Brendan Lowry, Innovation Partner at Digital Catapult in Northern Ireland, looks at smart manufacturing – what it means and the opportunities it opens up for manufacturing.
Northern Ireland may be the smallest region in the UK, but during each of the previous three industrial revolutions it left its mark on manufacturing, creating global breakthroughs in the linen, shipbuilding, defense and aerospace industries. Moreover, manufacturing currently accounts for 11% of employment in the country.
Each of Northern Ireland’s industrial revolutions brought about positive changes in production efficiency, output and cost-cutting opportunities. And with the advent of advanced digital technologies, these long-established industries are undergoing another critical transformation. In fact, COVID-19 and Brexit have opened up new opportunities for manufacturers to gain market share.
As smart manufacturing continues to advance around the world, manufacturing innovation in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK must grow to keep up. With its manufacturing heritage, links to the UK and Europe and a fast-growing innovation ecosystem, Northern Ireland is at the forefront of opportunities. Could smart technology be the answer that manufacturers in Northern Ireland are looking for?
What is smart manufacturing?
Intelligent manufacturing can be described as the use of a technological approach to support and/or monitor product design, production and business processes in real time to meet changing requirements and conditions. These technologies can include anything from AI and robotics to the Internet of Things and wireless technologies such as 5G.
The implementation of intelligent technologies can give manufacturing companies unprecedented access to the real-time data and information they need to improve the safety, efficiency and profitability of their operations. Being able to make decisions based on verified data, rather than instinct, can be invaluable – allowing manufacturers to improve productivity or even the quality of products that reach the shelf.
With the UK in economic recession and global supply chains still in relative chaos, there has never been a more critical time for manufacturers to be at the top of their game. The ability to make smarter and faster decisions, optimize your processes – and ultimately satisfy your suppliers and customers – should come first.
Smart technologies at work
Automation: Machine learning and artificial intelligence will provide the power for automated systems, robotics and cobots to help reduce cycle times, labor time and quality errors, allowing machines to perform mundane, repetitive or even dangerous tasks that would otherwise have to be done by humans, freeing them up. do valuable work.
Augmented Reality (XR): Instead of using production equipment for training and development, which would lead to idle equipment needed for everyday work, the use of VR/AR can increase both knowledge sharing and operational efficiency. In addition to training, a manufacturer can use exciting technologies to track parts and manage inventory, for example, or visualize data collected through connected devices in a whole new way.
IoT: IoT devices can be used to collect data and monitor critical aspects of the manufacturing process in real-time to reduce process variability, eliminate undetected errors, and identify problems as early as possible in the process to minimize scrap and rework costs. The connected factory can also use the IoT network to manage spare parts more efficiently, helping to eliminate waste and reduce order fulfillment delays.
5G: The vastly increased bandwidth, multiple levels of connectivity and signal penetration of 5G mean companies will have increased speed to exchange and interpret data, unlock real-time multi-channel visual communication, parallel sensor monitoring and automation. Most importantly, 5G provides the “golden thread” through which other advanced digital technologies can run seamlessly.
Photonics: It refers to the science and technology of light; for example, lasers are often used to cut materials, light is used for 3D printing, and optical lithography can create extremely small product features. Meanwhile, cameras and sensors increasingly provide valuable information about the health of products and equipment in real time, facilitating, for example, visual inspection and defect detection.
Nanotechnology: This process involves structuring matter on a fine or “nano” scale to provide new or novel properties. Nanotechnology is critical to the production of computer chips, as well as to the creation of a range of “nanomaterials”, such as silver nanoparticles, which are used for their antimicrobial properties.
Valor of Northern Ireland
There is no denying that all of these technologies can solve common manufacturing problems, but with all of them evolving at such a rapid pace, now is the time to strike and not be left behind. However, for startups, SMEs and corporations interested in adopting or expanding the use of intelligent digital technologies to solve specific problems in their business, sometimes gaining hands-on experience, developing a solid business case or building the right skills can be tricky.
Fortunately, Northern Ireland is exceptionally well placed to help manufacturers across the UK benefit from the benefits that smart technology can offer. For example, the City and Growth deals promise to invest more than £140 million over the next ten years in digitalisation capabilities, while the Queen’s University-backed Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center in Belfast will enable organizations to innovate in the digital factory.
Smart Nano NI
The Smart Nano NI Consortium, backed by £42.4m of government funding, brings together leading companies and academia, including King’s University Belfast, Seagate and Digital Catapult, to strengthen Northern Ireland’s position as a world leader in smart manufacturing technologies over the next five years. .
Central to this will be the FutureScope Smart Manufacturing Experiment Pathway, delivered by Digital Catapult, which will offer a 12-week series of affordable cross-industry workshops to help up to 15 Northern Ireland and UK manufacturing businesses gain the skills and knowledge they need. implement technologies, means and methods of intellectual production.
Help is nearby
Opportunities for technological innovation in the manufacturing community are numerous. It can be overwhelming and intimidating, but help and support are also coming along quickly, helping to bridge outstanding skills and knowledge gaps. Why not see what smart manufacturing can do for your business today?