The IET hosted this exclusive LCR 4.0 event at Sci-Tech Daresbury on 28th February 2018 where delegates got to meet all of the LCR 4.0 delivery partners and had the opportunity to hear about what they each bring to the LCR 4.0 project and more importantly, the local manufacturing SMEs.
Simon Reid: Sector Manager for Advanced Manufacturing at Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP)
Firstly Simon Reid introduced what Industry 4.0 is and how the digital revolution can impact businesses and the way we work in the future. Simon stressed that whilst digitalisation is only just beginning, technology is quickly being adopted as those adopting, strengthen their position within their supply chain.
Through this digitalisation, manufacturing will look completely different to what it does today. Simon explained how Liverpool is one of the largest manufacturing regions, with 3,000 manufacturing businesses, employing 50,000 people within industries such as automotive, marine, chemical, rail and even pharmaceutical.
Simon also discussed the uncertainty of Brexit which hangs over UK manufacturers with 78% of manufacturers agreeing that innovation is and will remain the backbone of UK manufacturing. Simon believes what separates the UK to other parts of the world is IT investment with IBM being a key example, however the UK does seem to fall behind other countries when it comes to productivity, suggesting more businesses need to adopt in order to remain competitive. An audience member mentioned the price of getting a prototype of the ground can be costly but Simon reassured the audience that actually digitalisation can allow for product development to be a lot cheaper as LCR 4.0 delivery partners can not only offer their facilities, but even help write financial bids and applications.
The LCR 4.0 Offer
LCR 4.0 is a part ERDF funded initiative which focuses on a number of delivery partners to offer free support and advice on how local manufacturing SMEs can adopt Industry 4.0 technologies into their own businesses, improving efficiencies and productivity. This support will offer bespoke solutions to each individual business who engages with the project and allows access to some of the best facilities, experience and knowledge the Liverpool City Region has to offer.
The University of Liverpool are the lead partners of the project, through the Virtual Engineering Centre, working with the Liverpool John Moores University, Sensor City and the STFC Hartree Centre (Science and Technology Facilities Council).
The three year project aims to support 300 businesses throughout the programme duration, enable 200 collaborations between businesses and partners, support 70 new product development cases, in addition to create 60 new jobs within the region.
Andrew Borland: Commercialisation Manager at the Virtual Engineering Centre (University of Liverpool)
Andrew Borland then took to the stage to explain that the time to look for the future and change is now. Andrew also touched upon the jargon that we all hear on a daily basis such as big data, Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality, sensors etc. and explained that these are all just jargon and catch phrases, until we decide to do something with them.
Industry 4 is the transformation of many technologies and processes. Today we can use a cost friendly piece of technology which can make a huge impact on your business, just by simply adding sensors which can improve your data collection and connectivity between devices.
Andrew explained how the Virtual Engineering Centre and the LCR 4.0 project are keen to ensure that your employees are also made aware of these industrial changes and are aware of any upskilling opportunities, by ensuring the SME is knowledgeable and learns through the support given.
Andrew believes the real opportunity of accessing the LCR 4.0 support includes having access to academic research and links of two local Universities, skills training, greater productivity and improved decision making which could even lead to breaking out of your own industry.
The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) offers businesses of all sizes and industries to visit our facilities and enter our Sandpit model, allowing you to play with innovative technology, learn more about the real business benefits it can bring and even test these out on their own business models and product. The centre’s main focus is not just VR technology though. With a robotics and autonomous systems lab, the VEC has experience in a range of fields and has experience collaborating with an array of organisations.
Oliver Hall – Managing Director at Ultamation
Ultamation are a multi-award winning organisation, based within the Liverpool Science Park. With only 5 employees, Ultamation understand the high demand of internal resources, often being restrictive of taking on new large scale projects. The company create a number of innovative home automation systems which they believe achieve very high customer expectations, based on their customers often living luxury lifestyles.
Often cynical about these type of projects, offering free support, Ultamation saw more and more positive case studies coming from the project and then received a call from the Virtual Engineering Centre who explained their LCR 4.0 offer. Within a few months, Ultamation had a physical prototype of their new product which they could showcase and demonstrate to potential investors and customers. This prototype now allowed Ultamation to provide augmented technology to their device, allowing for users to control their smart home devices through simply tapping their smart phone or tablet.
This support was more than Oliver could have initially imagined and were impressed with the benefits of engaging with LCR 4.0. These benefits included the technical experience and expertise within the VEC team, the high quality man power offered to assist in this development, the focus and delivery of the project, the continued relationship with the VEC after the support, as well as the PR and marketing opportunities which followed, including putting them in touch with the Manufacturer who offered them a space at their annual Smart Factory Expo. Here Oliver was able to join networking opportunities and make numerous real leads with potential clients for free.
Oliver closed with calling the engagement a “thoroughly wholesome experience.”
Tom Kirkham – The STFC Hartree Centre
The Hartree Centre, part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and based at Sci-Tech Daresbury, specialises in high performance computing, big data and cognitive technologies. The centre also has areas of work improving connectivity through the Internet of Things and Blockchain, technologies that are also popular aspects of Industry 4.0.
Tom introduced us to Wadaro, a company who track connectivity for mobile phone networks and whose work therefore impacts millions of people and their devices. They really acknowledged the need for connectivity that you can rely on and used the Hartree Centre to manage and process huge amounts of data.
There is a great ecosystem for businesses within the North West. The LCR 4.0 Project is an example of just one of the support systems out there to help. LCR 4.0 does not restrict businesses to working with a single technology provider and allows them to receive bespoke support which caters to their needs and objectives.
Anthony Walker – LJMU Strategic Manager, LCR 4.0 at Liverpool John Moores University, the Faculty of Engineering and Technology (FET)
Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has a fantastic range of facilities which are open to companies to have access to their academics, students and even other businesses. through the LCR 4.0 project, FET can help local companies to develop smarter products, processes and supply chains to increase productivity and improve competitiveness, and have purpose built houses which are ideal for product testing and validation.
Anthony highlighted how all of the delivery partners offer a unique and niche specialist skill set, ideal for all companies to benefit from. One of the key parts of engaging with LCR 4.0 is that whilst we are not permitted to ‘train’ employees, we can help towards their upskilling and improve on your current capacity, helping provide the key skills for the workforce of the future, matched to industrial needs. The partners can also put you in touch with larger organisations, access and utilise any links across your supply chains, help with logistical planning and even look further into your cloud computing and cyber security, offering real practical support.
Anthony then showcased what has been called the Future Farm – highlighting how small changes and adoption of new technology can really impact and improve a number of processes across a whole business. This particular example highlighted GPS linked tractors which could then link up to survey drones, collecting data and assessing which methods of farming work best and what is more effective.
Abbey Engineering is a local manufacturing company, working across a wide variety of industries whilst focusing on precision laser cutting and press bake forming of a range of materials using a vast range of tooling to produce components extremely accurately & efficiently.
Since receiving support from LJMU through the LCR 4.0 project, Abbey Engineering claimed that they have been able to improve their current processes, enabling them to become 80% more effective in what they do.
Anthony closed by explaining to the audience that 4IR means something different to everyone and understand SMEs need support that is timely, bespoke and relevant.
“It’s about your challenge and allowing for us to help you achieve your goals and become more competitive.”
An example of autonomous systems being used within the factory environment thanks to the work and help of LJMU for local SME, Brainboxes
Rechelle Davis – Creative & Operational Director for Energy Fairies
Energy Fairies focus on creating innovative but effective methods of delivering energy solutions, in particular to those who need it the most.
These solutions should be green, efficient, affordable and attractive, to suit all homes.
The fairies wanted to make these solutions more accessible to everyone, including the ‘average Joe’ which is what they themselves, claim to be. Coming from a modest background, the fairies understand that not everyone can afford everything that life throws our way so their solutions are ideal for putting your mind at ease and knowing that efficiency does not always have to be charged at the highest rate and they work closely with a number of local councils, housing associations and governing bodies to ensure this is delivered.
Using the brilliant facilities at LJMU, the fairies were able to create a full working prototype, create and manage reports, facilitate testing of their products as well as receive help with ongoing funding applications.
Energy Fairies are now looking ahead to also work with a number of commercial clients as well as hospitals to ensure their energy bills are kept to a maintainable sum.
They are now also looking into incorporating state of the art white solar PV and enhance their commercial strategies, and would welcome discussions with potential investors to help bring these products to market.
Alison Mitchell – Executive Director at Sensor City
Created as a joint venue between local Universities, Sensor City is located in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter and is the perfect gateway between industry and academia. It is the ideal location for businesses looking to develop and improve sensor and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, whilst being able to access its top of the range facilities and expertise. Sensor City’s in-house laboratories include electronics, mechanical, optics and software kit, and are home to £1million worth of technology.
Sensors offer us endless possibilities to monitor and measure data collected from within smart buildings, machinery and even livestock on a farm. They also allow us to have a fantastic insight into how processes and products are performing and highlight how we can improve these.
With at least 200 sensors within cars alone, it is inevitable that SMEs from across a wide range of industries will need help in learning more about how they can use sensors and IoT technology, and more importantly, what to do with the data they bring.
David Copley – LCR 4.0 Industrial Systems Specialist for Sensor City
David believes that robotics are underutilised within this country, potentially due to a lack of understanding about the benefits of robots and autonomous systems alike and a fear regarding them taking current jobs and positions. Through LCR 4.0 however, Sensor City has collaborated with CNC Robotics, a local SME specialising in advanced robotics systems for machining, and this support has resulted in the creation of a new role within their business, having found the need to employ a ‘Systems & Applications Engineer’. In addition, the design skills offered by LCR 4.0 has provided CNC Robotics with monitoring technology which will be a valuable asset for them to integrate digital and automated systems.
Naomi Mwasambili – Director of Chanua Health
As the event’s final speaker, Naomi made the very interesting point that children in schools are often taught about the body and some of the science behind it, however very little is taught about the brain itself, and with 10-20% of people experiencing mental illness this should be an important area of focus.
Chanua Health designs and manages projects that support individual wellbeing. Their ‘Neuro Champions’ educational programme provides young people with the knowledge and skills they need in order to become effective young leaders in mental health. Chanua Health therefore, wanted to develop products that can enable and support this learning at home. Sensor City assisted in designing and creating Chanua Health’s first physical product, to complement their currently service led business. A 3D printed brain was produced within Sensor City which could therefore be used by students to learn about different parts of the brain in an interactive and engaging way.