and launches of biosimilars for manufacturers and deny jobs to companies that want to compete in the biosimilars market.
And in the latest intervention, Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK (plus 92 other leading life sciences figures), has published an open letter in the Observer articulating the ‘significant advantages’ of EU membership for the life sciences sector and the UK. In addition to putting forward conventional arguments about inward investment and jobs, there was a more overt reference to how UK and EU patients benefit from getting access to medicines more quickly, because of the harmonised EU regulatory approval system that aids faster dissemination.
If the UK does leave the EU completely (and fails to negotiate an EU non-member deal to stay in the EMA), it would miss out on access to other pan-EU projects designed to speed up patient access to innovation, including collaboration on health technology assessments.
At the same time, because pharma companies would then have to undergo a duplicative process for authorisation of their drugs in the UK, it may force them into a binary decision about where to launch their medicines first.
Since the EU would still be a larger marketplace than the UK, companies may legitimately decide to launch their drugs there first, meaning that UK patients end up waiting longer to get hold of cutting edge medicines.
There is one other nasty side effect. An adjustment in the launch sequencing for medicines in favour of the EU could lead to a consequent erosion of the UK’s status as a global reference price, reducing the UK’s ability to obtain discounted prices.
So, in layman’s terms, if the UK does vote for Brexit the cost of our medicines could go up and it could take longer for us to get access to new medicines.
The graphene effect
Graphene is the thinnest material on earth – almost a million times slimmer than a strand of hair. Graphene has exceptional properties: tougher than diamond, stretchier than rubber, and better able to conduct electricity than anything else. Its myriad possible uses include bendy touchscreens for mobiles, super-light batteries, artificial retinas, more effective drug delivery.
"Tomorrow's world is being shaped here in Manchester," declared Chancellor Osborne at the Conservative party conference in 2011. But our record with graphene has been dismal. One of our most significant discoveries is being developed to a far greater degree elsewhere, including in Europe. Consultants calculate that China has taken out more than 2,200 patents on the material; the US more than 1,700; South Korea is closing in on 1,200. And the country that discovered it? Just over 50.
On the one hand, Britain can't spearhead the work on a revolutionary material that was discovered at one of its universities. On the other, the UK can't break its pathological focus on property and credit – despite five years of post-Lehman handwringing by politicians of all stripes.
Competitors such as the USA, Japan, France and Germany have all maintained or increased their spending on research; South Korea and China have begun to spend a lot more. In Britain, however, there has been a fall in the proportion – led by the private sector.
Although graphene exploitation does not have directly to do with Brexit, the UK, once a research-rich economy, has fallen behind in other ways, with UK firms allegedly either incapable or unwilling to exploit inventions.
Yet, Alan Mak (MP), Chairman of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Entrepreneurship, speaking at the December launch of the UK Manufacturing Review, claimed that one of the benefits of leaving the EU would be that Europe is risk-averse in comparison to the UK. While this may be true of Germany’s financial community (although not of other European countries including the Netherlands), the picture is reversed when it comes to safer investments in developing established businesses. The UK is at the bottom of the league when it comes to the implementation of robots (Fig 1), or the development of IoT ready technologies (Fig 2).
In a globalised world, we need the UK's research community working with Germany's engineering businesses and the USA's software experts, all working together, not competing against one another in isolation.
Another historical challenge which faces high-tech start-ups is the ease with which they can be picked off by larger, predatory companies.
ARM Holdings, which describes itself as "the world’s leading semiconductor IP company", manufactures 40 million electronic chips, powering products including smartphones, supercomputers, medical devices, agricultural sensors, base stations and servers.
The company was founded in November 1990 as Advanced RISC Machines and structured as a joint venture between Acorn Computers (of BBC microcomputer fame), Apple Computer and VLSI Technology. I myself with colleagues pioneered the application of computer technology in publishing using Acorn products, and remember them fondly, before the momentum of the early IBM and Apple desktop machines took over.
In July of 2016, shortly after the referendum, the announcement that UK technology firm ARM Holdings was to be bought by Japan's Softbank for £24 billion caused some furore. Softbank is one of the world's biggest technology companies and is run by its founder, Japanese entrepreneur Masayoshi Son.
Although ARM said it would keep its headquarters in Cambridge and that it would at least double the number of its staff over the next five years, the loss of UK control of such a beacon of UK entrepreneurialism caused consternation.
Such announcements are likely to accelerate as a result of Brexit, if the fall in the value of the pound makes it cheaper to acquire British high technology assets. Conversely, German SMEs appear to be much more stable, with many based on a family-firm mentality, and exhibiting a lower willingness to sell.
A similar effect is being seen with the FTSE 100 index, which is at record highs because foreign interests are able to acquire shares of UK multinationals at bargain prices. But little of this wealth will filter down to the British man-in-the-street, with the profits going to those who sell the shares.
Oranges and Lemons
It is often stated that life outside the Single Market is a simple matter of falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules while we set up trading deals with individual countries. There is in fact nothing simple about this. Trade deals take years to set up - ask the Australians or the New Zealanders - and the more elements to the deal, the longer it will take.
Negotiations are also dependent on the relative strength of the hands of the two parties. Our hand is weak, because we are a small nation, attempting to do deals with countries such as the USA, India and China. They will have the upper hand.
A further complication is that individual countries with whom we have unrelated disputes (for example, Argentina and Spain) could make life very difficult by blocking deals which were otherwise attractive to the UK.
We will firstly need to do a deal with the remaining EU bloc. Again, because nearly 50% of our exports go to the EU, but only 10% of theirs come to us, they win. And incidentally, this process cannot start until we have left. So good luck with that.
All of this takes manpower and a skilled army of negotiators. And we do not have one, because they are all working for the EU (who until now have carried out all such negotiations on our behalf). So we either have to find new ones or pay megabucks to attract them back from Brussels.
Space precludes me from being able to expand on how complicated WTO negotiations can be, but I have included an article on orange tariffs in the references! The good news is that the UK’s orange tariffs could be settled in a couple of months. But only with goodwill (the main players are the EU itself, Argentina, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, South Africa and the US), and only if orange tariffs were the only issue to be settled. But there are also cut flowers, potatoes, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables to worry about. Many of the current regulations are designed to protect specific groups of producers who may or may not be equally spread between the UK and the rest of the EU, raising questions about how much tariff protection the UK and EU need to keep for each of those products.
Closer to our manufacturing economy, a recent dispute between Airbus and Boeing at the WTO found in favour of Airbus, condemning massive illegal subsidies to Boeing $26 billion in the form of wholly non-refundable corporate welfare. This is large enough to fund the entire development of the 777X and has already cost Airbus $50 billion in sales.
“The United States and Boeing picked this fight at the WTO, and today’s ruling is yet another blow for that strategy,” said Tom Enders, Chief Executive Officer, Airbus Group. “Those prohibited subsidies must be withdrawn immediately following today’s historic ruling, meaning that Boeing must give up these massive tax subsidies.”
The case for Airbus was fought by the European Commission and the Governments of France, Germany, the UK and Spain working together. How such a case would work out in a post-Brexit world remains to be seen.
The Four Freedoms
I am heavily in favour of the free movement of people and I believe that this country has benefitted enormously from an injection of young, vibrant talent from abroad at a time when the age profile of our own population is such that we need more young people to sustain the costs of their care, medical treatment and pensions. The immigrants to the UK are net contributors to the system. Those who come from the less affluent areas of the EU are actually well educated and often multi-lingual. They often out-skill the indigenous populations, which although disappointing, is not the fault of the EU. At the same time, the people we export to other countries in the EU are older and often leaving to retire to warmer climes, so they are net beneficiaries of the economies they are joining.
I cannot see a sustainable future for the UK which does not involve BOTH Single Market access AND Free Movement of people. We need both, not just one, or neither. I do, however, in a cursory nod to the concerns of those in the Leave camp, see that unfettered immigration from both inside and outside the EU needs some form of control in the medium term, but I believe that this is negotiable from within the EU, without the wholesale destruction of the economy which leaving will inevitably cause. This is the closest to Unity that I can come with those who voted differently to me.
Anyway, to quote from a recent William Keegan article in the Guardian, while wishing readers as happy a new year as events allow, I should like to end with this wonderful quote from Jan Kamieniecki in a letter to the Financial Times: “I suspect that what Michael Gove meant to say was that the people in this country have had enough of exports.”
As taken from European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16, Briefing Paper Number 07212, 3 June 2015
5. Types of referendum
CBI economic analysis http://www.cbi.org.uk/business-issues/uk-and-the-european-union/eu-business-facts/cbi-literature-review-of-the-impact-of-eu-membership-on-the-uk-economy-pdf/
Prospects for Inward Investment in the UK Pharma and Medical Device Industries Following the EU Referendum Published: 22 Jun 2016
House of Commons Library Standard Note: SN/PC/02809 Thresholds in referendums June 2011 Author: Oonagh Gay and Lorna Horton Section Parliament and Constitution Centre
House of Commons Library BRIEFING PAPER Number 07212, 3 June 2015 European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16
|Can ultra-capacity polymer supercapacitors displace auto batteries?||19/12/2016|
Up to now, it has been assumed that electric cars would be battery operated and hybrid vehicles will form a major part of the future automotive market.
Considerable investment is going into the development of battery systems, particularly lithium ion systems, and incremental improvements are improving the technology. Tesla’s Nevada facility will at full capacity produce enough batteries to power 500,000 electric cars per year by 2020. This is more than the global total lithium ion battery production for 2013.
But the problem with battery-operated vehicles is that they take ages to charge and have limited range.
What about the potential for an alternative technology - supercapacitors? Both batteries and supercapacitors are electrochemical energy storage media, but they are as different as night and day. Both are capable of energy storage and targeted energy release – and yet there are major differences between the two. Batteries store very large amounts of energy that is released slowly but constantly.
By contrast, state-of-the-art supercapacitors can only store small amounts of energy (they have poor energy density per kilogramme) but they release this energy much faster and more powerfully with large short-term peak currents. Nevertheless, they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.
Now, a major scientific breakthrough based on groundbreaking research from the University of Surrey claims to have discovered new materials – conducting hydrophilic polymers - offering an alternative to battery power and between 1000 and 10,000 times more powerful than existing supercapacitors. Patents on the new materials have been filed by a company called Augmented Optics and its wholly owned subsidiary Supercapacitor Materials, registered specifically for the purpose of commercialising them. The technology has been adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago.
Supercapacitors with these properties would allow electric cars to travel similar distances as petrol cars, but without the need to stop for lengthy recharging breaks of typically six to eight hours. Instead, they would recharge fully in the time it takes to fill a regular car with petrol.
Can supercapacitors really become a direct and viable competitor to the petrol engine? Are the deciding arguments technical – or political? What effect might moving away from oil have for world order? What effects might it have on the economies of oil-rich countries, such as the USA and the Middle East, and how might they react to the new competition?
After much speculation, President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with protecting the nation's air and water from big polluters. But Pruitt is a Southern Baptist lawyer whose main claim to fame is the many lawsuits he has filed against the very agency he is now supposed to lead, as well as orchestrating the Republican attack on the Clean Power Plan, Obama's most important achievement to slow global warming.
According to Stateside industry observers, Pruitt has is deeply woven into the empire of fossil fuels and a climate change denier. As head of the EPA, many fear that his real job will be to pump up the fossil-fuel bubble.
The potential repercussions are almost too large to contemplate. What future supercapacitors from the University of Surrey?
|Industry 4.0 – the enemy of climate control?||25/10/2016|
Hard as it might be to believe, the iPhone in your pocket (other brands are also available) may use more electrical energy than a refrigerator. A new report by Mark Mills — the CEO of the technology and investment advisory firm Digital Power Group – claims that a medium-size refrigerator uses about 322kWh a year. The average iPhone, according to Mills’ calculations, uses about 361kWh a year, once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.
The digital economy is consuming a large and growing amount of energy. One computer workstation, if not turned off, uses roughly the same energy in a year that it takes a 25mpg car engine to travel more than 4500 miles.
In 2012, it was estimated that the computer farms that handle Internet data are responsible for up to 1.3% of electricity consumption globally, with Facebook's energy use growing particularly fast. Even back then, the company processed more than 250 million photo uploads each day.
The global ICT system includes everything from smartphones to laptops to digital TVs to — especially — the vast and electron-thirsty computer-server farms that make up the backbone of what we call “the cloud.”
It is estimated by Mills that the global ICT system now uses 1,500 terawatt-hours of power per year. That’s about 10% of the world’s total electricity generation or roughly the combined power production of Germany and Japan. This is the same amount of electricity that was used to light the entire planet in 1985. Amazingly, we already use 50% more energy to move bytes than we do to move planes in global aviation.
Perhaps even more concerning is the growth of remote digital sensors and devices that are being connected to the internet under Industry 4.0. This, according to Lancaster University researchers, has the potential to bring virtually unlimited increases in energy consumed by smart technologies. Autonomous streaming of data by 6.4 billion connected IoT devices - and it is estimated the number could reach 21 billion by 2020.
“The internet is consuming an increasing portion of global electricity supply, and this growing consumption is a significant concern in global efforts to reduce carbon emissions," says Dr Mike Hazas, senior lecturer in the university's School of Computing and Communications.
As our lives migrate progressively to the digital cloud — and as more and more wireless devices of all sorts become part of our lives — the electrons will follow. And that shift underscores how challenging it will be to reduce electricity use and carbon emissions even as we become more efficient.
Nonetheless, this issue aims to make a modest contribution by reviewing the latest developments in Renewables on Page 14.
|Big data daunts the manufacturing sector||30/08/2016|
Simplifying the Complexity of IoT, a new report by Forrester Consulting for Xively by LogMeIn is suggesting that two out of three US manufacturing firms are not using the data they collect from connected devices.
Forrester conducted an online survey of 232 manufacturing organizations located in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea, as well as five in-depth qualitative interviews with similar companies. The study began in April 2016 and was completed in May 2016.
This represents a missed opportunity to utilise valuable data, as companies focus their time and resources on just connecting products and capturing data, rather than creating actionable insights from the captured data.
“There are a lot of components of a connected product for manufacturers to think about, but when initially entering the IoT space, their main focus is on connectivity,” says Forrester Consulting
“When we asked manufacturers that currently have devices available how much time was spent on various product capabilities, connectivity was at the top of their list, representing about 20% of the total effort. However, the reality is that many of the key drivers for IoT can’t be realized by just connecting a device.”
The report has also found that product manufacturers typically need third-party support to maximise IoT efficiency. Support needs range from connectivity to security to device management. It seems that companies are relying on external expertise rather than in-house skillsets to provide the technology and expertise to help operate their connected devices effectively.
Managing connected products (74%) is seen as the most important capability for IoT-enabled connected products, while actually connecting connected products (61%) is the most challenging. 38% of companies think data and device security will be the biggest challenge with implementing IoT-enabled products.
Differentiation (62%) is seen as the biggest reason why manufacturing firms would deploy IoT-enabled connected products, ahead of enabling new monitoring capabilities for products (61%), generating revenue (61%) and enhancing customer experience (53%).
Meanwhile, just 29% are utilising captured data to make decisions in real time, 32% to personalise interactions with individual customers and 34% to profile and segment customers.
According to a Gartner study conducted in November 2015, it is estimated that there will be 6.4 billion connected devices globally by the end of 2016, with that number expected to skyrocket in the near future. As data connected devices increase at an exponential rate, so will the data they produce, which will only amplify this challenge.
Andy Pye is Consulting Editor of Controls, Drives and Automation. He also owns the online publishing business Carousel Web, which publishes in the security, health, defence and advanced materials sectors.
In a publishing career spanning back to 1980, Andy has edited many of the leading UK manufacturing and engineering titles, including Design Engineering, Engineering and Industrial Technology. In 1999, he was a Founding Partner and Shareholder of Pro-Talk, the ground-breaking online publications company which was sold to Centaur Media in 2006.
Prior to a career in publishing, Andy graduated in Natural Sciences, specialising in Metallurgy and Materials Science, and worked for a materials engineering consultancy. Outside publishing, Andy consults on the business management of recreational sports clubs and has worked for the Kent Cricket Board and England and Wales Cricket Board. Approaching 60, he still plays and coaches cricket!