Tag Archives: industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and electronics expert Richard Eynon explains how the latest technological advancements are impacting upon the manufacturing industry...

A Manufacturers Guide to… Industry 4.0

Since starting my engineering career +20 years ago, manufacturing has evolved at pace, with new technologies, processes and practices that have been introduced year on year.

This is a relatively new era of manufacturing centred around automation, real-time data, and interconnected technology that has the ability to boost efficiencies, productivity, predictable maintenance and profitability for businesses.

Industry 4.0 represents a significant shift that is occurring in manufacturing, this is not a buzzword, but clear changes that are happening in organisations that are seeing real value in smart digital technologies and the use of virtual machine twins using artificial intelligence (AI).

From robotics and autonomous equipment to 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT) with connected devices, businesses that are adopting these new technologies and are already realising the potential of Industry 4.0.

For example, look at engineering simulators. Now, you can use multi-physics simulators to determine if your product will achieve its design goals without the cost of many prototyping concepts, “almost a design-simulate and build once approach”.

This can also be seen in big manufacturing data analysis, with a combination of AI to enable prediction and answer ‘what ifs’, which is especially important if there has been an early adaption to an extensive digital twin, which can then be used to produce early virtual manufacturing data.

Accelerometers, a sensing device that produces an electrical signal in response to a mechanical vibration, have also advanced, they used to be so difficult to setup, but with the evolution of microelectronics and IO-Linked technology, there are now virtually plug and play.

This type of technology has already been embraced by industries such as aeronautics, space, defence, and automotive manufacturing, but there are still challenges for SMEs looking to drive an implementation plan.

There is a greater need for ease of use for new manufacturing technology, which will in turn reduce costs and enable a quicker return on investment, which is especially important for SMEs.

Since working at the SAM project, I have supported a number of SMEs looking to explore the possibilities and benefits of implementing smart technologies.

For example, we’ve had several successful demonstrations using microcontrollers, designed to be configured by non-software engineers. The User Interface is configured so you simply select what action you want when a button is pressed. I see this as a great leap forward in the market, having internet enabled devices have had a lot of consideration in the ease of use, as a consequence you’re not likely to require additional personnel.

The SAM Project has also supported SMEs in the region to understand what is achievable with new technology through knowledge transfer, and we have used experimental data to correlate Finite Element Analysis for many projects to validate if designs are fit for purpose.

With the introduction of smarter manufacturing technologies being pioneered by the larger OEMs, these technologies are filtering down to smaller businesses as their production data may be required by their suppliers “a product supply web”.

Imagine, a secure global interconnected bi-directional manufacturing network which can see not only their supply chain but other suppliers too. This will require both people and tools to achieve this, so the future is bright for smart advanced digital manufacturing.

Robotics expert Neil Taylor provides an insight into the world of manufacturing automation...

A manufacturers guide to… robotics

When I first got involved with robotics back in the early 80s, I naively didn’t even know what a robot was.

Starting out as a welder, the plant superintendent pulled me aside one day to ask if I’d be interested in becoming a robot programmer.

The company had purchased 10 industrial welding robots and my job was to learn all I could and ensure we were able to put them to use.

And put them to use we did. By the time I’d taken early retirement in 2018, we had successfully deployed over 1,400 individual robots across our plant, here in the North East.

The growth of the industry was phenomenal, and the automotive sector wasn’t the only one profiting. Industrial robots had arrived across the manufacturing spectrum and I was seeing this with my own eyes.

I took up a role with a major Japanese robotic supplier before setting up my own consultancy and helping install over 1,000 industrial robots across Europe, the US and Asia.

I was always in my element with a robot teach pendant in my hand and if this experience taught me anything, it was that the robotic revolution was well and truly underway…and it was no longer just for the blue chips and major corporates.

Returning to the North East, I began working with the SAM Project to help the region’s SMEs break down barriers to automation and robotics, just as our team did all those years ago.

In the two years since, the role has seen me work with everyone from sole traders to firms employing hundreds, helping them better understand and implement everything from robotic welding to automated canning lines and palletising robotics.

But it wasn’t until we held a recent jobs fair at The Industry Centre that I really had my eyes opened to the current issues facing the region’s employers and how robotics could help them innovate and grow.

The vast majority of manufacturers are facing huge challenges when sourcing skilled robotic engineers, which I predict will spark yet another robotic revolution.

Not like the previous one in the 80’s and 90’s, but a new generation of automation. It’ll be “The Rise of The Cobots”.

When I first took on the role at SAM, one thing that jumped out at me, not literally, was a Cobot or ‘Collaborative Robot’, sitting in the corner of the room.

Having been involved with industrial robots for the best part of 40 years, my initial thought was “its not a real robot, it’s something that will keep children happy, a toy”. How wrong was I?

It’s collaborative. It’s designed to work with you. It doesn’t stop for a break or to browse social media and it works in a “lights out environment”.

Not only that, it’s also easy to teach and can be deployed just about anywhere to do just about anything. For an industry facing a critical skills shortage, the Cobot could well be the sector’s saviour.

Automation promotes growth and, I believe, the Cobot could well overtake what we witnessed during the original robot revolution, so much so that the industrial robotic manufacturers are now even developing their own collaborative robots.

Cobots can and will fill the gaps in the current labour market. The UK manufacturing base is slowly waking up to the fact that Cobots can take away all of the dull, dangerous and dirty jobs, with increased output per hour, and just like 30 years ago, SMEs are fast realising the benefits.

So, if you’re an SME in the North East and have applications that you think could be automated, any mundane repetitive tasks, or simply a concept you would like to investigate automating, then why not contact the team today?

Our team of industry experts and academics have over 250 years’ industry experience, so whatever your challenge, you can guarantee they’ll have seen it before…

  • Neil Taylor, Automation & Robotics Expert at The SAM Project.