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Building manufacturing operations of the future

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The manufacturing operations we’ll be seeing in 30 years times will be very different than those of today. To be a successful manufacturer of the future the need to build an effective roadmap to guide you along the transformative changes of the next 5, 10, 30 plus years needs to start now.

Manufacturers that fail to make plans and prepare to respond to and implement the changes upon us within the sector, both in terms of adopting the right technology as it develops and having the right people to adapt to the changes in an increasingly agile environment, will fall rapidly behind.


Some of the Industrial Technology trends that I see as being key in the transformation of manufacturing operations for future success are:

  • Context Driven Interfaces that will increase efficiency and ensure informed decision making is the backbone to future manufacturing operations. This will enable cross function decision making from a single operational interface – providing a simple way to allow people to collaborate for the greatest outcomes.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning will empowers engineers and operators, moving their thoughts from hindsight to foresight. Low skilled tasks can be automated, empowering the development and decision making of humans. Machine Learning will not only be used to understand and predict asset failures (maintenance) but also to warn operators of sub-optimal operational performance, for example detecting abnormalities in the energy consumption for the batch, or quality issues with a production line.
  • Low cost, non-intrusive sensing can drive efficiency without impacting control networks. IIoT devices can be leveraged to deliver additional sensing for maintenance or tracking of equipment, people or production without being intrusive to the existing assets and infrastructure. This will utilise previous asset investments but apply new digital technology for greater benefit.
  • On plant and cloud technology will be symbiotic, with decision making and control available at the Edge but providing analytics and services to the Cloud. Cloud services won’t just enable data viewing and visualisation either, but provide cognitive services leveraging speech, language, image recognition and much more. Technology is rapidly enabling us to utilise existing assets (hard or soft) interchangeably both on premise and in the cloud.
  • The platform of the future will enable the ‘Digital Twin’. Having the right digital platform to enable the on and off premise solutions is fundamental to delivering long term return on investment for assets. Just having siloed or loosely integrated individual systems may provide a short-term view of the "Digital Twin", however as we know, assets can change, move or evolve, therefore the concept of a Digital Thread becomes a requirement. Being able to capture and track the "living" or operational aspect of the twin and reuse this new information across the value chain is important. Connections will need to be near constant, not single capture for the Digital Twin to be realised to its potential.
  • Field and Control Room operators will have a stronger digital link to the plant floor, anabling them to transform data through to wisdom by making the data available and augmented to the right person and device appropriately.
  • Security will disrupt OT architectures and operations but this will be for the better, as the short-term impacts will drive our acceptance of the need for change. Standards will drive increased security and protection, allowing for the safe adoption of technology.
  • Technology developments will enable Edge/Plant systems to become more resilient to disaster/failures, reducing downtime and increasing the speed of response to such incidents. Recovery options available both on premise or via the cloud – a hybrid resilience approach - will provide greater protection against security threats.


How can manufacturers leverage these industrial technology developments in order to prepare and grow for the future?

Culture adoption, accepting change

In all of the talk of new technology, AI, digitalisation, we need to remember that people are the key. In order to be more efficient and to reap the value that developing technology can afford us, change must occur, and we need our people to not only come on this journey with us but to actively participate in it.

If we do not change our input and processes, we will continue to get the same output. Reimagining user interfaces, enhancing operating procedures, digitalising work orders, recipes and so on should be welcomed so that manufacturers can increase productivity. But people being averse to change can be a big stumbling block towards increased productivity.

There is little point in adopting or trialling technology, for example Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence if we do not understand why or how we are doing it. What outcomes are we looking to achieve? So, this needs to be set-out, a roadmap for change implemented and our people bought into it.

Seeing Human Operators at the core for the adoption of technology will allow us to implement the right solutions. Manufacturers should start small, prove the case and progress, with steady adoption and incremental proven value for all to buy into being the key.

Ecosystem and partners

As well as the importance of your own people, selecting the right skilled and experienced partner(s) is key for a successful long-term strategy. The suppliers, partners, delivery and project teams should work through standards, secure but open APIs, utilising off the shelf solutions rather than custom building.

Innovation will occur through collaboration, drawing on experiences and ideas across the ecosystem. True solutions will most likely leverage multiple providers; therefore, a well-orchestrated, trusted partnership is important and not an isolated point solution provider where issues can be pushed from "pillar to post". Growth and trust should form the basis of ecosystems and partnerships, ensuring value add, securely.

Business Models allowing for architectural and technological freedom with commercial flexibility

People change, business requirements change, technology changes and so the way in which we acquire hardware, software and services must allow for change too.

Traditional offerings should remain, but new flexible subscriptions and SaaS based solutions should also be on offer so that technology can be adopted as and when the business decides, not when the license dictates. This allows for greater progress towards an outcome-based economy.


The time for adoption is now

According to the latest Annual Manufacturing Report 2019 published by Hennik Research 81% of manufacturers say that they are ready to invest in new digital technologies to boost productivity*.

So, what’s holding the UK back when it comes to the adoption of industrial digital technology trends? With manufacturers clearly seeing the potential, what’s stopping them?

The lack of certainty in the UK economy ahead of Brexit is said to be severely impacting manufacturers ability to plan for the future, with investment decisions being delayed due to the uncertainty. In addition, the Made Smarter Review, claims that an inability to understand what is best practice and what technology to implement and where is one of the reason for low adoption rates among UK businesses.

However, the review also states that the early adoption of advanced digital technologies by the UK manufacturing sector has the potential to grow the UK economy by £455bn, create 175,000 new jobs, increase productivity and cut CO2 emissions over the next 10 years**.

So, despite the concerns and hesitations there is an increasing recognition within the industry that the adoption has begun, it cannot be delayed any longer, the potential of Industry 4.0 has to be recognised and will certainly be playing a key role in the shaping of and the growth of manufacturing in the years to come.

David Baskett
Technical Strategy Manager


*Annual Manufacturing Report 2019 https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/annual-manufacturing-report-2019/
** Made Smarter https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/made-smarter-review