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Charlotte Stonestreet

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Invest to be the best! 02/05/2024

ANYONE FAMILIAR with the UK industrial sector will no doubt be aware of the relatively low levels of investment in the UK when compared to, for example, our European counterparts. Indeed, the finger is often pointed at under-investment when it comes to figuring out the reasons behind the UK’s perennial issue of low productivity. Add to this the growing need for sustainability – which simply cannot be achieved without investment in the latest technologies – and the need for investment has never been greater.

So why is the UK so reluctant to invest? Of course, there is a myriad of reasons – from short term-ism to a traditional attitude of if-it-aint-broke-don’t-fix it – but what many of them boil down to is a lack of knowledge, not just about the technology and potential benefits, but also about the available finance opportunities. This has been highlighted in a recent report from Make UK, NatWest and Lombard, which found that investment levels amongst the UK’s manufacturers could be boosted by up to £10 billion in the next year if they were to take advantage of the range of public and private finance options available to them.

Such a boost would, asserts Make UK, raise the investment potential of the sector overall by up to a fifth and help address the UK’s long-term productivity weakness. Furthermore, the report shows that more than a quarter of companies (26%) would increase their investment by up to a fifth if access to finance was improved, while more than one in ten (12%) would increase their investment by up to half. However, the report also showed that more than half of companies (54%) are unaware of the range of public sources of finance and government schemes tailored towards manufacturers.

Boosting investment is critical to the sectors’ efforts to improve productivity and innovation performance given the top priorities for investment are capital equipment (62%) while access to finance will be required for investment in automation and energy efficiency by a third of companies (32% and 31% respectively). Furthermore, the report also shows almost three quarters of companies (70%) said that investment would not take place without access to finance, while just under a third (30%) said their investment would have taken place without any access to finance.

The report shows that, as well as improved awareness of private financial options available to manufacturers, there needs to be far greater awareness of the public sources of finance and Government schemes. More than two thirds of companies (67%) have not heard of the Horizon Europe programme, while a lack of awareness of domestic schemes such as the Government’s flagship management Help to Grow scheme (61%) and British Business Bank (58%) is also alarmingly high. By contrast, just 2% of companies have successfully accessed the Horizon programme, 14% accessed the Help to Grow scheme  and 12% accessed the British Business Bank. According to Make UK, this means Government must be cautious before scrapping schemes that companies are unaware of.

To improve manufacturers’ awareness of the range of public and private finance available Make UK is calling for a centralised database which would signpost both public and private provision. Could this be the magic bullet that will get UK industry investing? Probably not, but there's no doubt that it would make a positive contribution.

Charlotte Stonestreet


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New battlegrounds for machine builders 01/05/2024

Charlotte Stonestreet reports on the latest Controls, Drives & Automation webinar, sponsored by Schneider Electric, which took the form of a roundtable covering sustainability and servitisation

FOLLOWING INTRODUCTIONS and some general scene-setting, the webinar kicked into action with Mike Wilson who pointed out that here in the UK we are not really great users of robots and automation, and generally lag behind most competitors throughout the world. To put this into context, Wilson pointed to robot destiny figures, which give an indication of the number of robots in use per 10,000 workers and enable comparisons with other countries. At present the UK lies 25th in the world, despite being the eighth largest manufacturer.

“So if we were using robots at the same kind of level as other countries we should be somewhere more around the eighth to tenth sort of range,” said Wilson. “We (the UK) historically have not been very good at cap-ex investment throughout our manufacturing centre, but things are changing and it’s being driven by issues around sustainability in particular.”

Effective and efficient

Wilson asserted that using the latest automation technology is beneficial in terms of ensuring operations are as effective and efficient as they can be. Automation results in less waste, produces more consistent quality and helps achieve optimal energy use, as well as making sure that a piece of machinery is used as efficiently as possible

“A typical machine tool might be loaded and unloaded manually, and you will typically get 60-70% utilisation out of that tool, whereas if you can automate the load and unload you can increase that to about 90%,” said Wilson. “So you get a significant improvement in the efficiency of all the resources that you are putting into that process.

Wilson pointed to another global issue that the UK is well positioned to take advantage of, that of the trend for reshoring, which can also contribute to sustainability. It is important to consider not just the carbon emissions from the UK, but also the overseas emissions produced during the manufacture and transport of goods which are imported to the UK. Growing demand for mass customisation is also driving the desire to produce closer to the end consumer.

“That gives us an opportunity to bring things back to the UK,” said Wilson. “And to do that we need to be competitive, we need to do it without significantly increasing the amount of labour that we are using, so, therefore, we need to consider automation.”

As Wilson pointed out, automation and robotics give the potential to expand the UK’s manufacturing capability and ensure that it’s as sustainable as possible.

Different business model

Touching on servitisation, Wilson said: “Really, it’s just a different business model in terms of how people sell the equipment, and rather than purchasing the equipment, you are buying the ability to produce a certain number of parts an hour, or whatever it might be. Fundamentally, that makes it easier to invest in that equipment because it’s not necessarily coming out of cap-ex.”

Given that the UK has been historically poor at cap-ex, this gives the opportunity to take advantage of the latest technologies going forward.

In the context of sustainability, Wilson also talked about the recycling and refreshment of automation equipment, pointing out that in the past businesses might have simply discarded a piece of equipment once it had reached the end of its life. However, there is a second hand market for industrial robots and some of the bigger companies are starting to take robots back for refurbishment and resale back into the market.

“Those opportunities make it potentially less expensive for some of the smaller businesses to get into this technology.” said Wilson “So we start to develop a circular process that;’s beneficial for the whole of UK industry.

“We are just at the start of this journey, but there is a big opportunity for the UK to take leadership in this kind of approach, and then that will give us the chance to catch up, or even leapfrog our main competitors.”

Scoping out the complexities

The conversation then turned to the reasons behind the need for OEMs, and the wider market, to compete specifically on sustainability - a subject addressed by Mike Teller, global strategy and sustainability leader, OEM industry business, at Schneider.

“We do things for two reasons, I guess, at a basic level, either because we see a reason to do it and want to do it or because we have to,” said Teller. He pointed to regulatory requirements from both the UK and the EU (to where the UK exports) which mean companies have to comply in terms of sustainability, as well as the voluntary side where businesses see the growing awareness amongst both their customers and their competition.

“There are areas that we hear about from the greenhouse gas protocol, where we talk about scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3. A scope 1 emission is something we generate ourselves; so I have a gas boiler where I am which is heating the radiators which keep me warm so that’s my scope 1 emission. Scope 2 is an emission made on my behalf, so I’m running my computer at the moment on electricity which is made by the power station down the road, and that is an emission made on my behalf so I can purchase their electricity.” says Teller.

“Scope 1 and scope 2 are more or less within my control; scope 3 is far more complex. It’s everything upstream - so everything that we buy into Schneider Electric to put into a product – and everything downstream that goes to our customer. And scope 3 is by far the largest area. This is where – selling products and solutions to our machine builder partners who then sell them on to end users – we can have the biggest effect. So this is also where the biggest opportunity is.

Teller highlighted that 80% of a product's sustainability is determined at the design stage. As he pointed out, it is not possible to build a machine and then expect to fine tune it three years later; this is where Schneider uses digital twin technology to design in partnership with the machine builder.

The digital twin

Miklosh Bakos OEM offer manager UK&I at Schneider also talked about the importance of designing in sustainability right from the onset. He referenced a 2022 study from Gartner which analysed the whole machine building process; this determined that roughly 60% of the commission time is wasted with fault fixing.

“That’s a big number, 60%,” said Bakos. “To address this and to make it faster for the OEM to get through the whole process, the digital twin can be one pillar of success, speeding up commissions and making it more efficient.”

Bakos explained how the digital twin brings value beyond just the design, easing collaboration amongst the various parties working on a project, providing a detailed sales tool to showcase the machine itself, and enabling remote maintenance.

Responding, Chris Haines, marketing director, industry at Schneider talked about the huge potential for enhancing sustainability through predictive maintenance. This can, he said save end users’ time, energy, and resource by being more intelligent about what is maintained and how and it is maintained, based on the condition of the condition of the equipment rather than relying on manufacturer recommended maintenance intervals.

“If you are monitoring the actual condition of your assets, you can tell where and when they need maintaining and you can extent the maintenance intervals if it’s not being worked particularly hard, or if it’s in a clean environment, and you can save an awful lot of time, energy, resource, materials – and as a result carbon – by doing that,“ said Haines.

He also pointed out that if a piece of machinery is being worked particularly hard or is in a harsh environment, monitoring the condition can identify that maintenance is needed before the recommenced interval comes up, potentially averting catastrophic failure. “It’s another way of saving time, money and energy,” he said.

When it comes to repair and remanufacture, Haines feels that this is another aspect that can contribute to sustainability as a whole.

“There’s no silver bullet for sustainability, there’s no one big ticket item that you can go for, it’s really about aggregating marginal gains,“ said Haines. “It’s lot of little things that add up on your journey to net zero.”

Gain further insight

This article gives just a taster of what was covered in the webinar, so if you want to find out more details visit the website below and view the event on-demand at a time to suit you.


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Does this give much needed certainty? 05/03/2024

AS I write this on the eve of what is in all probability the final budget before the next election, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has as you will no doubt be aware announced a £360m boost to UK manufacturing and R&D.

Brandished as part of the government’s plan to grow the economy, boost health resilience and support jobs across the UK, the funding will go to companies and projects making cutting edge technology in sectors key to economic growth and forms part of wider government support which aims to ensure the UK is the best place to start, grow and invest in manufacturing.

This latest announcement follows publication of the government’s 47-page advanced manufacturing plan last November, setting out its long-term proposals for increasing manufacturing output. It is backed by £4.5bn in funding over the next five years, which was announced in the autumn statement.

Of the funding, £7.5m has been earmarked to support two pharmaceutical companies: Northern Ireland-based Almac, which produces drugs to treat diseases such as cancer, heart disease and depression; and Ortho Clinical diagnostics in Pencoed, Wales, which is expanding its facilities producing testing products used to identify a variety of diseases and conditions.

The Chancellor also indicated that firms will soon be able to apply for a share of the £520 million funding for life sciences manufacturing announced at Autumn Statement, with competitions for large scale investments opening for expressions of interest this summer and medium and smaller sized companies in the autumn.

On top of this, the government has announced almost £73m in combined government and industry investment for cutting-edge automotive R&D projects to support the development of electric vehicle technology, delivering, says the government, highly skilled jobs and cementing the UK’s position as a global hub for EV manufacturing – good news even given the fact that the ban on the sale of new IC engined cars has recently been delayed by five years.

It is hoped the funding will unlock investment from the private sector and give certainty to investors, something which has – anecdotally and seemingly otherwise – been lacking in recent years.

And while any investment in UK manufacturing is to be welcomed, let’s not pretend that the latest announcement represents some kind of panacea for the sector and more action is needed.

Indeed, as Chris White, director of the Industrial Policy Research Centre at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, has pointed out: “R&D underpins the innovation and productivity needed to boost economic growth and reduce our reliance on overseas manufacturing. The UK’s investment in this area has lagged behind other countries for too long. By setting out more substantive details, The Chancellor has sent an important message of confidence which will help secure more private funding for cutting-edge projects.
“However, it’s no secret that the UK manufacturing sector is suffering an alarming skills shortage now. Whilst the two-year £50 million apprenticeship growth sector pilot is crucial in shaping our future workforce to deliver the Government’s ambitions plans, industry is also keen to see more accessible upskilling programmes to fill the current skills gap.”

Charlotte Stonestreet


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Driving sustainability through digitalisation 23/02/2024

Charlotte Stonestreet reports on the last Controls, Drives & Automation webinar, where Nikesh Mistry and Francois Disch explored the role digitalisation can play in helping businesses meet growing demand for environmentally responsible practices while simultaneously improving their bottom line

SETTING THE scene, Nikesh Mistry, sector head for industrial automation at GAMBICA referred to the UK Government’s legally binding commitment to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, asserting that unless stronger action is taken this target will be missed.

“If stronger action isn’t taken by industry, manufacturers and end-users alike it doesn’t look as though we will actually reach our goals,” he said

Addressing this, GAMBICA has created Environmental Impact Champions, whereby the association has sent out a survey to all its members, which allows them to benchmark their performance against industry standards for CO2 emissions, as well as identify their main emission sources and come up with a reduction plan. GAMICA then uses the data collected to monitor trends and produce reports to be shared with members so that they can then demonstrate their approach to customers and tenders. Each company can compare their data with industry standards, with the intention of then achieving year-on-year improvements – individual company data is not shared with other businesses.

Different mindsets

One of the benefits of being a sizeable organisation is that GAMBICA is able to have a range of groups addressing similar things, but involving different individuals and mindsets.

“We’ve got the university group who might influence sustainability, we’ve got the wider GAMBICA members in all sectors and we’ve got our GAMBICA Young Council,” said Mistry. “This is 16 professional in the first ten years of their careers spread across all the GAMBICA industries.”

The group is currently concentrating on STEM, sustainability and professional development, which is particularly pertinent.

“The younger generation sees sustainability from a different point of view,” asserted Mistry. “Sustainability is in the media, it’s at the forefront of what’s going on, and it’s personal to them.”

As part of their remit, members of the GAMBICA Young Council are creating a ‘jargon buster’, helping to decipher the buzzwords that get used around sustainability, as well as coming up with a guide for sustainability best practice.

“They want to create initiatives to help businesses, not just ticking boxes,” said Mistry. “They are working with companies like My Green Lab and other sustainability focussed businesses to help them go into our members and help on the sustainability side of things.”

So, once the groundwork has been laid in terms of completing the surveys and discovering where carbon emissions are, what are the next steps that a business can take to reduce their carbon footprint and begin their journey to becoming a smart sustainable enterprise?

Four focus areas

Mistry outlined four areas of focus to help businesses on their sustainability journey, the first of which was optimisation of resource use and economic decoupling whereby the environmentally negative impact of resource consumption is minimised and the processes are optimised.

The second focus highlighted was that of energy usage, an area which, said Mistry can be overlooked. As he pointed out, while it is vital not to ignore energy saving technology, simply improving energy waste can bring about huge benefits in terms of a reduced carbon footprint. Examples cited by Mistry include something as basic as turning off machines when not in use and not running them to full capacity unnecessarily.

Another factor that Mistry looked at was waste treatment and recycling. GAMICA works with a number of companies such as B2B Compliance, a not-for-profit organisation set up to help businesses with Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling (WEEE).

The fourth area of focus, that of technology, is particularly important. "I cannot stress how important it is to use technological advances to maximise your efficiency," said Mistry.

It's about taking the digital technologies that we have – which in many instances are not new technologies, but have been available for many years – and getting started on the journey to use them.

"The pandemic was a catalyst of technology. Companies need to remotely access their data, their machines, they need to do machine maintenance from wherever they may have been because they couldn't go on site," said Mistry.

As he pointed out, technology proved essential in maintaining productivity throughout the external shocks of the pandemic; and this is also pertinent to the current situation with global unrest and the continuing ripples of Brexit to contend with.

"Digitalisation isn't just about manufacturing, it's about logistics, the warehouse, transport, labour, scheduling, quality systems – these are all areas that technology can have an influence in," said Mistry.

And for those unsure of what technology might be right for them, there are many companies that can help. It is also good to be part of an association like GAMBICA where competitors can come together to discuss the wider challenges.

Existing technologies

Next up was Francois Disch, digital transformation delivery lead at Schneider Electric UK&I, who put forward the assertion that 70% of CO2 emissions currently produced can be eliminated using existing technologies.

"There's a lot to do currently, and there's going to be a lot in the future too, but really we can say that we've got everything in our hands to break this curve and get down to the 1.5 degrees that we need to," he said.

Disch looked at electricity consumption and how it has more or less doubled each decade in the recent past, something that he attributes partly to the drive towards electrification. This, said Disch, doesn't necessarily mean 'green', but it does mean 'clean' - in other words, the electricity may be produced from a number of sources, which may or may not be sustainable, but the point at which the electricity is consumed is clean.

"The goal is to use electrification, use green energy, and then go back to the source of the production of electricity and get it cleaner in parallel," said Disch.

Being at the forefront of energy management and industrial automation, and understanding how they are interwoven, Schneider Electric is ideally placed to address the challenges around electrification and the transition to sustainability. Indeed, Schneider is consistently recognised as one of the most sustainable companies in the world and since 2014 is the largest independent broker of renewable Power Purchase Agreements (PPA).

"We are managing our own CO2 emissions and we are connecting our expertise with our clients," said Disch. "We have experts in digital energy and sustainability pathways across the world."

Three logical steps

Disch outlined three logical steps to optimising a company's carbon footprint, the first of which is to strategise. This step includes measuring current carbon output, creating a decarbonisation roadmap, providing structure and governance, and communicating the commitments both internally and externally.

"At the is point we haven't changed the output, the carbon footprint, but we have a way forward," said Disch.

The next step is to digitise, which involves monitoring resources use and emissions to provide live data which is then used to identify savings opportunities. Progress should be benchmarked and reported.

The third step, decarbonisation, is about electrifying operations, reducing energy use, replacing the energy source, and engaging with the value chain with the aim of impacting the overall carbon footprint.

These steps are eased by applying a degree of common sense and Disch outlined some basic actions that businesses can take including replacing inefficient machinery, using green energy, and even simply raising awareness.

Grow your knowledge

This article gives just a taster of what was covered in the webinar, so if you want to find out more details visit the website below and view the event on-demand at a time to suit you.

You can also sign up for the next webinar on 14 March, brought to you in association with Schneider Electric, titled 'Sustainability & Servitisation: The New Battlegrounds for Machine Builders', which promises to drill down into how regulations and emissions calculations will impact buying decisions, how to use sustainability credentials to win new business, and how to leverage 100% tax breaks for capital expenditure.


Key Points

  • Common sense measures to improve energy waste can bring about huge benefits in terms of a reduced carbon footprint
  • The digital technology needed to improve sustainability already exists, but needs to be properly used
  • It is important to have a strategy – providing structure and governance, and communicating the commitments

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Close, but no strategy 11/12/2023

HAND UP everyone who can tell me when the UK last had an Industrial Strategy. For those of you that don’t know, and indeed are at all interested, the UK has not had an Industrial Strategy since March 2020. To state the obvious, that's the best part of four years without a proper long term plan. In contrast, the US, China, France and Germany, all have industrial strategies, underlining the importance of such a stance on the international stage.

That's not to say that UK industry hasn't had some good news in recent months. In November's Autumn Statement, the chancellor made full capital expensing – a capital allowance tax scheme that lets UK companies deduct 100% of the cost of capital equipment from their profits in the year it is bought, instead of spreading the cost across multiple tax years – permanent. This is great news for businesses such as manufacturers which generally have investment cycles of five years or more and for which the original three year plan – first introduced in Spring Budget 2023 and set to expire on 31 March 2026 – had limited benefit.

To boost growth in small and medium sized manufacturing businesses more widely, the Made Smarter Adoption programme is to be expanded to all English regions in 2025-26, prior to exploring the possibility of making the programme UK-wide from 2026-27

The government has also announced £4.5b in funding for British manufacturing, with over £2b earmarked for the automotive industry and £975m for aerospace, supporting the manufacturing, supply chain and development of zero emission vehicles, and investment in energy efficient and zero-carbon aircraft equipment.

Alongside this, the government has allocated £960m for a Green Industries Growth Accelerator to support clean energy manufacturing, and £520m for life sciences manufacturing to build resilience for future health emergencies and capitalise on the UK’s world-leading research and development.

While these moves have been widely welcomed, anecdotally there is still a feeling that with a change in government looking likely, the funding might not materialise in the form announced, undermining the certainty that the measures have been designed to create. More widely, research by Make UK indicates that companies have found the frequent changes to policies on investment and R&D incentives in recent years have hampered investment plans.

This highlights the need not only for a comprehensive industrial strategy, but for an industrial strategy devised on a truly cross-party basis and not subject to the whims of revolving door politics and, indeed, the political cycles of fixed term parliaments. It doesn't matter how much government money is invested into the industrial sector, without a proper long term plan it is difficult to see how its full potential can be met.

Charlotte Stonestreet


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Is your ICS cyber secure? 19/10/2023

IN A somewhat concerning report, cyber risk management specialist Bitsight has identified nearly 100,000 exposed industrial control systems (ICS) worldwide, potentially allowing an attacker to access and control physical infrastructure such as power grids, traffic light systems, security, water systems, and the like via the internet.

Critical infrastructure sectors heavily rely on ICS to control cyber-physical systems, leading to concerns that the exposed systems identified in the research could present significant risks.

If you are asking yourself whether cyberattacks on ICS really do happen - well, the answer is yes! For concrete evidence of the dangers just look at, for example, when last year hacking group Predatory Sparrow took recognition for an attack that resulted in a severe fire at an Iranian steel manufacturer. The incident caused equipment damage and forced factory workers to evacuate. A compromised machine even released molten steel and fire. Although Predatory Sparrow claims to be a group of hacktivists, the nature and sophistication of the attack led to speculation of nation-state involvement.

In Ukraine an energy supplier was targeted with Industroyer2 ICS malware, described as a new variant of Industroyer (CRASHOVERRIDE), which hackers used in 2016 in an attack aimed at an electrical substation in Ukraine.

In fact, Malware aimed specifically at industrial control systems pops up on a regular basis. Last year also saw the emergence of Incontroller/Pipedream, which is described as a modular ICS attack framework and a collection of custom-made tools, that could be used to target ICS and SCADA devices, including programmable logic controllers from Schneider Electric and Omron, and OPC UA servers.

As part of its study, to measure device exposure Bitsight identified exposed ICSs and mapped them to an inventory of global organisations. Bitsight's analysis reveals that thousands of organisations are using ICSs directly reachable from the public internet, presenting a series of potential consequences of which private and public sector leaders should be aware.

The study encompassed systems communicating via the most commonly used ICS protocols, including Modbus, KNX, BACnet, Niagara Fox and others.

The number of exposed – or internet-facing – industrial control systems was at nearly 100,000 as of June 2023, but the research did show a promising trend: From 2019 to June 2023, Bitsight observed a decline in the number of ICSs exposed to the public internet. This is a positive development, suggesting that organisations may be properly configuring, switching to other technologies, or removing previously exposed ICSs from the public internet.

Bitsight advises organisations to identify any ICSs deployed by the business and/or third-party business partners, and promptly assess the security of these systems; remove any industrial control systems from the public internet; and employ safeguards such firewalls to protect against unauthorised access to ICSs.

Read the full report at bit.ly/3S9Od45

Charlotte Stonestreet


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A far from fond farewell 15/08/2023

WITHOUT FANFARE or seemingly any prior indication, the government has announced an indefinite extension to the use of CE marking, effectively marking the death knell of the much-touted UKCA mark.

Or maybe signs were there all the time. Originally due to become mandatory for industrial products from 1 January 2022, in August 2021 the deadline was postponed until 1 January 2023 and, again in November 2022 until January 2025 – with blame being apportioned to difficult economic conditions following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. And, although Downing Street distanced itself at the time, at the beginning of last year there were rumours flying around that even Jacob Rees-Mogg was happy to entertain abandoning the UKCA requirement.

The very concept of the UKCA mark has always been somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, Brexit – which is why the UKCA mark even exists, conceived as a solution of last resort in the event of a no-deal situation – was about ’taking back control’, and what better way to achieve that than cutting ties with CE marking? On the other, Brexit was also supposed to reduce ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy - but introducing the UKCA mark had the opposite effect. And while there will always be a tiny but vocal ‘health and safety gone mad’ fraternity, most would agree that certification to help ensure quality and encourage an even playing field is a good thing, as evidenced by UKCA’s lack of divergence from the CE marking it was meant to supersede in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘indefinite extension’ whereby British firms will be able to continue the use of CE marking alongside UKCA has been widely welcomed. Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation said: “This is a pragmatic and common sense decision that manufacturers will very much welcome and support. This announcement will help safeguard the competitiveness of manufacturers and aid the UK as a destination for investment.

“It should bring more confidence about doing business in the UK and recognises the need to work with the reality of doing business. Make UK has worked extensively with UK Government pushing hard for this decision and we are pleased the ongoing engagement has delivered this positive outcome."

But what of all the time, effort and money that has been wasted working towards compliance that, as it turns out, was doomed from the start? Anecdotally, many firms have spent tens of thousands of pounds working towards UKCA, and it is nigh on impossible to calculate the opportunity cost. There must be plenty out there who rue the day they ever even heard of UKCA.

There are upsides though; at least in this case the government can claim to be, in the words of Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, "tackling red tape, cutting burdens for business, and creating certainty for firms". It's just a shame that the red tape, burdens and uncertainty in question were caused by the government's own supposedly sovereignty-boosting policy in the first place.

Charlotte Stonestreet


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Digital journey to growth 15/08/2023

At the recent Talking Industry Live event, Dr Megan Ronayne, head of industrial technologies and manufacturing at Innovate UK KTN sat down with Mike Hague-Morgan, executive director at Autocraft Solutions group to explore how he transformed the company using digitalisation. Charlotte Stonestreet reports

THIS IS a journey that started in 2007, at which point Innovate UK had just been formed, Dr Ronayne had just embarked on a ten year research project at Birmingham University on how to define UK manufacturing and Hague-Morgan was headhunted from a multinational where he was commercial director, to join Autocraft.

“It was a very traditional business, making and remanufacturing engines - it wary very hands-on and manual, a very skills-based business,” he says. However as the quality of engines improved and less remanufacturing was required, business for the company was reduced.

“It was a similar story that I’d just been through in the casting forging industry where there was over-capacity, things had moved East and there wasn’t enough on the order books,” says Hague-Morgan. He was taken on to come into the business to consolidate and tasked with turning things around in a two-year timeframe.

However, things did not work out quite as planned. Six weeks after Hague-Morgan joined Autocraft, Leman Brothers collapsed, signalling the start of the worldwide banking crisis, which he had thought would be the end of the company. At the time, the business had a US-based parent company which had the majority of its interests in the mobile phone sector, which according to Hague-Morgan had very little interest in seeing Autocraft succeed. This led to Hague-Morgan putting everything on the line and buying the business himself.

The first five years were spent getting the company on a stable footing, then in 2014 it embarked upon the next part of its journey which is where Innovate UK came onto the scene, at which point the company had already increased turnover from around £7m to £14m. At this time, against a backdrop of Industry 4.0 really taking hold in the UK manufacturing landscape, Hague-Morgan had started going to workshops and finding out what was going on.

Outside inspiration

Hague-Morgan recalls how he was embroiled in a disagreement with a customer whereby he could not prove that in fact, it was the customer and not Autocraft that was at fault, whilst simultaneously returning an airport rental car. Hague-Morgan was struck that something like the process and equipment used by the staff at the rental company - handheld scanner/tablet with a series of prompts to help the employee complete the returns process, taking photos at appropriate points to record the condition of the car - could be used to prove that parts leaving the factory were in a fit state. As a result, a system was put in place whereby photos were taken of each engine and uploaded to a drive which could be accessed by the customer.

The investment of £2000 on scanners, combined with a prompt script written by one of Autocraft’s graduate employees saved the company £400k per year on warranty claims from dealers incorrectly fitting the engines and then claiming that they were faulty when shipped.

As Hague-Morgan points out, this relatively simple project, which resulted in immediate tangible savings is in contrast to many of the huge, immensely expensive Industry 4.0 projects that were being showcased in Europe at the time.

“So that was the first thing on the journey,” says Hague-Morgan. “ And that got the appetite, and the confidence within the workforce. So some of the people who were a bit doubting started to think that this could actually work.”

Then in 2015, Autocraft implemented a low volume production line for JLR. “This was the first time that we used HMI screens, DC tooling, sensors to make sure the right bolt when in the right order - and it was a massive step forward,” says Hague-Morgan. However this development didn’t come cheap and the company had to find in the region of £2m to fund the solution, which was purchased from a global supplier.

“We adapted the original solution and in effect took something that wasn’t all that flexible and made it flexible, says Hague-Morgan. However, this still wasn’t without its frustrations; whenever the slightest change was needed to the set-up, Automcarft had to wait for and then pay top rates for an engineer from the supplier before any adjustments were made.

Predicting the future

At this point, Hague-Morgan attended an Innovate UK KTN workshop where he got to meet and share ideas with people from other industries. He ended up talking to someone from the gaming industry whose job it was to predict the future computing power available for a typical home gaming console, and then write the code ready for what has been predicted. Central to this is the idea that consoles will no longer have controllers but use cameras which can detect with great accuracy the slightest movement made by the player.

This led Hague-Morgan to the realisation that some of the technology he had recently invested in on the new line would become obsolete in the near future, this is if it wasn't already. As a result, Autocraft employed and worked with an innovative Belgium start-up company developing camera-based production systems and signed up for a five year deal.

Using the system, which both instructs and monitors, if any part of the production is not carried out in the correct sequence, this is flagged resulting in what Hague-Morgan says is a proper no-fault-forward system that is also fully flexible.

"Because the camera is so easily programmable, it could be a V6, a V8, a Ford engine, a Peugeot engine - it doesn't matter!" says Hague-Morgan.

It also means that employees are able to easily work on many different engine types, rather than having to undergo extensive training for each model.

"We don't train people to build an engine, we train them to play a computer game," explains Hague-Morgan. "By following a light system you can build an engine – although there are instructions as a backup. So people join our business and within two weeks they are building high-quality engines for major global brands - none of our competitors can do that."

This has enabled Autocraft to move from a commoditised business model where the deciding factor is the lowest cost, to a working practice that sees the company able to offer a service and a solution. It's no longer about being the cheapest, it's about flexibility, agility, speed and quality.

It has also meant that the company has been able to minimise the impact of the current skills shortage. Training engine builders within two weeks greatly reduces the cost and time conventionally needed to onboard new members of staff, and according to Hague-Morgan people really like the new way of learning, particularly those who are younger.

Cultural change

When it comes to the cultural change required to successfully implement a digital strategy like this, Hague-Morgan believes that this cannot be achieved in a 'normal management' way.

"In any business that you want to change there will be people with really strong opinions," says Hague-Morgan. "Don't be angry with them; they think that for a reason."

While it might be tempting to work slowly with the more enthusiastic people within a workforce, Hague-Morgan advocates making an effort to identify and work closely with those who might be more doubtful, that way any cultural transition will be much faster.

He does have a few words of caution: "Not everyone will be with you, even after that and unfortunately some people haven't made the journey."

However, out of the many hundreds of people employed by Automcraft, Hague-Morgan estimates that fewer than ten people are no longer with the company due to the changes made on the digitalisation journey. This low level of attrition is something that he partly puts down to  
allowing people to make mistakes.

"Give them enough confidence and support to try something new, but be close enough to guide them," says Hague-Morgan "Just get a room and talk about it, talk about what you did, what you could have done better and what's the next thing that you can do. Always leave with a positive."

And there is no doubt that this has worked in a spectacular fashion. From a turnover of £7m when Hague-Morgan first joined the company, to £70m with more steep growth forecast for the near future, this is truly a story of digitalisation success.


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Ethical engineering - find your compass 15/06/2023

WHILE THE mainstream media once again seems to be taking a distinctly glass-half-empty view of technology – this time it’s not robots coming for your jobs; it’s AI coming for the whole human race, apparently – my attention has been caught by a few more positive stories.

I think by now most readers will be familiar with the concept of collaborative robots, or cobots, and the role they play in making the prospect of robotics more attainable in terms of affordability, flexibility and indeed simplicity. And a pilot project between ABB Robotics and US non-profit organization Junglekeepers, which makes use of a robot, is demonstrating the role Cloud technology can play in making reforestation faster, more efficient and scalable.

Junglekeepers’ mission is to protect 55,000 acres of Amazon rainforest and reverse deforestation., and in a first-of-its-kind demonstration, ABB’s cobot YuMi is automating planting tasks in a jungle laboratory, speeding the process. Much as we might see in more industrial applications, this allows Junglekeepers’ volunteers to focus their valuable time and resources on more impactful work.  

A particularly notable aspect of this project is that using ABB RobotStudio Cloud technology, ABB experts simulate, refine and deploy the programming required for YuMi’s tasks in the jungle from 7460 miles away in Västerås, Sweden – meaning that this is, according to ABB, the world’s most remote robot!

In another example of where technology seen in the industrial sphere is being put to good use elsewhere, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Connected Conservation are helping to safeguard Kenya’s most vulnerable species and natural resources with Africa’s largest landscape-wide IoT conservation network.

The project is evolving wildlife and natural resource conservation by leveraging LoRaWAN IoT sensors and networks to collect, monitor and analyse real-time environmental data on a captivating scale. This data is coupled with analytics and conservation tools to help safeguard wildlife populations, promote peace, and empower community-led conservation.

NRT’s IoT conservation network was the first of its kind in Kenya and has been made possible by Connected Conservation Foundation (CCF), bringing together a coalition of private and public sector partners.

Rather than being focussed mainly on profit, which let’s face it many applications still are, these projects demonstrate how technology and engineering can be used for the greater good – which brings me nicely to charity Engineers Without Borders' latest initiative, the Global Competency Compass.

Born out of a need to think critically about the role of engineering in the context of the complex challenges faced by society today, the Compass covers essential competencies identified to align with the four principles of global responsibility –  responsible, purposeful, inclusive and regenerative – and provides template action plans for individuals, along with an online learning library of relevant professional development and training.

Designed for engineers of any discipline, the tool has been designed to empower individuals and their wider teams to lead innovation that benefits both people and the planet. To find out more visit https://www.ewb-uk.org/global-responsibility-competency-compass/

Charlotte Stonestreet


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Let's not drive automotive into the ground 18/04/2023

AS THE editor of a magazine with the word ‘drives’ in its title, my inbox always has more than its fair share of car-related press releases, and while many of them do not have a huge amount of relevance to the core CDA remit, I do enjoy the occasional sojourn into the world of the MG Cyberstar or Everrati’s redefined electric Porsche 911.

While there is still joy to be found here for the diehard petrolhead -  Steve McQueen's Ferrari 275 GTB/4, anyone? – the lion's share of news in this sector now appears to be all about electric vehicles, indication that for better or for worse the age of the EV is well and truly upon us. Don't trust the accuracy of the patented editor's in-box barometer? Well, you only have to look at the latest UK figures for new car sales to see that Tesla's Model was March's best selling model, an achievement helped no doubt by price reductions of up to £8k.

Apart from the much-touted environmental advantages of EV, widespread adoption of the technology also has the potential to bring huge economic gains. However, in order to reap the rewards here in the UK, businesses need to be incentivised to invest here - something which decidedly does not seem to be happening. This was gently highlighted by automotive industry veteran, Andy Palmer, who said that it was "probable" car firms would leave the UK without a subsidy package similar to the billions in support already being provided in the US, and proposed by the EU. Palmer, who has had senior jobs at Nissan and Aston Martin, even went so far as to say that the sector is facing the "last throw of the dice".

Establishing battery plants is critical to the survival of the UK automotive sector. Batteries are one of the most expensive components of electric vehicles and a local supply is a key deciding factor when manufacturers are assessing new plants, and the collapse of Britishvolt and its subsequent purchase by investors aiming to move focus away from car batteries has come as an undeniable blow.

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR)’s Indian conglomerate owner Tata has made construction of a UK gigafactory dependent on a government cash injection worth hundreds of millions of pounds in order to adapt its ageing Port Talbot facility to produce carbon-neutral steel. While this in itself isn't a bad thing – after all, we are trying to save the planet here – there are reasons why this might not happen, not least of which is that rival car and steel makers that have funded green projects independently will likely be more than a bit miffed.

Anyway, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said that the UK will not go toe-to-toe with the US and EU when it comes to subsidies, preferring a "different - and better" approach. "With the threat of protectionism creeping its way back into the world economy, the long-term solution is not subsidy but security," he said. This does make a good soundbite, but with the likes of Germany approving a €1bn support package for a steelmaker to use hydrogen in its processes to replace coal, is it a line that can be held without detrimental effect on investment in the UK?

Charlotte Stonestreet


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Charlotte Stonestreet is an experienced b2b editor and has worked across a range of industrial titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Factory Equipment and Materials Handling News.

She has also contributed to the 'Energy Procurement essential guide to excellence'.

Having gained a degree in English with Media Studies, Charlotte started out her publishing career on a voluntary basis, producing a newsletter for Mencap.