Future factory conference hosted by the MTC

Future factory conference hosted by the MTC

Date: Tuesday 22 December 2015

News Future factory conference hosted by the MTC

MTC at centre of German-British collaboration on Industry 4.0

The transformation of industry in Britain into ‘digitally-connected factories of the future’ took a big step forward recently at a conference at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) near Coventry.

About 150 leading engineers, business people and academics from Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Italy heard how digitised factories will be developed in Britain and across the world, in a more connected and collaborative way, to achieve two main objectives: find customer value and increase productivity.

Opening the conference, the first of this scale on Industry 4.0 in the UK, MTC chief executive Clive Hickman commented that the MTC was proud to play a leading role in the development of digitising technologies and in encouraging British industry to collaborate in order to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0. Dr Hickman added:

"The MTC has played a key role in the development of Industry 4.0 so far in the UK, by housing the country’s first digital factory demonstrator. It is now vital that we continue to invest in these technologies and skills, and encourage uptake throughout the UK manufacturing sector.”

The German Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr Peter Ammon, said that manufacturing accounts for 22 per cent of GDP in Germany, employs 15 million people, and is a major driver of exports, but that Germany could not rest on its laurels. “Making digital information and communication technology usable for industry will be key to maintaining our competitiveness internationally. Eighty per cent of German businesses think that their value chain will be digitised substantially by 2020,” the German ambassador said.

He added that a recent study in Germany found that industrial companies were predicting that they would invest a total of €40bn in this area by the same date.

Martin Donnelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, gave his backing to Industry 4.0. The Government has recently sent representatives to (more than one) European Union roundtables on the subject to learn about European countries’ adoption of these digital techniques for capturing value.

Such technology includes product-to-machine communication for the mass customisation of products in a production line, 3D visualisation to improve the design of more complicated production layouts and technologies that enable more flexible manufacturing, like collaborative robots.

The conference hosted by the MTC, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, revealed that companies in Britain are already using Industry 4.0-type technologies. Factory digitisation is a core focus for the HVM Catapult and Innovate UK, the Government’s innovation agency, going into 2016.

At Siemens’ Congleton factory, for example, products will require more and more customisation and configuration, as global customers’ needs increasingly vary from the standard model variants. Congleton 2020 is a new programme where strategic theme owners are assessing what the site's business and supply chain will look like in 2020. The factory is using Industry 4.0 thinking and emerging technology to affect this change.

Siemens are combining digital manufacturing tools with product design tools to help visualise the complexity of the new factory demands. This is supported by the MTC’s immersive 3D Computer Aided Virtual Environment, or ‘CAVE’ to enable users to visualise complicated production layouts.

Emerging technologies, such as a collaborative robot lab and smart glasses, are also being deployed to make the new manufacturing systems more efficient and flexible.

At engineering group Meggitt, Industry 4.0 is called M4, or Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing. Chief Technology Officer Keith Jackson revealed how the need to invest in digital technologies in manufacture has increased in step with current business demands on the company – such as traceability, increasingly complex and low volume parts, automation and rapid product maturity. The company is now using data analytics as standard to reveal ‘product and factory DNA’ to measure productivity performance and it also uses computer simulation to forecast ‘what-if scenarios’ and assess manufacturing system key performance indicators. This avoids changing manufacturing systems before they are established.

The MTC’s Dr Lina Huertas explained how digitising manufacturing increases the potential for business improvement, innovation and change. She said it is important to know how much value a company can extract from its data and advised companies to try to understand their own ‘digitisation journeys’ and not to go too far without expert advice, or it could be expensive to undo the mistakes.

"The best thing we can do at the MTC is to demonstrate the technology involved and that it can give you the right business benefits" Lina Huertas, MTC

Germany organises I4.0

Industry 4.0 is organised in Germany by Platform Industrie 4.0, a consortium led by Henning Banthien, who explained the organisational structures in Germany and the lessons learnt in rolling out the concepts to industry.

Key to demonstrating that I4.0 is really happening, Steffen Wischmann of VDI, the Association of German Engineers, explained a range of companies in Germany using Industry 4.0-type technology. These included InnoCyfer that makes bionic controls for cyber-physical manufacturing systems and SpeedFactory that automates the customised manufacturing of sports shoes in the ‘batch of one’. Wischmann concluded by saying that companies cannot ignore Industry 4.0 and automation does not cause sustainable unemployment.

Egbert-Jan Sol of Dutch innovation agency TNO explained the Netherlands take on Industry 4.0, devised only in 2013, called Smart Industry. The Dutch are throwing themselves into smart factories, where under this programme by 2018 they target 80 per cent of manufacturing companies will know about Smart Factory and 40 per cent will be actively working within Smart Factory.

Mr Sol said:

When we tested the concept of Smart Factory with Dutch tech companies, their key worry was 'What will our businesses actually look like in five-years time? – to know whether to invest in this technology'.

Value creation

Bosch’s Dirk Slama, a member of the Steering Committee of the Industrial Internet Consortium, said that Google’s purchase of smart-homes appliance company Nest for $3bn is an example of the growth of Internet of Things. “The value to Google is they can tell when you are coming home, then target you. We need to develop physical products that are connected so we can be part of the new value chain creation.”

Italy is Europe’s second biggest manufacturing nation by a large margin, with machinery its biggest export, and Italian industry is taking I4.0 seriously, said Prof Tullio Tolio of Politecnico di Milano. The Italian industrial strategy is to identify megatrends like digitisation, convert to manufacturing challenges, take input from business and this whole process feeds research areas.

Lynne McGregor, lead technologist at government agency Innovate UK, said that the digital economy was one of four core areas Innovate UK is focusing on. “The opportunity in these digital manufacturing areas is up to £30 billion by 2025,” she said.

Standards are seen as a potential barrier for Industry 4.0 implementation, where industry fears there could be another VHS versus Betamax situation with two competing de facto standards. BSI’s Ben Sheridan said the UK should focus on what it is good at, whereas I4.0 was devised in Germany to recognise German companies’ strengths in automation. “The UK has an opportunity to create a hybrid of Industry 4.0 to take advantage of our own strengths, especially lean manufacturing.”

Remarking on the conference, and what British industry should do to understand I4.0 better, co-organiser Dr Harald Egner of the MTC said:

The most important thing is to see that companies are already using Industry 4.0-type technologies now, in Germany but also in the UK. Look at Siemens and Meggitt for example. This change is being forced on companies by lower volume, more customised orders and higher service and delivery expectations from customers. Companies have to respond and take this technology seriously.”

The MTC and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult will be running more seminars and conferences on I4.0 in the coming months.


I was very impressed with the whole experience working with Steve and Dave.
They came onsite, listened and then saw the problems we were having with our process. We explained how we wanted the process improved and they delivered with a number of solutions.
I cannot fault their commitment, brilliant work for the Brilliant Factories project.

Chris Gray
GE Oil & Gas