US$12.76mn digital project to transform UK metal industry
With the potential to ‘transform UK industry’, the Materials Processing Institute has announced that it will be playing a leading role in a new US$13mn digitisation project.
Materials Processing Institute will be working alongside Liberty Steel Group’s Hartlepool Pipes mill, Liberty Speciality Steels, Shiftec and TSC Simulation, at its Teesside based research and innovation centre. The project will look to create digital twins of the plants to demonstrate the huge potential that can be achieved in the production process.
The overall aim of the project is to highlight the benefits of introducing industrial digital technologies (IDT) into the steel industry as well as sectors serving strategic manufacturing and construction supply chains.
In addition to Liberty Steel Group’s Hartlepool Pipes mill, Liberty Speciality Steels, Shiftec and TSC Simulation, the two year project - worth US$2.55mn to the institute - is receiving funding from Innovate UK via its Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge - part of the government's larger Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
“The Fourth Industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, utilises IDT to enable the recording and analysis of data across machines for continuous improvement, creating a more cost-effective, efficient, flexible and faster process,” commented the Materials Processing Institute in a company statement.
Using its Normanton Steel Plant the Materials Processing Institute will undertake an initial pilot project which will assess and improve the IDT prior to being implemented in the production process for Liberty Steel Group.
“The real challenge in adopting smart technology is how it can be retro-fitted to improve the performance of existing plants. Whilst this project is centred on the metals sector, it can easily be applied to any process where digital imaging can be linked to machine learning and intelligent process control,” commented Chris Oswin, who leads the Institute’s Digital Technologies Group.
“The three sites involved will act as demonstrators for IDT – enabling the lessons learned to be shared across other foundation industries, including energy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and the process industries.”
Liberty Steel Group
Via this project, Liberty Steel GRoup is seeking to make a significant improvement to its productivity and product performance by working with the Institute, Shiftec and TSC.
The project will look to harness cameras and imaging technologies, alongside intelligent processing and machine learning in order to increase accuracy via process characterisation, the creation of digital twins and intelligent interactive process models.
“This is a hugely exciting and prestigious project which places the Institute at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I'm confident this project will show how the latest digital technologies can be adopted by small businesses and successfully applied to foundation industry factories. We will enable companies to tackle the difficult, but all too common problems of brownfield sites, legacy systems, lack of connectivity and ageing equipment,” added Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of the Materials Processing Institute.
“Many of these technologies have been developed here at the Institute and we are confident they will optimise production facilities – providing far-reaching opportunities to develop the future UK economy,” concluded McDonald.
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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.