I recently attended an event at the Barnsley Digital Creative Media Centre centred around connected manufacturing, often referred to in its wider context as Industry 4.0 — or the fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s concerned with how businesses can make their factories “smart” in the digital age using technologies and practices such as data analytics and automation, sensors and meters, Internet of Things (or IoT) and cloud computing.
Industry 4.0 is a global phenomenon, but it has a relevance in Yorkshire, which was the beating heart of the first industrial revolution in the 18th and early 19th century. Coal from the county’s mines fuelled steam engines, locomotives and powered factories. Stainless steel was discovered by Harry Brearley in Sheffield (giving the city its ‘Steel City’ moniker). And some of the earliest and largest woollen mills in the world were built in Bradford and neighbouring Leeds.
Today, Industry 4.0 has similar transformational potential in the county and across the North. It’s now possible to control your heating and lighting at home using a mobile app, and Industry 4.0 will similarly allow businesses to manage individual computers and machines remotely over the internet. One big advantage of this is being able to monitor their health and status in real-time, using insights to proactively identify faults and respond to maintenance issues before they turn into costly repair jobs.
“Insights can make us look like Superman,” said Jamie Hinton, CEO of Sheffield-based digital consultancy Razor. “When provided with analytics and data in real-time, at the right time, somebody doesn’t need 20 years of business knowledge to make a decision. They’ll know when something will fail, why it will fail, what raw materials are needed for repair and when to buy them.”
“The shape of organisations will change, with control room operations being placed in the hands of people on the shop floor,”
Roy Woodhead, MD from IoT Transforms in Sheffield, said that Industry 4.0 will also allow businesses to make cost savings by shifting control of machinery. “The shape of organisations will change, with control room operations being placed in the hands of people on the shop floor,” he said. “They will be able to take action and create value by making decisions using information and real-time insights gleaned from big data, data streams, artificial data intelligence, and machine learning.”
Tom Dawes, CEO at Northern Stars finalist Valuechain, highlighted the importance of, “embedding robust, standardised and stable business processes looking at reliable and repeatable data,” when it comes to Industry 4.0 practices. However, he also warned against failing to act on captured data.
“It’s important to turn big data into intelligence, getting the right data to the right people in the right format and in the right time,” he said. “Avoid capturing and presenting data without learning from it.”
Coca-Cola produces a billion litres of product (including Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper and Schweppes) annually out of seven production lines at its Wakefield facility, which is the company’s largest major bottling plant (out of six) in the UK and the largest soft drinks plant by volume in Europe. The company installed a ‘Monitoring and Targeting’ system with over 80 meters providing energy consumption data for equipment, process and production lines across the site at five minute intervals. This allows it to identify energy consumption and reduce it across the site.
More recently, Coca-Cola installed a Document Management System (DMS) developed by Barnsley-based Target Information Systems. Used to help the company meet regulatory and compliance requirements, it successfully automated manual work previously carried out by three departing staff members, according to Sharon Golian, senior manager of Quality, Environment, Safety and Health at Coca-Cola European Partners.
When it comes to manufacturing, Siemens’ software allows companies to create ‘digital twins’ of products and manufacturing equipment, applying simulated effects to reduce the number of prototypes needed. Using the example of a perfume manufacturing machine, app engineer Dave Walker said: “You can design it virtually, looking at how to fill it up quickly and meet demand before building it into a production line to see where the bottlenecks are. You’ve cut out the kinks before it arrives on site, so it can be slotted in for plug-and-play.”
For businesses in the North, Industry 4.0 and connected manufacturing has huge potential to save them time, money, and labour. Based on evidence, this new data-led era could be even more transformational than the first.