Embracing Industry 4.0 is the smart thing to do
For a Lancashire textile manufacturer like Carrington, the idea that we now find ourselves in the midst of a fourth industry revolution is hugely exciting. Especially as we can trace textile production at the site of our factory in Adlington all the way back to the 1760s and the birth of the first industrial revolution.
We are particularly interested in the adjoining concept of Industry 4.0, which is seeing manufacturers embrace digital automation, the Internet of Things and data analytics within manufacturing technologies.
The idea of creating a ‘smart factory’ is one we are eagerly embracing. It’s easy to understand why some UK manufacturers might see this type of transformation as somewhat daunting – especially as it requires resources to implement and change the way organisations operate. But we see things differently.
Our attitude might stem from the fact that, as a Lancashire textile manufacturer, we’ve had no choice but to embrace innovation to meet the challenge posed by low-cost competition in the global market. We also know that a willingness to embrace new technology is one of the reasons we have become Europe’s largest manufacturer of workwear fabrics. As such, we’ve been looking for the potential in Industry 4.0 and see it as a big opportunity – one that could allow UK manufacturers to steal a march on its global competition.
So what’s holding companies back?
To achieve this companies need to challenge some of the assumptions holding them back. This includes a belief that smart manufacturing will involve a massive overhaul with tonnes of expensive new machinery and additional employee training. In fact, there is a host of small changes that can be made to enhance existing systems and processes.
In our Adlington factory, a relatively small investment has seen us introduce real-time tracking on the production lines, which has effectively allowed us to create a digital replication of our manufacturing process. This has provided us with full visibility of what’s happening on the factory floor via an iPad. This holistic view means we have a digital overview of all the orders in production.
The benefits to manufacturers are numerous
If we ever have an issue with a batch of fabric, we know instantly– regardless of whether we’re on the factory floor or not. If anyone wants to see what stage a specific item or project is up to, or check our stock system, they can do so instantly via a tablet computer. Whether a fabric is in the dye run, hitting the inspection line or the warehouse, we always know. This information is proving a major help in all areas of the business For instance, it is allowing the sales team to keep customers updated at all times.
Supplementary technologies are also adding detail to that real-time data. Using location trackers such as beacons, for example, we can see that everything is where it should be at any given time. Used in conjunction with QR codes affixed to each run, you can also locate any errant material quickly.
Staged investment is possible
Deploying technology does cost money, there is no escaping that. But it doesn’t have to be a big bang investment. Smart manufacturing is not about picking one miracle solution that does everything. Nor should it mean having to make massive changes that uproot your entire workforce. Instead, by investing in a couple of affordable solutions that work in tangent together, you can start to transform the factory floor in an evolutional fashion, enabling everyone from technical managers to sales staff to work leaner, smarter and happier.
We’re happy to admit that after looking all over the world for a new place to build a new factory in recent years, we’ve committed to investing right here in the UK. And a large part of that decision is down to the technological solutions available here which counter-balances the availability of cheaper labour costs elsewhere in the world.
Manufacturing has not always been easy in the UK. You only have to look at the fact that, although we have the fifth largest economy in the world, we’re 11th when it comes to national manufacturing output. But we firmly believe that if more UK manufacturers can embrace smart manufacturing that ratio can change.
By Simon Hiles, IT manager at Carrington
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IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.