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CDA digital conference goes live!

24 January 2022

Sponsored by Farnell, the inaugural CDA Live digital conference featured a packed programme of high profile, expert speakers addressing subjects ranging from AI to sustainability. Charlotte Stonestreet reports

THE FIRST speaker of the day, Mike Wilson from the British Automation and Robot Association and chief automation officer at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, looked at how automation can help the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. For context, Wilson outlined the importance of manufacturing for the UK; while relatively small in terms of GDP, when it comes to exports the sector is significant, accounting for over 50%, as well as contributing 65% of all UK R&D investment.

“Personally I would like to see manufacturing receive more recognition, stronger recognition for that it does achieve, but I also want to see manufacturing in the UK grow. We want a vibrant and competitive manufacturing sector and to achieve that I believe we need to be using the latest advanced manufacturing technologies, giving us, ultimately, high employment in well paid, highly skilled roles.”

So how can manufacturing benefit from automation? Firstly, it’s about greater productivity; UK productivity is behind that of our major competitors, asserted Wilson, and UK manufacturing needs to be as productive as its major competitors.

Automation can also be used to address labour shortages, such as those caused by Brexit, in the food and drinks sector, and throughout other areas of manufacturing. “We are starting to see issues now here we cannot find enough workers to satisfy the manicuring capacity we have,” said Wilson. “We therefore need to look at ways to solve that problem, with automation and robotics being an obvious solution.” He also outlined how automation can help provide more resilient manufacturing environments by enabling social distancing within the workplace.

With the pandemic also highlighting weaknesses in supply chains, Wilson also advocated re-shoring as a way to make supply chains more resilient - and automation can help achieve this.


The second presentation came from conference platinum sponsor Farnell, represented by Simon Meadmore and Matthew Thorp. Continuing the automation theme, attendees were given information on the global industrial automation market and its predicted growth fuelled by the increased demand to automate manufacturing with technologies such as robotics and predictive maintenance.

Farnell supports its customers far beyond product viability and sourcing; through numerous reports and articles, the company has established itself as a trusted source for market information, publishing technology white papers and eBooks on its website.

Farnell offers multi-channel online/offline support –customers can buy products via the website or talk to people through contact centres. The company has an industry-leading produce breadth and ultimately, said Meadmore, supports customers through every step of their buying journey. At the core of Farnell’s industrial proportion is working with key suppliers and manufacturers to ensure the company has the most relevant range available to its customers. The company now offers a range of over 80,000 stocked and extended range products and Meadmore highlighted in particular product range expansions from franchises with companies such as Festo, Omega and Mitsubishi.

Meadmore detailed the e-solutions that Farnell has available to help customers streamline their purchasing processes and control expenses. iBuy is a free online purchasing tool that is added to a buyer’s account to reduce admin and speed up the buying process. For use in conjunction with ibis, a bill of material tool enables customers to download their own bill of materials to be automatically matched via parts numbers with what is available from Farnell; this can then be added to the basket in one hit. A cut-and-paste-tool, an order scheduling facility and secure online E-invoicing are also available.

In addition to the provision of support engineers, Farnell is constantly expanding its technical resource content in the form of videos, articles, white papers - all of which is available via the company’s Technical Resources Hub at https://uk.farnell.com/technical-resources.

The Farnell presentation also included a video with representatives from key supplier partners Festo, Honeywell, ABB, Omega and Schneider Electric, outlining their views on the industrial market. To view this visit www.cda-live.co.uk and select 'Simon Meadmore & Matthew Thorpe' from the 'Watch On Demand' dropdown.

Made Smarter

Donna Edwards, MD for business support and business finance at Manchester-based Growth Company and programme lead for the North West Made Smarter adoption programme, talked about how SMEs are being encouraged to adapt technology and some of the results for that activity.

Edwards referenced 2017’s Made Smarter review, one of the key findings of which was that there was a lack of leadership was leading to poor levels of technology adoption, and that those heading up UK firms lacked the knowledge to understand how technology could improve business, particularly amongst SMEs.

“If we can get everyone working as efficiently, as productively as possible, the research identified that there was a potential £455 bill positive impact for the UK economy over the next ten year period,” said Edwards.

The review also predicted a net gain in jobs, something Edwards said felt almost counterintuitive. Indeed, there was a lot of press when the Made Smarter pilot was launched that it would have a negative impact on employment. As Edwards pointed out, that has not been the case; in the worst case scenarios businesses have not increased their workforce but have become more productive with their existing employees.

Other positives identified in the report are productivity gains and carbon emission reductions.

The Made Smarter adoption programme has several elements, with the key factor being impartial advice. A team of advisors who have experience introducing technology  – mostly in the manufacturing sector – is employed to help convey what is possible.

The pilot set out to test what works when it comes to implementing digital technologies, and how to remove barriers to implementation in SMEs. Digital Transition Workshops were set up, working with leaders from with the SMEs to look at the possible areas are within their businesses that could benefit.

"At the end of those sessions they actually have a digital road map that they can use for their business," said Edwards. “And we break that journey down for them so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming. It is a test and learn process that takes the leaders and the workforce on the journey together."

CCLink Partner Association

John Browett, general manager, CCLink Partner Association in Europe, looked at time sensitive networking (TSN) and how it can be used to enhance process transparency, enabling more effective management. One of the main benefits of TSN in this scenario is ‘convergence’ - the ability to take multiple different kinds of traffic typically communicated on a factory floor between different processes and share them in a more advantageous way than has been previously possible, and to share the information between the operational technology (OT) level and the IT level.

“The idea is that once we can converge all these different types of data together on a single network architecture that is actually going to make things more transparent and easier to understand,” said Browett. He also spoke about the industry trend towards gigabit bandwidth, and its ability to enable data sharing at a higher performance level and get it to where it’s needed more quickly.

TSN is defined by a group of IEEE 802.1 standards, which are part of the standards that define Ethernet.

“TSN takes standard Ethernet and makes it deterministic, so we know exactly when something is going to happen,” said Browett. “By doing that, it provides the foundation for convergence.”

Browett addressed time synchronisation, related to the standard IEEE 802.1AS which gives very precise control of latency and jitter. He also looked at IEEE 802.1Qbv, which builds on the synchronisation by controlling what has access to the network, and when, enabling prioritisation.

“What this means for users in practice is that from now on, using this kind of technology, we can simplify the industrial communication we are using in our facilities.”


The role of sustainability in the smart factory was addressed by Nikesh Mistry, Gamica’s sector head of industrial automation Mistry outlined four areas of focus: technology, resources, energy usage, and waste treatment and recycling.

When it comes to technology, Mistry asserted that digital adoption is becoming a necessity, as opposed to a novelty.

“The pandemic has become a catalyst for technology, ensuring that companies are able to remotely access data and machinery,” said Mistry. “Maintenance from afar has become essential like never before.”

He pointed to smart technology and processes becoming the norm in greener manufacturing processes, with AI and automation leading to more visibility of the process and enabling greater efficiency. Technologies such as predictive maintenance and digital twins can help improve equipment reliability, helping to identify problems very early on and enabling optimum use of resources.

Looking at energy usage, the presentation covered a number of simple steps to take, the most basic being to switch off machines when they are not being used.

“A 75kW motor turned off for just an hour a day could save over £2000 a year,” said Mistry.

The benefits of retrofitting modern upgrades to older machinery were also pointed out, for example simple sensors to make equipment smart, which can then be used to collected data for process optimisation. And, of course, Mistry pointed out the importance of fitting electric motors with VSDs or soft starters where appropriate.

Valispace in association with Advanced Engineering

Giving a taste of the type of content visitors to CDA-Live sponsor, Advanced Engineering can expect, Stefan Siarov from Valispace looked at simple steps for digitising processes in hardware engineering.

Starting off with the engineering lifecycle, Siarov pointed out that the later projects are in the development stage, the more expensive and complicated it is to make changes.

While issues in the later stages of the engineering lifecycle are fairly well addressed any Industry 4.0, this is not the case in the earlier stages, which often involve many people, documents, and file and require the transfer of data from one discipline to another. Valispace helps clients move the initial stages of the engineering lifecycle from being document driven to being data driven.

Contrasting software and hardware development, Siarov referred to software engineers working with one data repository on which everyone can collaborate, in real-time. He also emphasised the benefits of continuous integration, which regularly measures what is being developed agains the initial set of requirements to ensure end product is what was required in the first place, and in so doing can speed up the development process.

Agile development is the norm in software, enabling a quick overview of whole project progress and the ability to quickly react to any changes or problems. This is very different to ‘waterfall’ planning, which is still often used in the hardware industry.

Another area that has been learnt and adopted from the software industry is automatic documentation, whereby a full documentation thread is automatically generated and maintained through smart systems.

Siarov then went on to examine how these concepts can be transferred to hardware development across industry, and the resulting benefits.


Neil Sandhu chair of the United Kingdom Industrial Vision Association joined CDA-Live to talk about how deep learning is pushing machine vision to new boundaries. The use of machine vision in the industrial sector first emerged in the 1950s to automate human inspection tasks, and has the benefits of increasing production, improving quality and reducing or enabling the redeployment of labour.

Sandhu looked at machine learning and deep learning as a part of artificial intelligence (AI), whereby a machine can learn to be more efficient, and how it is applied in vision systems. He identified two different types of machine vision: Rule based, which is the more traditional way of doing things and involves different tools analysing the image; and example based, which involves deep learning. With example based machine vision, the data sets (images) are provided to the neural network enabling it  to learn and differentiate patterns within the images.

“Rule based machine vision is still very relevant and well used where we have well defined and predictable objects to look at,” said Sandhu. “Example based machine vision is for where you have complex and unpredictable defects.”

The presentation also covered application examples, looked further at methodology and outlined the resulting benefits.

This article gives just a taster of what was covered at CDA Live. To see the full presentations register at the website below for on-demand access.