Industry 4.0 in Rochdale
In his opening remarks, Rochdale Council’s Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow expressed his belief that Brexit, whatever form it might eventually take, will create shockwaves. The only uncertainty is around the nature of those shockwaves. However, he was very clear about the way forward for the town’s businesses, telling attendees that “we need to make more stuff and sell it abroad”. Music to the ears of an LSP!
So, what can Rochdale businesses do to safeguard success? Can they tap into the town’s rich industrial history to create a successful future, and what do new technological advances have to offer them?
Rochdale has a rich industrial heritage. With 14% of its business in manufacturing, it ranks above the national average for activities in this sector. Add in logistics and that figure rises to 20.5%. Is it ready for Industry 4.0, often referred to as the “fourth industrial revolution”? The Rochdale “meet” was tasked with exploring this question, specifically in the context of equipping the machines in our factories with wireless connectivity and sensors and then connecting these in turn to a central system that can visualise entire production lines and make decisions autonomously.
Innovation has long been acknowledged as a route to productive efficiency. Businesses are constantly striving to reduce the number of hours it takes to produce a single unit, and the UK lags behind many of its European neighbours in this field. At the same time, the products our factories turn out must create value in or add value to the lives of their increasingly demanding potential customers – otherwise they simply won’t make a purchase.
The day started with a case study presented by Richard Hagan, Managing Director of Crystal Doors, a local manufacturer of bespoke vinyl wrapped doors for kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. Richard shared his Industry 4.0 journey, describing how Crystal Doors has embraced Industry 4.0 technology by introducing 3D printing, CNC nesting cells and robotic spraying into its production processes. Thanks to the ability to run machines at higher production rates and with better quality results, the company has increased turnover and profit, as well as cutting running costs. The production facility can also be monitored and controlled remotely 24/7. Richard’s advocacy of Industry 4.0 has culminated in him being appointed an IN4.0 Fellow. He is convinced that Industry 4.0 is and will remain a key factor in the continued success of his company.
The “meet” also included presentations from providers of Industry 4.0 technologies and solutions. Paul Stansfield of IFM ELECTRONIC described how the IO-Link protocol is bringing sensor data to control and IT platforms and Joe Handsaker, CEO of Elements Technology, talked about his company’s solutions for digitising factories that are aimed specifically at SMEs who might at first sight believe that Industry 4.0 is beyond their capabilities. Luke Walsh, CEO of Brainboxes, presented a case study illustrating how his company’s Industry 4.0 technology is being retrofitted to customers’ existing equipment to facilitate predictive maintenance. The final speaker was Raam Shanker, CEO of Equitus Engineering, whose presentation focussed on what he believes are the two key elements of Industry 4.0: first, collaboration throughout the supply chain and second, enabling and empowering the people in it. He told the audience that the real value of implementing Industry 4.0 is to make people excel at what they do.
What history’s four industrial revolutions – or evolutions – doubtless have in common is their shared aim of improving outcomes: increased productivity, higher revenues, better ROI, more efficiency, and so on. The technological advances we are seeing are not resulting in job losses. In fact, they are providing many employers with the opportunity to upskill their employees. Staff who might previously have been charged with manual tasks such as loading materials into a machine are now programming the robots that have taken over this task and monitoring the quality of their output. The benefits extend from shop floor to top floor, because the big data produced by Industry 4.0 is revealing key facts about businesses and enabling management teams to improve the efficiency and profitability of their organisations!