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Charlotte Stonestreet

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Energy uncertainty continues 12/01/2023

THE WEEK the government has announced a new Energy Bills Discount Scheme, ahead of the current scheme ending in March. The new scheme will mean all eligible UK businesses and other non-domestic energy users will receive a discount on high energy bills until 31 March 2024.

According to the government, this will help businesses locked into contracts signed before recent substantial falls in the wholesale price manage their costs and provide others with reassurance against the risk of prices rising again.

So far so good, or so it would seem. In reality, this will slash the government support given to companies with their energy bills, with some business groups warning that the flat-rate discount won't provide sufficient protection if energy prices spike again ahead of next winter. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has described the current scheme as "unsustainably expensive", yet some in business are warning that the increased energy costs will have to be passed onto customers, further driving inflation. There also will undoubtedly be many companies that have to fold because they can no longer afford the price of energy.

This is a view borne out by the latest Make UK/PwC Senior Executive survey, which examines the views of over two hundred senior executives across manufacturing on the outlook for the year ahead. It is reported to show the scale of uncertainty and increased costs that companies continue to face across the board, not just on energy, with ongoing supply chain disruption, access to labour and increased transport costs creating a potent mix of challenges for companies.

According to the survey, almost three quarters of companies (70%) expect their energy costs to increase this year, with two thirds saying they still expect to take actions such as reducing production or cutting jobs despite the Government energy support package.

In addition, 60% of companies are increasingly concerned about blackouts affecting their business, almost two thirds of companies (64.3%) say increased energy costs are the biggest risk to their company, while more than two thirds (68.9%) say uncertainty around energy costs is the biggest risk to confidence.

Of course, any extension to the scheme is welcome, but unless the government provides similar levels of support to that seen in other comparable nations, the UK risks falling even further behind its competitors.

As Cara Haffey, manufacturing leader at PwC UK, says: "Given the scale of the cost challenges, and the backdrop of a long winter, it is imperative that the right balance is struck between keeping our collective eye on the ball in regards to our netzero commitments while ensuring vital support is given to ensure that the sector - as adaptable as it is - can withstand what is likely to be a difficult year ahead.”

Charlotte Stonestreet

Editor

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The perennial productivity puzzle 31/10/2022

As I have recently discovered, one of the great things about being the editor of a bi-monthly magazine, means that one issue cycle can encompass three different UK Prime Ministers.

OK, Boris Johnson didn’t actually do an awful lot towards the end of his tenure, but in just 45 days Liz Truss was appointed PM, announced a ‘mini budget’ that had all sorts of ramifications - and I don’t say that in a good way - and resigned, leaving the door to Number 10 open for the current incumbent and, in the views of many and probably more importantly, the financial markets, the more economically astute candidate, Rishie Sunak.

So, what does this mean for UK industry? Although we never got to the nitty gritty of the Truss plan for “growth, growth, growth" as she was gone, gone, gone before any of the details were revealed, the basic aim to improve productivity is a good one. But an aim without a sound plan of how to achieve the given aim is pretty much useless, and let’s face, it there didn’t seem to be any particular strategy apart from tax cuts funded by borrowing, which would hopefully trickle down to boost the wider economy.

Would this really have helped to boost productivity? Well, unless we can access a parallel universe where Truss is still PM it’s a tough call to make, particularly as productivity in the UK always proves to be such a tricky puzzle to solve. UK productivity has more or less flatlined since 2008, falling behind comparable economies. In theory, we know how to improve productivity – investment in the latest tech, embracing automation and skills training all have a role to play – but the pieces just never seem to fall into place. And maybe that’s the problem. We can’t expect things to ‘fall into place’, there needs to be a comprehensive strategy, it needs to be long-term, and it needs to be driven by the Government.

That's not to say that there aren't already some great things happening in the UK's industrial sector. The latest Make UK/Infor survey shows how Britain’s manufacturing sector is increasingly embracing the digital industrial revolution with aims to boost productivity, improve energy efficiency and overcome supply chain shocks caused by COVID and Brexit.

And, against a background of Sunak apparently planning deep spending cuts, Make UK is urging the Government to protect vital digital support programmes in the coming Spending Round. These include schemes such as Made Smarter and Help to Grow Digital which help SMEs in particular develop digital skills and practices. In addition, to unlock greater innovation and ideas, Make UK is also calling on the Government to accelerate further private investment in R&D by expanding the R&D tax credit to include capital equipment within qualifying expenditure.

Will the Government take heed? Watch this space...

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Bracing for a bleak winter 01/09/2022

By the time you read this, there will be a new Prime Minister in the UK. No matter if it’s Sunk or Truss who takes the helm, perhaps their biggest challenge will be the energy crisis which, while worldwide, does seem to be affecting the UK, at least in terms of costs, rather more severely than many economically comparable nations.

While there is rightly much concern about how households will manage to pay colossal energy bills, the issue is even more acute for businesses, which do not have the protection - although I'm not sure how much 'protection' is being provided these days - of a price cap. At the sharp end this, the UK's highest heaviest power users, which include businesses from steelmakers and chemical firms to glass and ceramics manufacturers, account for aound 16% of the country's energy usage, behind transport and domestic use. Not only are they facing bills that seemed unimaginable this time last year, but there is also the possibility that energy-intensive businesses will have to close to preserve power for hospitals, emergency services and households if a cold snap combines with gas shortages to trigger blackouts, bringing back dark memories of the 1970s.

While the government has said it is considering plans to subsidise bills for energy-intensive industries, the measure would only help around 300 businesses - and let's face it, every business could do with some help at the moment, particularly as three and five year contracts at significantly lower price points come to an end, leaving a 'cliff-edge' situation. Current and anticipated circumstances make it hard to see how many businesses will avoid having to shut permanently.

There are ways to help mitigate the situation. Many manufacturers already run their facilities during the night to take advantage of cheaper tariffs (this does, however, increase wage bills with employees being paid extra to work unsociable hours), and there is a huge range of energy saving technology that can be employed - but after years of suppressed demand due to the pandemic and rapidly rising interest rates, how many business can afford to invest at the moment? Besides which, the increases in energy costs are so severe, it's hard to imagine that any technology changes are going to offset them.

Whatever happens, it is vitally important that the government comes up with a radical plan to curb energy costs of UK businesses.  Industry body, UK Steel, has estimated British producers pay 61% more for electricity than their competitors in Germany and 51% more than in France - underlining the competitive disadvantage to UK companies. Of course, not all the factors can be controlled by government intervention, but at the moment it certainly seems that a whole lot more needs to be done, and done without delay.

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Have you started your net zero journey? 12/05/2022

IF YOU haven’t already realised, it is becoming increasingly clear that if global warming is to be kept to a point that avoids catastrophic events, drastic and immediate action needs to be taken across all sectors.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report identifies the industrial sector as accounting for around a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage, notes the Panel.

While the stark warnings contained with the IPCC report can make difficult reading – sometimes the challenge can seem so colossal it’s tricky to see how individual businesses can make a difference – the findings do show increasing evidence of climate action. Since 2010, the IPCC notes, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.

Here in the UK research from Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation shows that almost two thirds (65%) of manufacturers have taken positive action towards their net zero target in the past 12 months, while 35% of businesses already have a fully formed net zero strategy in place and have started to implement it. The research - ‘COP26 6 Months On’ – shows 77% of companies working on energy efficiency followed by nearly half (48%) looking to optimise their production processes. A further 32% want to increase their resource efficiency by using or wasting less resources.

This could, says Make UK, be something as simple as moving production lines nearer to the exit, so forklift trucks move only a short distance to load up the final products, to introducing complex energy saving sensors across the whole of the production line and full-scale electrification of processes.

Looking specifically at the role robots and automation can play in flighting climate change, the International Federation of Robotics identified 13 of the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations SDGs, where the use of robots can help to create a better planet.

“The transformation on the way to a sustainable use of resources is proving robotics and automation to be key technologies,” says Dr Susanne Bieller, general secretary of the International Federation of Robotics. “Intelligent automation reduces production costs: This helps battery technology achieve a breakthrough in e-mobility for example or fuel cells production for hydrogen-power as an alternative to fossil energy. At the same time, highly efficient production technology reduces CO2-emissions.”

Clean energy, industrial innovation and sustainable agriculture are just three examples which show how the use of robots contribute to achieve these UN sustainable development goals.

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...and along comes the next challenge 16/03/2022

WELL, they say things come in threes and with the pandemic, Brexit and now war in Europe, we certainly seem to have the holy trinity of all challenges, not just for the industrial sector, but for society at a whole.

Off course, it's is easy to just see the downsides, but are are always positives to be found. For example, according to the latest IHS Markit/CIPS UK manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), the growth rate of UK manufacturing production accelerated to a seven-month high in February, aided by stronger domestic demand, fewer raw material shortages and an easing of global supply chain pressures.

The seasonally adjusted Index rose to a three-month high of 58.0 in February, up from 57.3 in January. The PMI has remained above the neutral 50.0 mark for 21 successive months. Faster growth of output, new orders and stocks of purchases are reported to be behind the February lift, offsetting the impact of slower job creation.  Higher new work intakes reflected stronger domestic demand, new customer wins, looser COVID restrictions and improved market conditions.

“Growth was boosted by stronger domestic demand and by firms catching up on delayed work as material shortages and supply chain disruptions started to dissipate. Consumer goods output in particular also benefitted from increased sales due to a further easing of COVID restrictions,” commented  Rob Dobson, Director at IHS Markit.

Overall, the Index found that the outlook remained positive, with almost 64% of survey respondents forecasting that production would increase over the coming 12 months, taking the overall degree of optimism to a six-month high.

However, as I’m sure CDA readers will have noticed it’s not all plain sailing at the moment, and the Index also found that new export business decreased for the fifth time in the past six months, amid reports of Brexit-related issues, ongoing pandemic restrictions in trading partners and the loss of business from long lead times.

This is borne out by the UK Export monitor from the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) and Coriolis Technologies, which found that the largest businesses appear to have been the most severely affected. There are nearly 9% fewer of them exporting in February compared to a year ago. The equivalent reduction for medium-sized businesses is 3%, for small businesses almost 5% and for micro-businesses 6%, according to the findings.

Large exporters' revenues fell by around 12.4% in January compared to a 0.3% drop in medium-sized businesses’ revenues. Small companies were also severely affected with a decline of over 16% in revenues, which has directly impacted their budgets, but fortunately not their broader operations. This is a direct consequence of disruptions to supply chains in the early part of 2022, asserts the IOE&IT.

The beginning of 2022 saw imports from Europe subject to the same customs declarations as exports. There were 5% fewer exporters compared to 12 months ago, their number of employees has fallen back by nearly 5.5% and their revenues by almost 11% compared to a year ago.

And then, as if the knock-on effects of the pandemic and Brexit weren’t enough, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also resulted in increased uncertainty. As well as adding to already soaring energy prices, there are also concerns that the availability of commodities such as wheat, and metals including palladium, platinum, gold and aluminium will be impacted.

So as Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “There were certainly several positives for the UK’s manufacturing sector in February as 64% of manufacturing businesses remained optimistic. However, this success comes with a health warning as the Ukrainian crisis deepens and the potential for higher commodity prices, disruptions to supply and economic pain must be considered by businesses as they try to build resilience into their supply chains in the coming months.”

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We have the technology 23/03/2022

Sustainability is seldom far from the headlines, but beyond the rhetoric more needs to be done to mitigate climate change. While technology does exist to achieve this, it is vital to ensure the solutions implemented actually deliver. Charlotte Stonestreet reports

IN THE latter part of 2021, the UK Government published its Net Zero strategy, which sets out a roadmap to address the climate emergency and support the UK in achieving its goal of net zero by 2050. Bringing together the UK's decarbonisation policies, the strategy highlights the importance of a holistic approach, recognising dependencies between vested departments and sectors. While acknowledging that the cost of inaction will be far greater than the investment required, the strategy also highlights that early action to achieve net zero can offer opportunities to strengthen the UK economy and, to quote one of the administration's favourite catchphrases, level up.

When it comes to industry specifically, the strategy proposes to decarbonise in line with net zero goals whilst simultaneously "transforming our industrial heartlands by attracting inward investment, future-proofing businesses, and securing high wage, high skill jobs". The aim is to achieve this by supporting industry in switching to cleaner fuels, helping improve resource and energy efficiency and using 'fair' carbon pricing to drive decarbonisation. According to the strategy, growing new industries in low carbon hydrogen alongside CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) and renewable energy will put the UK's industrial ‘SuperPlaces’ at the forefront of technological development.

Atmospheric CO2

At a recent industry event Ian Jackson from the Society of Operations engineers looked at how to address high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

"Equipment operation and its resulting energy consumption is a large contributor of additional emissions, in the atmosphere of CO2," said Jackson. "Engineering has the solutions to address this, however, many of the solutions currently championed appear driven by local optimisation and 20th century energy resource issues - neither of which are helping to solve today's global warming problem of high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations."

Jackson asserts that in addition to the necessity for a clear focus on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, what is needed is are solutions that actually deliver, underpinned by "rigorous and honest" measurement and reporting of net changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Indeed, part of the Society of Operations Engineers' role is to promote that all resulting actions are done safely, efficiently, sustainably and in an ethical manner.

"If we want to lower concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then we need to ensure that the rate of carbon dioxide flowing into the atmosphere is less than that flowing out," said Jackson. "We need to achieve 'net negative'; getting 'net zero' just keeps the concentration at the same high level."

In order to ensure actions are helping to reduce flows of extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is important to measure the actions against net changes; as Jackson points out, measuring actions against their outcomes is good engineering practice.

"Actions taken in the past do influence what happens today," says Jackson."Equally, actions being taken today will influence what happens in the future. However, because we are talking about flow rates rather than total amounts, flows occurring in the past or future do not affect the net difference in flow occurring today, and therefore, the net change in concentration occurring today."

A clear basis for judging the effectiveness of actions can be established by measuring the net flow that occurred on a particular day (today). It is then possible to determine whether the action is going to help lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Using energy sources such as solar, wind, nuclear, hydro and geothermal as energy sources helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, points out Jackson, the problem is that while these represent 'good' energy sources they may not be effective as components of chemical reactions, for example in steel production. Issues include reliability and a lack of flexibility when responding to changes in demand.

Using carbon-based fuels with 100% carbon dioxide capture and storage also helps to reduce emissions, as well as supporting today's technologies and providing reliable and flexible electricity production. But, Jackson does ask the question of how sustainable this can be in practice.

"Clearly, by using all these engineering-based solutions together we have a measurement of safety and efficiently making significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions for equipment operation," says Jackson "Further, in the long term we have the prospect of being able to end carbon dioxide emissions from equipment operation."

Better decisions

A recent study from ABB - 'Billions of better decisions: industrial transformation’s new imperative' – examines the current take-up of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and its potential for improving energy efficiency, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and driving change.

“Sustainability goals more and more are a crucial driver of business value and company reputation, and Industrial IoT solutions are playing an increasingly important role in helping enterprises achieve safe, smart and sustainable operations,” said Peter Terwiesch, president of ABB’s Process Automation business area. “Unlocking insights hidden in operational data holds the key to enabling literally billions of better decisions throughout industry and acting upon them, with significant gains in productivity, reduced energy consumption and lower environmental impact.” 

The study found that an organisation’s 'future competitiveness' is the single greatest factor – cited by 46% of respondents – in industrial companies' increased focus on sustainability. Yet while 96% of global decision-makers view digitalisation as 'essential to sustainability', only 35% of surveyed firms have implemented industrial IoT solutions at scale.

This gap indicates that while many of today’s industrial leaders recognise the important relationship between digitalisation and sustainability, the adoption of relevant digital solutions to enable better decisions and achieve sustainability goals needs to accelerate in sectors like manufacturing, energy, buildings and transport. 

New material

One sector that is embracing digitalisation to drive sustainability and growth is the textiles industry. In the UK, 125 companies from the sector based in the North West are tapping into impartial expert technology advice, digital transformation workshops from the Made Smarter technology adoption programme to help them take their first steps, along with a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development support.

Of these, 13 textile businesses supported by matched-funding, are investing in new digital technology to solve key challenges while increasing productivity, growth, and creating new high value jobs.

The fashion and textile industry is under substantial pressure to change to reduce its environmental and social impact. It is responsible for 10% of all global carbon emissions, water pollution from the use of chemicals and dyes and microplastics in the oceans, as well as staggering levels of waste. In the UK 300,000t of clothing – worth an estimated £140m – is sent to landfill or incinerated.

With the increase in consumer awareness of the devastating impact of fast fashion and a willingness among millennials to pay more for sustainable goods, the UK’s £32b fashion and textile industry has a huge opportunity to grow greener and more ethically.

Digital transformation is enabling a move away from traditional production methods and processes to make clothes, footwear and household textiles. Digital textile printing, for example, produces less waste, requires little set-up and equipment, and uses fewer resources like water. 3D printing also reduces waste as fewer samples, and therefore fabric, are produced.

Companies are opting to provide more data to boost transparency across the supply chain. QR codes, for instance, to detail the item’s country of origin and carbon footprint. Others are using analytics to track fashion trends and cycles, helping reduce the number of clothes that end up in landfill.

Managing supply chains

Supply chains are a valuable component of modern businesses, but they can account for the lion's share of a business's environmental footprint, highlights Neil Bellinger from EU Automation. Sustainability is a continuous practice with new technologies allowing companies to boost their positive environmental impact, he asserts. Leveraging Industry 4.0 technologies, such as AI and machine learning, helps businesses achieve transparency, energy efficiency and waste minimisation.

According to PwC and Microsoft, AI can help reduce global greenhouse emissions by 4 per cent in 2030, which is the equivalent of 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. For example, AI-based predictive analytics can be used for more accurate predictions and planning. Smart software can predict changing customer behaviours and optimise inventory levels for better product life-cycle management.

New search and pattern recognition algorithms in machine learning can also analyse real-time data to schedule optimal scenario alternatives in case of product shortages and other unexpected events. This allows manufacturers to plan their logistics in advance to avoid waste and unnecessary transport that would generate CO2 emissions.

AI can also be used to support reshoring initiatives, whose goal is to move production closer to home to avoid long-haul transport. AI gives companies visibility into the entire supply market of vendors and manufacturers worldwide, shortening the search process from months to days.

For big organisations that rely on multiple suppliers and lengthy supply chains, it is not enough to ensure sustainable practices on their end. The idea of end-to-end (E2E) sustainability refers to monitoring the sustainability of the whole supply chain, from the procurement of materials to how the product reaches customers.

According to international non-profit firm CDP, the impact of end-to-end supply chains on emissions is more than five times that of companies’ direct operations.

While it might be challenging to overlook the entire supply chain and assess the sustainability of many suppliers, it is not impossible. Business owners can start by asking their first-tier suppliers to disclose their list of suppliers and relevant certifications on manufacturing and distribution. If some practices are not sustainable, they can encourage suppliers to adopt new ones or choose to collaborate with partners who prioritise sustainability instead.

Key Points

  • UK Government's Net Zero strategy highlights that early action to achieve net zero can offer opportunities to strengthen the UK economy
  • Using carbon-based fuels with 100% carbon dioxide capture and storage helps to reduce emissions, as well as supporting today's technologies
  • Manufacturers can plan logistics in advance to avoid waste and unnecessary transport that would generate CO2 emissions.

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CDA celebrates 10 years 18/01/2022

This year Controls, Drives & Automation celebrates its 10th Anniversary. They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I think that this must be true as it certainly doesn’t feel as if ten years have passed since I was brought on board to edit the first issue!

At the time, the market was still feeling the after effects of the 2008 credit crunch - remember that? - and there was a certain degree of scepticism about launching a new title in what some saw as less than ideal economic circumstances. Well, 10 years, an industrial revolution, and a global pandemic later and Controls Drives & Automation continues to thrive and has developed well beyond the print-only format of its infancy.

Looking back on the first issue of the magazine, at first glance it might seem as if not much has changed over the last decade. Unsurprisingly, many of the companies covered are still prominent today - Mitsubishi, Eaton, ABB to name just a few. And a good proportion of the subject matter is enduring. An industry focus on the rail sector references “a new era of rail transport culminating in the controversial HS project” - and let’s face it, HS2 is still making headlines and is no less controversial!

Another focus for the inaugural issue was renewables, although I can’t see a mention of net zero, which somewhat ages the articles. And while environmental concerns are covered, there is no reference to government initiatives in this area - that’s not to say that there weren’t any at the time, just that they didn’t seem to be so prominent.

One thing that is conspicuous in its absence from the first issue of CDA is Industry 4.0, a subject that has gone on to be prominent in the industrial sector over the last decade. Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution as many in the UK insisted on referring to it as, first emerged as a concept in Germany around about the time that the launch of CDA was being planned in East Sussex! However, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until later in the year that readers were asked “Are you ready for… the Internet of Things?”

Preceding the Government’s 2017 Made Smarter review, which explored the potential for UK manufacturing to maximise benefits of increased digital technology adoption, in 2016 CDA launched the annual Smarter Futures supplement to give further coverage to this important aspect of industry. The magazine also now has a section covering IIot & Smartch Technology in every issue - something that wasn’t even considered when it was first launched.

The rapid development of automation, connectivity, digitisation and all manner of cutting edge technologies has made editing CDA a thoroughly enjoyable job - there is always something interesting to report on, as well as important messages in terms of climate change, productivity and efficiency. And long may it continue in this vein.

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CDA digital conference goes live! 24/01/2022

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.

Farnell

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.”

GAMBICA

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.

UKIVA

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.

www.cda-live.co.uk

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UK industrial robot sales on the up 05/11/2021

Emersed in the world of Controls, Drives & Automation as I am, where I get to see a huge range of positive stories about the latest automation technologies and applications, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the UK is not actually a particularly ‘automated’ nation, at least in comparison with many other developed countries.

In fact, when it comes to annual installations of industrial robots, the International Federations of Robotics’ recently published World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots report has the UK just sneaking into the top 15 with 2205 units; this marked an 8% rise over the previous year.

Worldwide, the report shows a record of 3 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world – an increase of 10%. Sales of new robots grew slightly at 0.5% despite the global pandemic, with 384,000 units shipped globally in 2020. This trend was dominated by the positive market developments in China, compensating for the contractions of other markets. This marks the third most successful year in history for the robotics industry, following 2018 and 2017.

Unsurprisingly Asia remains the world’s largest market for industrial robots with 71% of all newly deployed robots in 2020 being installed there. Installations for the region’s largest adopter, China, grew strongly by 20% with 168,400 units shipped – the highest number ever recorded for a single country.

Despite its economy being hard hit by the global pandemic, Japan remained the second largest market for industrial robots; even with a decline in sales of 23%, 28,653 units were installed. However, the Japanese robotics market is expected to grow by 7% in 2021 and continue to do so by 5% in 2022.

Coming in third was the USA, again with new installations slowing, this time by 8% in 2020, the second year of decline following eight years of growth, followed closely by the Republic of Korea, with a decrease of 7% to 30,506 units.

Installations in Germany, which boasts the fifth biggest market worldwide at 22,300 units, accounted for 33% of the total installations in Europe. Italy followed with 13% and France with 8%.

So, we come back to the UK. Even though industrial robot installations were up by 8% to 2205 units is to be celebrated, this still seems pitifully low to me. In the UK, the automotive industry has always been the major adopter of automation, and this remains unchanged with the sector growing by 16% to 875 units - representing 40% of the installations in the UK. More notable, however, is that the food and beverage industry almost doubled installations from 155 units in 2019 to 304 units in 2020 (+96%), a trend that can be partly attributed to Brexit-exacerbated labour shortages.

So will this upward trend in the UK continue? I certainly hope so, and the IFR seems to think this will be the case, with predicted demand for robots in the UK expected to grow strongly at two-digit percentage rates in 2021 and 2022.

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3D printing motors on 13/09/2021

3D printing - also referred to as additive manufacturing - is not new. Indeed, it has been used been used for rapid prototyping in, for example, the automotive and aerospace, sectors and for tooling for upwards for upwards of 30 years. Then along came Industry 4.0, and additive manufacturing was identified by some as having the potential to transform the manufacturing process itself.

The theoretical example of a high flying executive, having arrived at the latest in a string of top international hotels, donning a pair of fully personalised 3D printed trainers that were produced onsite, (presumably so said executive could go and run an ultramarathon or something in between important meetings) has been alluded to at more than one event I have attended. While this scenario doesn’t really work for me - Why couldn’t they just remember to pack their trainers in the first place? They are obviously not very organised even if they are a high flying executive! - I can appreciate its vision and sense of ambition.

In my view, however, a much more inspiring example of how 3D printing can be transformational is the development of an electric motor made from 3D printed components by a team of experts at the Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre. Apart from the fact that this is something that has actually been achieved and is not just part of a futuristic demonstration, what is really impressive is that result is a motor with increased motor power despite a reduction in the size and mass of key components, a part count reduction (making supply chains simpler - and God knows we all need that at the moment), increased manufacturing efficiency, lower running costs and reduced assembly and inspection time and costs.

MTC chief technologist Steve Nesbitt has gone so far as to say the development of electric motors hadn't received this level of focus for more than 100 years, despite costs, quality and performance being high on manufacturers' priority lists.

“Additive manufacturing is a key enabler for developing the complex features and forms essential to improving the performance and functionality of electric motors,” he said.

“The process of manufacturing electric motors has a number of challenges including complex or manual assembly, materials that are difficult to process and which can be expensive, thermal management, and the need to make the assembly lighter. By leveraging the capabilities of additive manufacture through product redesign major benefits can be achieved in costs, waste reduction, performance and ease of manufacture.”

The MTC's experts are now involved in a detailed examination of further developments required for production, and overcoming potential challenges and constraints.
 
If you are interested in finding out more about the MTC's 3D printed electric motor head to: www.the-mtc.org

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PROFILE

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.