Automatic growth: a bright future for SMEs who embrace automation
A company that stands still is one which gets left behind. But continually adapting to change – particularly when it comes to technology – can be difficult. And for small and medium enterprises the challenge can be even harder.
Automation is one of the biggest step-changes in the manufacturing industry. Indeed, the government has pin-pointed artificial intelligence and machine learning as one of its key industrial strategies for economic growth. Whilst large organisations and conglomerates have been using robotic assistance for many years, the opportunity for SMEs could seem out of bounds. But it needn’t be.
It seems difficult to imagine the world pre-internet. However, it was only 1991 the World Wide Web went live. Nowadays there are very few companies without a website, because to evolve, we must embrace change. Automation – or Industry 4.0 as it has been dubbed – is the next step.
But for SMEs, complete automation is not necessary. Instead semi-automation can be utilised to support workforces, streamline processes and boost growth. Morris Quality Bakers, a 100-year-old business, is testament to that.
The firm supplies bakery products to supermarkets, retailers and foodservice organisations. Although the company had enjoyed continued growth throughout the years, it was still relying heavily on manpower for packaging its products.
Carl Green, Bakery General Manager, said: “We were packing our teacakes by hand. Although it limited throughput, it gave us flexibility and a guarantee of quality. I hadn’t found a system that was right for our levels of output and could increase packing speed without compromising pack quality until I spotted the FAS SPrint Revolution on Automated Packaging Systems’ website.”
Automated Packaging Systems designs and manufactures flexible bag packing systems for a wide range of industries including food, hardware and pharmaceuticals. The FAS SPrint, tailored to food manufacturers, enables speed and versatility to high-productivity environments which require a daily wash-down. Semi-automated, it provides the best of both worlds for businesses looking to increase production, whilst maintaining manual supervision.
Malcolm Vale, Food Specialist at Automated Packaging Systems, said: “The potential was clear from the start – we were offering them a system that combined the benefits of hand packing – careful, precise and delicate handling – with the speed of automation.”
Morris Quality Bakers made a return on its £75,000 investment within a year, with Carl adding: “This was largely because it has enabled us to increase throughput significantly. We’ve been able to produce up to 2,500 packs of 12 tea cakes in a day, which is substantial increase in what we could achieve beforehand.”
Previously a team of four could bag and label 200 packs of 12 tea cakes per hour. Today they can pack twice as much product in a bag, twice as fast, and with half the number of people – freeing up staff to concentrate on other aspects of the business such as quality control and customer service.
The bagging system has also resulted in cost-savings for Morris’ clients. By switching from non-resealable six packs to easy-open zip-lock packs of 12, the firm has made it easier for caterers. The zip-lock bags mean they can easily keep rolls fresh overnight, reducing catering waste and helping them to cut costs.
Such was the benefit to the bakery, Morris ordered a second FAS SPrint bagging system just three months after the first. New possibilities have now been opened up enabling the firm to develop a series of new lines to its product range.
Malcolm said: “The FAS SPrint Revolution has been designed for small to medium food manufacturers. As such the entire system is mounted on castors for mobility and has a compact footprint for space saving in small production areas. To make it easier for our customers to automate and integrate their packaging lines, we also offer a variety of financing and payment options to benefit businesses of all budgets.
“Automation is a hot topic right now, but it is not something to be feared. Our work with Morris Quality Bakers is a prime example that automating even just a small part of your business, can have huge benefits.”
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.