The UK’s productivity puzzle: how updating technology can bolster manufacturing output
At the tail end of last year the future for manufacturing seemed pretty bleak with reports of output growth over the past five years averaging only 0.2%, and UK productivity trailing behind our European contemporaries. However, fast forward to January and the most recent UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), gives us reason to be optimistic, finding that UK manufacturing output is expanding at its fastest rate since early 2008.
One way the industry can now maintain this momentum, from merely an upsurge into long-term, sustained growth, could be affected by how businesses approach their technological processes. What, therefore, can manufacturers do to sustain this surge in productivity and keep increasing their levels of output?
The Government recently announced significant investment in industry-transforming technology, making the next 12 months an exciting, and potentially transformative, time for manufacturers. In his Autumn Budget speech, The Chancellor cited investment in infrastructure, skills and research and development as key to recovering productivity growth. This has reiterated the importance of technological investment to support productivity issues in manufacturing.
This commitment to technology funding has signalled a new dawn for manufacturers. With £75m being dedicated towards artificial intelligence and £76m towards boosting digital and construction skills, the necessary pieces are being put into place to address Britain’s productivity puzzle.
What is clear from these pledges is the recognition that technological investment is a necessary ingredient to propel innovation forward in Britain. Off the back of the Autumn Budget, industries like manufacturing have been given the ‘green-light’ to be more proactive in pursuing the technology that will transform businesses and enable long-term growth. This new approach to facilitating the adoption of transformative technology will enable those who are bullish in embracing innovation, to reap its rewards.
In fact, a recent study from Epicor Software found almost one-in-four (23%) UK companies that experienced very high growth in the last 12 months believe technology has had a positive impact on their business. Firms who refuse to update their production systems with better technology therefore, often do so to their detriment.
During the instability of recent times, many manufacturers have taken the route of being cautious and avoided large investments in capital spending. However, investment in digital transformation among manufacturers is likely to be the key that will boost productivity, allowing workers to adopt new processes and become more efficient. Overlooking the impact that outdated legacy systems have on productivity in manufacturing, would be ignoring a key element of the productivity puzzle. Instead, manufacturers should focus on updating production systems and using technology to gain advantage amongst their competitors.
Embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) is one such example that manufacturers should be keen to explore. Increasing connectivity between machines, computers and humans will promote efficiency levels. The potential for digital systems to improve productivity is vast, creating a more dynamic factory workforce that will move more seamlessly in unison. This motion, fuelled by the constant guidance of smart products, can be a critical component to optimising production. Having such systems in place enables internal teams to identify where operational inefficiencies originate and allows senior management to develop strategies to meet their Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) standard. For instance, Southco, manufacturer of fasteners and latches for access, which is currently operating at 75% OEE (10% short of world-class standard) is just one business that reports it has seen a noticeable improvement since implementing the Mattec Manufacturing Execution System (MES).
The concept of digital twinning has also gained momentum in recent years as more manufacturers invest in smart machines that are transforming the industrial landscape. Defined as the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform, digital twinning is enabling manufacturers to gather data from sensors on their machines to find out how they are performing, in real-time. Providing the manufacturer with valuable insight to improve production processes and the final product.
The use of robotics is already a priority for many manufacturers. From welding to assembly machines, factory floors are beginning to see effective and thorough applications of robotics in the production process. Freeing up employees to focus on more difficult tasks and providing them with the opportunity to upskill.
Augmented reality is another technological development that many manufacturers are implementing and reaping the rewards from. More than just creating illuminating experiences for employees to engage with their workloads, this technology allows for far greater accuracy when conducting complex tasks. Not only will it optimise production levels, but it also offers a level of precision that can be very effective in manufacturing.
Manufacturers may also be looking to blockchain in the near future to further enhance their business’s productivity. Whilst this technology is currently most commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, blockchain could be hugely beneficial in enabling manufacturers to oversee their entire supply chains in the future, as these online ledgers provide the opportunity for those at all levels of production to input data where problems may have occurred. In doing so, employees at all levels can access data to trace where the incident originated from. This can greatly enhance efficiency, as employees need not comb through paperwork trails, but will instead have instant access to information, freeing up their valuable time.
Whilst some of these technologies may not be relevant to all manufacturers right now, having sophisticated enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution software (MES) technology to assist production, automate processes, assist with resourcing and provide one source of data for all users, will provide great dividends to manufacturers across the board. Enabling businesses to be more agile to today’s business climate. Providing them with the technology to re-visit and revise strategies to thrive, whether that’s solely in the UK or with plans for growth internationally.
Fundamentally, we have every reason to be optimistic as we enter 2018, Britain’s manufacturing sector has not been as buoyant since April 2008 and we are in the midst of our strongest run of growth since 1997. However, to maintain these advances and continue to enjoy a period of growth, investment in technology will be essential.
David York is the Regional Vice President of the UK and Ireland devisions at Epicor Software.
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.