In the build-up to Internet of Manufacturing UK, taking place on the 14-15 May 2019 at Farnborough International Conference Centre, our team caught up with Nick Wright, the Head of Manufacturing Industries at Digital Catapult, to discuss the impact of IoT/Industry 4.0 on the manufacturing sector in the UK.

Where do you see IIoT creating the most impact in the UK?

IIoT can make a significant impact, and UK tech companies can grab the opportunity of helping manufacturing businesses integrate IoT into their processes through applications in asset tracking, condition monitoring, and other areas where IoT can broadly optimise operations by reducing downtime and waste.

Central to this is helping the UK solve its productivity challenge – the 2016 Farmer Review noted that there was a particular issue with regards to innovation and collaboration in the construction sector – IoT, in combination with other things, can help construction move towards more of a manufacturing-type operation to make it more sustainable in the long run.

“IoT adds a layer that removes processes which require human intervention allowing workers to focus effort to higher value work”

Advanced digital technologies, including IoT, have the benefit of removing workers from challenging or dangerous environments in sectors such as oil & gas, nuclear and rail.

Packaged industry solutions are another general trend. Digital Catapult is involved in several projects that involve bringing together a range of different stakeholders to provide industry with solutions (akin to professional services companies in other sectors) that answer needs across the value chain, rather than targeted at specific part of the manufacturing process, or supply chain.

How far away are we in the UK from being able to truly benefit from IoT?

We already benefit and the technology is there but different industries approach adoption and integration of IoT in very different ways depending on their risk and innovation appetite.

“There remain a number of challenges to overcome, particularly with regards to data”

Cybersecurity – and the perceived threat thereof – is a big challenge as IoT unlocks vast amounts of data which some legacy systems are unable to cope with. Understanding how to store, protect and ultimately use that data to create efficiencies and optimise processes is a big challenge.

The fragmented nature of the IoT ecosystem is a challenge as there are many different solutions, different platforms and different vendors so it’s hard for businesses to know where to start and what to use. The IoT ecosystem is vast: there are hundreds of platform vendors for example – and this is only one of the five stages of the technology stack.

Digital Catapult’s Future Networks Lab brings together some of the leading large IoT players – BT, IBM, Siemens, PTC – alongside startup companies with the goal of better understanding how to unlock the value of IoT, LPWAN and 5G for industry through collaboration, experimentation and demonstration, cutting through the market fragmentation.

“The IoT ecosystem is vast: there are hundreds of platform vendors”

Lastly are challenges around legacy enterprise systems. Many companies have the ambition to move towards open architectures but significant challenges remain in particular with regards to interoperability between different systems. Understanding how to use data to drive benefits is hard and often requires a significant culture change within a business by building processes around it – like educating the workforce – to drive adoption and get the most out of the system.

The good news is that the barrier to entry is lower for smaller companies. They do not necessarily have the same challenges as larger organisations and are not as worried by being locked into huge systems.

Why has IoT become so crucial to so many organisations?

IoT can open up unique business models, such as the move to servitization from one industry to another. Ocado is a good example of an organisation that seized first mover advantage, moving from food to logistics tech/systems and process automation. They still deliver groceries but much of the business is now around the behind the scenes automation. They’ve become market leaders in a completely different field from the one they started out in.

“Embedding IoT into an organisation allows you to be seen as innovative”

As complexity of different processes (e.g. quality control) increases exponentially, the amount of data being handled to enable those processes, and the level of detail of that data, makes using technology more sustainable and efficient, particularly in high-wage economies. The cost of IoT tech such as sensors and compute power is falling so quickly that economically it makes sense and ROI is more easily demonstrable.

Another reason why IoT is becoming crucial to many organisations comes from the ever increasing web of standards and regulations across different countries and organisations. Compliance across all of these variables is simply much harder to do manually. The technology is so advanced, that it’s often faster and more accurate, with higher quality results.

Who are the winners and losers (if any) of IIoT / Industry 4.0?

Safety and improvements in risk mitigation are set to benefit enormously. Better knowledge of the ambient environment or the ability to monitor remote environments and remote workers is made much simpler and more effective with IIoT.

With the benefits its brings in terms of allowing faster, more accurate and better quality processes, IoT has a knock on effect of helping to create a more efficient and productive workforce.

There’s potential for increased use of IoT to open up a cybersecurity risk due to increased volumes of data and the amount of digitised data, but this risk is often overstated.

How can SME’s specifically reap the rewards? What support is available to them?

Forward thinking SME manufacturers and startups can look at how they can form partnerships to move both companies forward and help direct the technology to their best advantage.

The Made Smarter North West programme is looking to engage with around 3,000 SME manufacturers in the North West of England to help productivity, providing match funding support and advice on how technology can improve manufacturing processes.

“Forward thinking SME manufacturers and startups can look at how they can form partnerships to move both companies forward”

Digital Catapult offers support through a range of different programmes such as Things Connected. Our Connected Factory Demonstrator project with two innovative manufacturing companies, Dyer Engineering and Special Metals Wiggin, is looking to explore how future networks technologies including LPWAN (low-powered, wide area networks) can drive improvements throughout the product lifecycle.

What’s the biggest stumbling block on the road to IoT?

Market fragmentation is a major hurdle to overcome as the IoT ecosystem is so large.  Data management is another potential hurdle because of the amount of aggregating, sorting and labeling in order to enable AI and analytics software to do their jobs properly, enabling the data to be applied to improve processes in the right way.”

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is understanding why you want to use IoT. What is the solution you want from it? You have to be able to build the business case and demonstrate the ROI – sometimes this might only become apparent at scale but to reap the biggest benefits, IoT needs to be integrated throughout the system.

Finally, what are your predictions for the next 5 years?

Making predictions is notoriously difficult. We see the growth of 5G infrastructure and its potential for enabling vast numbers of connected devices (anything from a sensor to an autonomous vehicle) within a manufacturing setting will be utterly transformative.

“The growth of IoT in itself will enable new business models in manufacturing”

The growth of IoT in itself will enable new business models in manufacturing. Partnerships and JVs will have to become more common as large and small companies work together more, providing industry with packaged solutions.

Lastly, external drivers such as an ageing workforce are likely to have an impact on the skills gap.

Join Nick Wright, as part of the “Building a Digital Workforce | Spanners to Microchips” Panel along with experts from GE Digital, GSK, Jaguar Land Rover, Pirelli and many more at Internet of Manufacturing UK, on the 14-15 May 2019 at Farnborough International Conference Centre.

It is more vital than ever to ensure that you have a work force ready to meet the challenges ahead.

Secure your ticket to Internet of Manufacturing UK here