With the Internet of Manufacturing UK, taking place on the 14-15 September 2019 at Farnborough International Conference Centre, on the horizon, our team caught up with Richard Larder, the Head of Digital Innovation at Dyer Engineering.

Why has IoT become so crucial to so many organisations?

I see the operational insight, production efficiency gains and real time status monitoring that IoT technology can bring being of absolute importance in safeguarding commercial competitiveness.  In the short-term there are big wins to be had in early adoption, but in time, due to the revolutionary nature of this technology, it will become common place with only those who failed to get to the party in time, left outside.

“In the short-term there are big wins to be had in early adoption”

How can organizations justify the costs of IoT implementation / digital transformation?

Innovate UK have recognised this challenge for SMEs and launched a national tender competition, called ‘Connect Factories’, to identify the first UK SME demonstrator site which our company, Dyer Engineering, wrote the winning bid for.  The purpose of this investment is to break down the barriers of adoption by showing how and why this technology should be invested in by tackling a common use case; for us, our major challenges is simply losing bits.  We either waste time trying to find them or have to bite the bullet and remake due to a pressing customer delivery. If our conservative estimates are correct, this solution will pay for itself in less than a year and then start hitting the bottom line.

“Failure to start the journey of understanding… could prove disastrous in the near future”

It is however, easy to empathise with organisations who are not looking into IoT investment, as awareness, technology providers and use cases are still relatively thin on the ground.  Investment in more typical and tangible in areas such as machinery, where ROI can easily be demonstrated and FDs can ‘see’ where the money is going, present a far more attractive and safer option, however, failure to start the journey of understanding, use case identification and adoption planning now, could prove disastrous in the near future as competition moves ahead and inevitably leaves the less innovative behind.  Simply put, IoT adoption should not necessary be thought of as what benefit it can bring now but what will be impact in the future of not starting the journey sooner.

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

SMEs are in a very fortunate position in that they are big enough to allocate a budget to digital transformation and not so big that their process are too cumbersome to change. If there is a ‘fail fast’ culture with the right people on board, then innovation will naturally come about.  Our need to know where are bits are will be very common with other manufactures and the solution now seems obvious with an almost, “why didn’t we do this sooner” frustration.  I believe there is lots of low hanging fruit which can be had for relatively low cost once the technology is understood and the right partner is found.

In terms of support, we try and look at the bigger picture around manufacturing and rather than silo ourselves behind buttressed walls, we try and employ an open door policy of sharing any successes or failures with likeminded business, in the hope this is reciprocated and we can achieve far more working together than independently.  This collaborative approach also helps grow our network and helps identify any potential funding pots.  So far, all of our digital transformation projects have received receiving full or partial funding.

“We try and employ an open door policy of sharing any successes or failures with likeminded business”

With AI having the potential to truly transform and optimize the UK Manufacturing sector, what are the key challenges you believe will stand in the way of the AI reaching its full potential?

Ha! If AI realises it’s true potential then that will be most likely lead to the point of human extinction, so I don’t think anyone is pushing for that. 

Seriously though, AI is a game changer in its ability to process vast amounts of data.  This can already be seen in the medical sector where AI is now outperforming doctors in the diagnosis of breast cancer but comparing scans with a huge database of historic data, and in a fraction of the time.  Its migration into the manufacturing sector will be inevitable and will suit any application wherever there are large datasets for it to review and a prognosis to be determined.

“AI is a game changer in its ability to process vast amounts of data”

In terms of challenges that stand in the way of AI being harnessed, I think there is a false perception that this concept has only just been created and is far too advanced for SMEs to get close to.  In reality, AI came about in 1940s and is simply based on mathematical reasoning and circular learning, effectively mirroring a small part of how we think and reason. So I think fear of the unknown is the first hurdle to get over and then it’s finding a use case where AI can be applied to justify investment. 

There are technology partners already out there that can slot in and provide a solution or you may choose to be a bit more speculative approach and partner with a university by imbedding a PhD student which is the root we have decided to go down.

To learn more about digital transformation for SMEs join the “Industry 4.0 for SMEs : Key lessons to Implement Now” panel on Day 2 of Internet of Manufacturing UK on the 15 May 2019.

Secure your ticket to Internet of Manufacturing UK here