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MLIT Special Profile Oct'18 p5-6.qxp_ MLIT33 PageSc 11/10/2019 14:33 Page 6

Critical Issues

programme called Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring, which specifically looks at small to medium-sized companies’ requirements around digitalisation. In general, SMEs are slower on the uptake of new digital technologies and, as mentioned, part of that could relate to the financial outlay required. Therefore, the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring programme looks at helping these companies to identify the simplest ‘first cab off the rank’ digital solutions they could develop within their operations; finding a lowcost pathway for deployment. I've been positively surprised by the level of enthusiasm for that approach. It is very much a case of one step at a time because many companies don't want to feel as if they are about to embark on an endless journey to become digital; they need to do it one step at a time and get measurable value from each step.

The real value of Industrial IoT A point worth making about Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities; sensors have been used in factories for measuring processes for many years. This isn’t something new. So, where IIoT comes in is really around those aspects of a manufacturer’s operations that are not currently being measured as effectively as they could be; things such as product movements, tool locations and people associated with the workplace or beyond the workplace. I think this is an area where IIoT will start to become really important and largely differentiated from the way companies currently do sensing today; i.e. largely for data gathering data about the performance of their processes.

ease the pain; for example, voice inputs. If people could create a computer program just by talking to, say, Alexa and somewhere in the background computer code could be created that could make the life of an industrial developer much easier. If people could talk to a machine tool using their natural language rather than having to key-in large amounts of code it becomes much easier to embrace new technology. In addition to developments around voice there are also major innovations taking place in other areas; vision systems, for example. So, encouragingly, the vendor community is really starting to focus more on easing the interface between people and new technologies.

Harnessing existing skillsets An important point to make is that the next generation of people working in manufacturing will have grown up with smartphones, tablets, Xbox controllers and GoPro cameras, and these types of digital devices could equally be used to great effect in the manufacturing domain. So, the question solution vendors should increasingly ask themselves is, how can we make our products more compatible with the capabilities of the people that manufacturers want to have using them rather than expecting people to have to retrain to understand how to use the technology?

The right solution for the problem Of course, manufacturers don’t just want to adopt technologies such as AI, machine learning, block chain, digital twins and 5G etc for the sake of it – what they really want is better solutions to improve their business and operational activities. Rather than thinking they need a particular technology what they should really ask themselves is, how can we address challenges for our business: e.g. be better at identifying quality problems, find better ways to manage schedule disruptions, share data more securely with suppliers or find a more efficient way of predicting the performance of a product when it's out in use. These are the types of things that challenge the business, so it’s more important to think of the best solutions for each need and then choose the technologies that deliver that solution rather than just deploy technology in order to keep ahead of the digital transformation curve. The content of this article comprises some of the points addressed by Professor Duncan McFarlane at a recent roundtable event in London. The event, titled ʻIs UK manufacturing ready to harness the power of new IoT technologies?ʼ, was organised by Epicor Software UK. n

Improving the interface Another key barrier to digital deployment could be skills-related, with companies not having the right knowledge base to be able to access digital system. We see this barrier being addressed in part by the so-called naturalisation of technology. Historically, many new technologies have been quite hard for people to really embrace in the manufacturing workplace. The good news is there is a new generation of interfaces being introduced to





October 2019

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