Covid-19 has sprung an opportunity on manufacturers to transform their business and prospects. By Matt Bennett

Coronavirus lockdowns apart, the need for business transformation through downsizing, upsizing, being more agile, opening a temporary facility and/or rationalising operations to improve efficiencies and cut costs has not gone away for some companies.Transformation 1

The spotlight is very much on it in this era of Covid-19 and sudden, enforced re-thinking of how best to operate. And although business is booming for some manufacturers, it’s a case of ‘getting by’ for others. Added to the mix are thoughts of re-homing manufacturing in the UK as the attraction of manufacturing overseas fades for a number of reasons.

What Covid-19 has done for business is to force rapid transformation in the guise of WFH – working from home – and working from temporary hub offices that might become more permanent. Clearly, not everybody in manufacturing can work from home or commute to a hub, but office-based workers often can and it’s an area where profit margins can be protected or enhanced.

What we are currently experiencing is a large-scale social and business experiment in remote working, including a change to more flexible hybrid ways of working.

Enforced business transformation like this has come with a silver lining: it’s been shown to work and not require expensive consulting fees. This can be attributed to WFH along with mobile computing and mobile telephony - generally as part of a cloud solution - and the willingness of all involved to make business change happen as quickly as possible.

There is another type of transformation, where companies change tack to offer a new type of product or service, and/or move their sales online, but this article is about technology-enabled business change forced on us through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cloud computing – public, private or hybrid?
Cloud computing via a ‘public’ cloud is a typical enabler of WFH, other alternative place of work and business transformation, but it’s not the only one. There are public cloud/private cloud (internal network) hybrids, and private cloud only solutions.

A public cloud - AWS (Amazon Web Services) is an example – allows a business to move to cloud computing at lower cost compared to setting up its own private cloud. In the latter case a business uses its own dedicated server – or a rented dedicated server outside the business premises - instead of sharing server space from the likes of AWS.

There is a business case to be a made for both, and for the hybrid combination. All three require an internet connection, with WFH or a new hub set-up necessitating a look at 4G or 5G connections as an alternative to fixed-line broadband Transformation 2connectivity. For employees on the move, a 4G or 5G connection is an absolute must.

Connecting to the cloud
Staff can use work-dedicated laptops/desktops, tablets, smartphones or thin clients (also known as dumb terminals) for connecting to their work in whatever cloud option their employer is using. These devices will typically be purchased or rented by the employer organisation.

Renting is a way of rapidly setting up a more mobile, flexible operation without the upfront costs of equipping staff with purchased equipment. It also allows for greater business agility, especially if, going forwards, business conditions mean that fewer devices will be needed. Likewise, short-term (e.g. one month, on a rolling basis) 4G or 5G contracts ensure that longer term contracts are avoided.

Setting up a temporary or new work base, 4G or 5G connectivity means no wait for fixed line installation and associated costs. If a router is required, a private mobile hotspot, also known as a MiFi, can be purchased or rented.

Mobile computing device users don’t use their own data allowances when using a mobile hotspot. They don’t even need a data SIM card in their device, or a dongle for their laptop. The card is in the (password-protected) MiFi, which typically allows up to ten users at a time to access the internet and thereby their work on a cloud solution.

Other considerations – and risks
Traditionally, business transformation initiatives have involved time spent on ensuring staff ‘buy-in’ to new ways of working and how well staff ‘bond’, or work seamlessly together, when working remotely. Covid-19 lockdowns have seen such steps skipped.

How WFH staff communicate by voice and messaging will need to be addressed. Using their own personal smartphone number carries risks, including giving the number to people the user doesn’t know, and inadvertently inviting scam calls. A cloud, VoIP-based phone app addresses the risks and can use a landline-lookalike number with an area code that’s local to the business but can be used anywhere locally, regionally, UK-wide or anywhere else in the world.

VoIP-based phone apps – AllTalk is an example – mean that employers don’t have to pay for a new smartphone for a dispersed workforce. The apps come with group messaging features and can be used via a computer, tablet or an employee’s own personal smartphone. They also mean that phone communication between staff, between staff and head or regional offices, and between staff and customers/suppliers/partners/freelance workers, can be made at very low cost; often free.

Securing the data/information of mobile and remote workers is a must. Using personal smartphones and other personal devices (tablets/laptops/desktops) for connecting to work in a cloud carries risks to the company’s data or information that staff are working on. IT managers around the world have expressed their concern at the practice, with viruses etc on personal devices a top concern. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed before, during (or after, if it has not been addressed by then) business transformation.

Cloud solutions – public, private or hybrid – can be protected, to a greater or lesser degree against viruses and ransomware, by security software, but the fewer opportunities for infection by personal devices the better.

A final word
Predictions of the death of the office may be exaggerated, but the trend towards a more mobile workforce and, with it, ways to transform how a manufacturer operates – and perhaps, transforms its prospects - is expected to continue.

Business transformation increasingly looks like an ongoing, flexible process rather than the one-off ‘big bang’ change that it used to be, especially with a need to respond rapidly to sudden major threats including a changing business climate.

Matt Bennett is UK Managing Director at Cellhire plc, a leading global service provider of mobile communications that offers an easy way for businesses to stay connected. Established in 1987, the group has offices in the UK, USA, France, Germany and Japan. Partnering with network operators globally, Cellhire provides short and long-term mobile communication services to leading companies worldwide.

Novio Packaging reaches new levels of quality with machine vision

Novio Packaging has selected an Omron FH series Vision System for use in its bottle production line in Denmark. The Omron system ensures that all of the bottles shipped to customers are of the highest quality, with no defects.

Since 1978, Novio Packaging Group has produced and distributed primary packaging and packaging solutions for various markets, from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to the food and domestic non-food industry. The group is part of Berlin Quality 1Packaging, the world’s largest packaging distributor.

Novio Packaging has a broad network of operations throughout Europe and Asia, with factories in Denmark and England. These have been set up to ensure that the company’s customers receive bottles with a guaranteed high standard.

A need for accuracy and flexibility
The Danish factory required a sophisticated and flexible quality inspection system to cope with changes in the types of bottles being produced and achieve the right levels of quality. The management team explored systems proved to be ineffective due to insufficient accuracy. In addition, users couldn’t make adjustments or programme the software themselves. The company subsequently started looking for a system that would eliminate defects down to one bottle out of 100,000.

As a result of its investigations, Novio opted for a versatile solution from Omron. This included Omron’s FH vision system as well as its FQ2 cameras. The system is used on the production line, and incorporates lights and cameras set at varying angles in order to detect any defects that would affect the quality of a bottle such as scratches or dust.

Peter Lykke, Novio Packaging’s Technical Manager, explains: “We use the FH vision system with four cameras to check the bottles we produce from all sides, to ensure that there isn’t any dirt and there are no black spots etc. on the bottles. The cameras carry out the checks on running conveyors, so we don’t need to stop the bottles for inspection.

“In addition, we use two cameras on top of the line to check issues such as the dimensions of the caps, and to ensure that there is no residual plastic or anything missing from the caps that might cause a problem (such as making them too tight). Our customers use air conveyor systems and the diameter of the bottleneck has to be very precise. It’s very difficult to check this accurately with any method other than a quality inspection system with a vision camera.”Quality 2

Any bottle identified as having defects is automatically discarded. This feature is integral, since the customer could send the entire shipment back due to one substandard bottle, incurring significant bottom line costs to Novio. A significant share of the finished bottles go to a leading juice company, so it’s vital to ensure there are no defects or items that could contaminate the juice or affect the appearance of the bottle.

Further benefits of the Omron system
As Novio produces different types of bottles at different times, another important requirement of the system was to provide new changeover possibilities. If the system wasn’t flexible enough, the firm would have to resort to expensive mechanical changes to ensure adequate images could be obtained of each bottle.

The solution provided by Omron enables Novio to cope with rapid changeovers while meeting customer demands for a wider packaging portfolio, involving smaller but more variable batches. This also helps to avoid any delays in the development of new products.

The Omron vision system is precise, scalable and adaptable, and can easily cope with changes in the production of various bottle types. In addition, a single software programme allows Novio to apply, integrate and modify via the easy-to-use FH software.

Peter Lykke comments: “One benefit is that after I’ve carried out the basic programming and set up the cameras, our technical staff can easily adjust the programme for new types of bottles themselves.” There’s no need to call in a specialist or a systems integrator to handle any changes, saving the company time and money. Novio Packaging leases the vision system for a monthly fee.

“Omron has always been very helpful,” concludes Peter Lykke. “I always get good answers to any questions on software changes, a range of new ideas and advice on issues such as using the right lighting to gain the best inspection results.”

He continues: “Quality is very important, as we provide bottles for juice and any blemish could be seen as dirt by the consumer. I believe that it’s essential to have an automated system to provide this level of quality, as it’s not possible for a human to inspect the bottle from all sides. Furthermore, if they looked away for just a second, a mistake could easily be made. We are therefore delighted with the flexibility and accuracy of the new system.”

accuracy of the new system.”

A digital approach to condition monitoring can make unscheduled downtime a thing of the past and reap a swift return on investment, says Oliver Pogmore

Unscheduled downtime is the scourge of manufacturing – disruptive for maintenance staff, stressful for operational managers and a persistent concern for those tasked with maintaining a healthy bottom line in the face of tight margins and PM 1a competitive marketplace.

As maintenance managers will testify, breakdowns tend to happen when you’re least prepared to deal with them. Production might be at maximum capacity; it is a weekend or evening; the necessary spare part is not available; or there are not enough staff available to deal with the problem. When the impact of limitations caused by Covid-19 lockdowns is also considered, it is easy to see how an unplanned stoppage could quickly escalate into a ‘perfect storm’ scenario.

One way to safeguard against this very real threat to efficient operations is to adopt a digital approach to condition-based maintenance (CBM).

Advanced cloud-based technology offers the continuous, real-time monitoring of critical assets, with multiple web connections enabling diverse data, such as vibration and oil analysis; to be collated on one platform. This can be securely accessed by authorized personnel from any location, using a standard web browser.

As the marketplace becomes increasingly global, this is an invaluable tool for senior decision-makers wanting to stay connected to the state of play across multiple sites, wherever they might be in the world. They can simply log on to the system, using their laptop or smart phone, to view an asset status summary on an easy to read dashboard. Information that is vital to making informed decision making, from monitoring readings to maintenance activity and operative comments, is at their fingertips within minutes of it being completed. Crucially, this technology identifies potential problems before they negatively impact operations. Automated fault diagnostics identify developing failures and issue an alert. Action can be taken to maintain the asset until a planned production stop, when remedial work can be factored vin with minimal disruption to operations. Consequently, failure detection becomes woven into the daily fabric of a maintenance programme, decision-making is better informed, and assets can be maintained to ensure optimum productivity.

For those companies which have embraced digital condition monitoring (CM), the operational benefits can be immediate and the return on investment swift.

Case study - Highland Spring Group

Highland Spring Group is the largest producer of naturally sourced bottled water in the UK.

It operates with highly critical assets throughout its manufacturing plants, including blow moulders, rinsers, fillers and labellers. If one of these assets goes down, production comes to a halt. Therefore, it is key that the health and condition of these assets is continuously monitored and maintained to the highest standard.

To ensure the assets are running to their optimum and the site doesn’t suffer unexpected shutdowns, Highland Spring Group selected AVT Reliability® to assist with its CM journey, with the goal of increasing plant reliability and protecting Preedictive Maintenance 2these critical assets. The project aims were to:

  • Increase productivity
  • Extend machinery lifespan
  • Optimize the periodic maintenance programme
  • Reduce machinery maintenance expenditures

Product selection
Following a site survey, AVT Reliability® engineers advised that the best-suited CM technique to increase plant reliability was vibration analysis using Machine Sentry® Online. MSO-1 is ideal for vibration monitoring on continuously running, highly critical assets. The data being recorded is trended in real time, which allows remedial works to be carried out during a planned outage. Readings are automatically uploaded to the cloud-based platform, Machine Sentry®, and secured to ISO27001, one of the most widely recognised international standards for industrial supply chain security. As the platform is cloud based, engineers are able to analyze and report on data within minutes, not days, wherever they are in the world. Al asset health and analytics are completed in the system, meaning all data remains in one location.

MSO-1 in action
In January, the MSO-1 system at Highland Springs Group generated an email alert, which identified increasing vibration levels on the outfeed start wheel bearing. This email alert allowed engineers to take action and investigate as soon as possible, before the situation got out of hand. Following analysis the conclusion was reached that the vibration increase was due to a possible bearing issue. Bearings had not been replaced since 2003. As the fault was found early, further damage to the asset was prevented. If the fault had gone undetected, there could have been catastrophic damage, resulting in a more expensive repair and extended plant downtime.

MSO-1 allowed engineers to analyze the data collected and predict when a failure was going to happen. The engineers at Highland Spring Group were then able to plan scheduled downtime and complete the planned work scope within three days, saving 48 hours of repair time, amounting to a total of £16,800. When the cost of the Machine Sentry® system is removed, the actual saving is £10,300 after this one incident alone.

David Simpson, Site Engineering Manager for Highland Spring Group said: “To assist our goal in achieving a world class engineering department, the biggest area to improve was to reduce reactive maintenance and supply our operation customers a reliable preventive maintenance schedule, ensuring machine up-time is increased to meet our growing marketplace demand.

“MSO-1 was chosen and installed with almost no disruption to our production line. The benefits are huge, with the early warning reports identifying potential issues and reporting recommended actions, which we add to our weekly maintenance plan and rectify. MSO-1 will be my option as we roll this excellent analysis tool out to other production lines.”

Digital CM technology is the logical conclusion of the cultural shift from reactive to proactive maintenance. And with its price becoming increasingly competitive even as it becomes more sophisticated, companies of any scale have the opportunity to make unscheduled downtime a thing of the past.

Oliver Pogmore
Oliver Pogmore is Sales Director at AVT Reliability®. With over 40 years experience helping companies improve reliability, AVT Reliability®is a market leading plant reliability specialist, employing more than 100 professional condition monitoring engineers at its offices throughout the UK and Europe.

What is the road to net zero for the manufacturing sector? By Anthony Ainsworth

The question of how the UK is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is a challenging one, and this is particularly true for the energy intensive manufacturing sector. For an industry that has traditionally relied heavily on fossil fuels, it is now also facing intense pressure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, while also needing to adapt to changing end user expectations, particularly when it comes to sustainability. As this often requires funding new technologies or a complete change in how services are delivered, decarbonization is a complex area to navigate.

Manufacturers have a crucial role to play in the net zero transition but will need support and commercial stimulus to help them get onboard. And while the government’s Clean Growth Strategy went some way to laying the groundwork for this, with a package of measures to help manufacturers of food and drink, paper and pulp, chemicals, ceramics, glass, and cement to improve energy productivity, there are many pieces of the decarbonization puzzle still missing for this vital energy intensive sector.

UK Manufacturers’ organization Make UK has been very vocal about the sector’s important role when it comes to net zero, with CEO Stephen Phipson recently stating that manufacturers are ‘committed to playing their part’ but that businesses were calling for ‘better fiscal incentives for companies to invest in new technology and energy efficiency measures to aid a green recovery from Covid-19 ‘.

That’s not to say decarbonization of manufacturing is impossible. Many large companies are making ambitious commitments - for example, cement manufacturer LafargeHolcim became the first global building materials manufacturer to sign up to targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, while engineering giant Rolls Royce has set its own ambitious path to net zero operations by 2030, with measures including energy efficiency and its ‘Revert’ recycling scheme.

However, these individual success stories and more widespread gains in carbon reduction are only one part of the story, with some manufacturers still lagging behind or lacking the right tools to take decisive action.

We consulted with several manufacturers as part of a wider report of nearly 100 businesses to gauge views on the net zero target, where they are in their own net zero journey, and the support they want to see from the government to aid the transition.

The results of the ‘Your Business Blueprint - The road to Net Zero for manufacturing’ showed that manufacturers are optimistic about achieving net zero by 2050 - two thirds of manufacturing businesses (66%) believe that it is a realistic target. In addition, when asked whether they had a clear plan to hit net zero emissions ahead of 2050, nearly two thirds of manufacturers (63%) agreed. A large majority - 80% - also believed their business would benefit from the changes Sustainability 181required during the net zero transition, with the main reason being greater long-term operational resiliency through saving money and carbon.

However, the research also revealed a concern from nearly half (47%) of manufacturing businesses about the potential additional cost to their business associated with the net zero transition. There was also a difference in opinion about who should contribute the majority of the funding for it - whether it should be the government, large energy intensive industries, financial institutions or the general taxpayer.

Despite their concerns, the findings show that manufacturing businesses are still planning to invest in a variety of measures to achieve their own net zero targets, with many looking at on-site generation, waste heat recovery, smart energy management and electric vehicles (EVs) as part of their emissions reduction strategies.

That said, they would welcome additional governmental support, including more incentives and grants for sustainability initiatives, to be announced in the forthcoming Energy White Paper, Consumer Spending Review and Net Zero Review - which are all due this Autumn.

So, what actions can manufacturers take over the short-to-medium term to put them in the best position to hit their carbon reduction targets?

For us, there are five steps to take:

  • Understand your energy data - to take action, you need to understand how energy is being used, so an energy audit can identify improvements including looking at times of use, efficiency of infrastructure and processes, and changing employee behavior to help reduce emissions or costs.
  • Invest in energy efficiency - energy efficiency has been called a ‘no regrets’ action and can include relatively ‘quick wins’ such as switching to more efficient lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration, as well as bigger investments such as implementing a smart energy management system.
  • Procure ‘green’ fuel - buying and using green fuel is another way to offset carbon emissions. There are two potential options. The first is generating local energy by installing on-site generation. Or, if space or capital are not available, then local generation schemes - for example large-scale solar or wind solutions - can be used to offset future energy demand via a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
  • Consider on-site generation - there is now a great deal of choice for manufacturers, including CHP, wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) or biomass. As well as reducing emissions, it increases resilience as it means a business is less reliant on the grid. That said, manufacturers need to make sure that any plans for on-site generation are scoped appropriately, so they can assess where the payback and benefits are.
  • Plan for the future - organizations should also start planning for the longer term, including the potential impact of new technologies such as hydrogen - which will be crucial to decarbonizing energy intensive industries that rely on gas - and a wider adoption of solutions such as EVs.

Manufacturing businesses are responsible for 60% of the UK’s direct industrial emissions, according to figures from These energy intensive businesses will have a crucial role to play in the low carbon transition, with significant cost and carbon savings to be made if the right technology can be put in place.

What Your Business Blueprint - The Road to Net Zero affirms is that the majority of UK manufacturers want to ‘do their bit’ and implement measures to reduce their carbon impact. They recognize the role they will play and acknowledge they will need to contribute to the funding of the UK’s ambitious climate goal.

However, they need policy clarity, greater support and a clearer roadmap from the government if this ambition is to become a reality.

Anthony Ainsworth
Anthony Ainsworth is COO Industrial & Commercial, at npower Business Solutions. npower Business Solutions works with many manufacturers to help them meet ambitious carbon reduction targets through implementing comprehensive energy management strategies.
By using a management consultancy approach, it can scope, design and deliver a roadmap to net zero through the wide range of products and services it has available including green electricity supply, generation services and Demand Side Response (DSR), data services and energy management systems.
‘Your Business Blueprint - The road to Net Zero for manufacturing’ can be downloaded at:

How humans and machines can work together in the factory of the future. By Patricia Torres

Exports are a key indicator of the economic performance of any industrialized country. With an export volume of $1.49 trillion, Germany ranked third behind the USA ($1.65 trillion) and China ($2.5 trillion) in a global comparison in 20191. Meanwhile, France ranked sixth ($555,000 million) and the UK eleventh ($468,000 million). To ensure that the European and UK economies do not lose out in the long term, new concepts are needed to optimize the efficiency of industrial production. In view of the progress made in automation and artificial intelligence, a well-established and improved interaction between man and machine could help to ensure high economic standards and productivity. A promising model for the new harmony on the factory floor is based on intelligent, integrated and interactive design of tomorrow’s manufacturing processes.

Many still believe that man and robots can only work against each other or, if need be, side by side; moreover, there is still a fear that machines will replace human workers. However, the coexistence of human workers and automated machine solutions and robots has become increasingly commonplace. Furthermore, digitalization provides companies in the manufacturing industry with an enormous inventory of technological options for implementing the factory of the future. Smart networking using artificial intelligence offers the opportunity to convert manufacturing data into strategic information. It also enables the smooth integration of high-precision robotics technologies that work at high speed, supplemented by methodically safe and simple interaction between man and machine.

New era of intelligent, integrated and interactive production
Increase efficiency, reduce costs, strengthen competitiveness - what is necessary to secure your market position in competitive global markets can be implemented with innovative solutions for flexible and efficient production. The potential of a technology that can revolutionize the factory floor of the future while promoting harmony between human and machine can be seen in the recent developments in collaborative robots, such as the Omron™ collaborative robot. The robot offers an innovative solution for the simple automation of applications that have traditionally been carried out by humans and for an area where automation has so far been very difficult. As well as enabling the automation of complex tasks using a 3D camera, it can be seamlessly integrated into an autonomous mobile robot.

One example of its capabilities is bin picking: the robot quickly and precisely sorts different articles and deposits them where they are needed. The 3D camera locates the items and sends their coordinates to the robot, while the software, supported by AI algorithms, performs the advanced calculations required for optimized goods picking, e.g. for customized orders. Meanwhile, a mobile robot is responsible for the subsequent transportation of the goods. In this respect, the efficient combination of different production processes forms the basis for particularly flexible and reliable production and material handling. It also gives a foretaste of what will be possible in the future with ‘Factory Harmony’, where integrated, mobile and collaborative robots work in harmony with humans to ensure flexible manufacturing and customization.

Systematically avoiding malfunctions and breakdowns
Operational excellence is an important basis for investment security - especially in view of the current changes in industrial production organization. Changing consumer behaviors are forcing manufacturers to flexibly produce smaller quantities in a larger number of variants, saving as much time as possible. The factory of the future must therefore become more flexible and be able to convert production more quickly and produce smaller runs. The ultimate goal is to be able to deliver personalized products from an agile and networked production line. In an automation model that meets this requirement, all devices, machines and solutions should operate in an integrated manner.

Effective quality control is essential in all production and packaging lines. Those who can identify defective products before they leave the factory, or even before they are produced, benefit from considerable time and cost savings and avoid costly product recalls, loss of productions and possible damage to brand reputation. Equally important is the quality control of packaging for products such as food or medicines. An illegible barcode or a wrong expiration date can lead to the Future Factoryneed to dispose of faultless products. In addition, there is a trend towards stricter legislation, which gives top priority to unambiguous labeling for all types of products. For example, the EU has introduced new regulations in 2019, requiring production lines to meet even higher quality control standards.

As a result of the increasing degree of automation in production lines, the need for automated processes in quality control has also been amplified. Among other things, it pays off if the machines are able to collect data in order to optimize predictive maintenance. The more data is extend production line life, reduce downtime and increase productivity. For example, Omron’s Sysmac AI controller includes a predictive maintenance library based on AI, and collects, analyses and uses data on Edge devices to extend their life, detect anomalies and prevent failures. No internet connection is required, meaning users are no longer dependent on cloud computing and can leverage the AI potential for their business advantage.

Image processing supports error detection
An increasingly important factor in quality control on production lines is smart image processing - technically implemented either as a completely new solution or by partially retrofitting an existing system. Very compact image processing systems monitor production in real time and react immediately to any error. The data transmitted by an image processing system is processed on site and made available centrally via the cloud for detailed analyses so that suitable measures can be taken.

In order for an inspection system to make intelligent decisions, data must be captured by a sensor such as a camera for image processing. These cameras can be set up to monitor various aspects of a product, such as detecting defects or checking labels for printing errors or missing information. The data is then analyzed with high computing power to compare the process with the actual and target results. When problems are detected, the system responds according to programmed rules. Sometimes it can automatically correct the errors, but even then the operator is always informed to ensure correct processes and in case additional action is required.

Since this system is fully networked, it provides a better link between the machines on a production line, resulting in both more precise quality control and greater efficiency. When an error is detected, the system can often automatically compensate for it and production is not affected. Intelligent automation solutions of the latest generation work fast, offer high computing power, are easy to operate and thus ensure transparent quality control in the factory of tomorrow.

Flexibility is the engine for customer satisfaction and business success
Since customer and business requirements are constantly changing, the factory floor must also be more flexible in the future. Flexibility in the organization and arrangement of production resources is one of the key success factors for efficient production. This includes the mobility of the robots used and their adaptability to concrete requirements in practical use, which is another advantage of an effective quality control and process management system.

By combining image processing, motion, control, functional safety and robotics in a single management system, production lines can be more easily adapted to short production runs and changing market requirements. The line layout can be quickly redesigned and the recognition pattern for quality control easily updated in the software. This ensures that different product variants or even different products are produced and packaged flawlessly. In addition, such a system brings the benefits of future-proof orientation by being adaptable to new regulations. As a result, manufacturers do not have to worry about changing their production lines, but can simply initiate a firmware update for the existing solution if necessary.

Conclusion: ‘Factory Harmony’ determines production of the future
The networking of humans and machines is more than just a trend towards the efficient organization of processes and the distribution of tasks in manufacturing plants. The tangible benefits of tomorrow’s high-performance factory are already showing how the systematic harmonization of human and machine-based capabilities is revolutionizing production with the help of artificial intelligence and robotics, and is breaking new ground for the production methods of the future.


Patricia Torres
Patricia Torres is Industry Marketing Manager Food and Commodities, Omron Europe. As a leading company of automation centered on its proprietary Sensing & Control + Think technologies, OMRON Corporation is engaged in a wide range of businesses, including control equipment, electronic components, social systems, healthcare, and the environment. In the field of industrial automation, OMRON supports manufacturing innovation by providing advanced automation technologies and products, as well as through extensive customer support, in order to help create a better society.

When it comes to factory design, where do we go now in the post-Covid-19 era? Paul McFadyen reports

The manufacturing industry in the UK is strong and has spent the last four years preparing for life after Brexit - but no one could have prepared for the devastation that Covid-19 has brought to global societies and industries.

As the nation is adjusting to what is often called, ‘the new normal’, many factory workers have not seen much change in their working habits as they maintained their work flow with no ‘work from home’ options available - producers on the frontline have kept the country moving with food production, online retail and distribution, health and medical supplies, utilities - the often overlooked and unsung heroes.

This has come at a price as factory workers have been among some of the largest groups affected by the virus; a meat factory in West Yorkshire, garment factories in Leicester, a chicken processing plant in Wales, a cement manufacturer in Factory DesignBristol, a Leicester potato snack factory, and a slaughterhouse in Germany where over 1500 workers tested positive for Coronavirus are just some of the manufacturers that have hit the headlines - but why are factory workers among the hardest hit?

Some contributing factors include close proximity working on production lines, symptomless positive cases that spread undetected, refrigerated production areas (lower temperatures preserve viruses well), lack of ultra-violet light, slack health and safety protocols, and loud environments that encourage colleagues to stand close together to communicate or to shout which also increases viral particle spread. There are so many contributing factors, many of which were unknown in the early days of the pandemic, so there is little value in playing the blame game - what we need to do is look at how to make changes to future proof the manufacturing industry by taking positive action from this point on.

What we can take from the above factors is that factory design can play a large part in reducing the risks during future pandemics while also planning for post Brexit expansion. Factory design needs to look closely at what the factory is, or will be, producing and what its needs are; getting the basics of the flow of goods and personnel is at the heart of the issue to keep factories working to capacity - the ability to react to change is the lifeblood of the manufacturing industry.

  • Plan layouts that incorporate the potential to expand, adapt, and re purpose; look at foundation and base structure for weight bearing capacity, headspace, bay size to accommodate machinery, and adequate workspace for employees, consider needs now and in the future.
  • Consider how materials are handled during production to increase worker distance, reduce bottlenecks, reduce material handling costs and factor in where the use of cranes, hoists, and conveyors can streamline processes.
  • Utilize materials in the factory design that are sustainable, recyclable, or produced from recycled materials. Steel framed buildings offer a cost-effective option that can easily be added to in the future - either upwards, or outwards. Solar power may not be offering solutions to run heavy manufacturing facilities, but tap into ecologically sound power options where possible, staff showers heated from solar power or grey water for toilet facilities are a great place to start.
  • Consider automating elements of your production - this can be especially useful where processes are executed in limited space. This may entail retraining and reskilling staff as part of the changing role of the factory employee; equipping staff with new skills in technology will lead to a more engaged workforce as their role becomes more varied and less mundane - utilize the skills of your workers.
  • Where automation is not possible due to limited space, limited finance, artisan, or hand finished products, look at how assembly lines can be reconfigured to create safer and more inspiring workstations.
  • Look at lighting and ventilation - lighting and air quality have been proven to affect employee productivity and fatigue levels, ensure these are adaptive, fit for purpose, and reactive; make sure you meet the statutory requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act, but emember to think outside the box and research newer, cleaner, more cost effective ways of doing things.
  • Establish that the concept of all new or reconfigured factory design is right and do not be rushed during the design phase. The productivity curve, profits, and output could be disproportionately affected long term for the sake of a week or so in the planning stages.
  • Be innovative and bold. Factories and manufacturing facilities need to be functional, safe, and maximize productivity potential, but embedding elements of space, light, and clever design detail can create a less boring and more stimulating working environment, which will lead to a more satisfied and productive workforce.

I genuinely believe that to safeguard the UK manufacturing industry, factory design has a huge role to play in future proofing the success of the UK economy.

Paul McFadyen
Paul McFadyen is Managing Director at metals4U. Based in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, metals4U was founded in 2002 as the UK’s first online supplier of metals, plastics, tube clamps and engineering consumables. metals4U is now an industry leader in supply of superior quality grades of steel, copper, bronze, and brass, power and hand tools, PPE, workwear, and engineering products to retail, wholesale, hobbyists, artists, DIY, construction, and industrial sectors.

UK manufacturers must upgrade, evolve or replace their legacy applications, says Philip Rashleigh

Manufacturing SMEs often retain outdated equipment, IT hardware and software systems as several generations of more efficient, secure upgrades are introduced. While inertia and an unwillingness to master new systems and processes both play their part in failing to upgrade, cost-savings and risk are the main drivers.

However, it is invariably a false economy, with huge financial costs, security compromises, commercial consequences and operational barriers for those who continue to use legacy systems.

According to a 2017 study by global professional services company, Avande, they make up an average 31 per cent of any organization’s technology. Meanwhile, UK manufacturing lags far behind global pack leaders in adopting leading edge Factory Techautomation in the workplace.

Industry leaders have repeatedly voiced their concerns at their inability to replace legacy applications with new digital initiatives. In 2017, the International Federation of Robotics reported that South Korea boasted 710 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to Britain’s 74, underlining how slow we are to adopt leading edge production equipment and systems. boost staff happiness, drive top level people to your door and encourage innovation rather than stifle it.

The challenge, then, is how to change or replace existing systems with minimal disruption and downtime. Deciding which route is best is not easy. Manufacturers must consider how to keep delivering in the now - operating as normal to meet current organizational needs - whilst planning for future requirements, with upgrades, integrations or migrations.

There is an array of options to consider, which vary depending on the performance of current systems, the type of software products preferred (i.e. off-the-shelf, bespoke, cloud hosted) and the scale of the business, both today and what’s planned for the future.

When deciding what to do with legacy IT, ask the following questions:

  • What do existing systems currently offer the company and how long will they be valuable?
  • Do they still provide the responsiveness, outputs and speeds of delivery required?
  • Are the costs of running and maintaining them sustainable?
  • Does sufficient support still exist for them?
  • Can the systems be integrated with newer technology for desired improvements?


Approaches to legacy upgrades can vary based on the stage and status of existing frameworks. There are times where it can be faster and more effective to completely replace a system, rather than waiting longer to decide how to integrate the old with the new. However, depending on the state and age of your current systems, it may be that a total rip-out-and-replace isn’t needed.

For example, adopting a modular approach allows organizations to rebuild legacy systems in phases. By separating the existing system into modular components, organizations are provided with the ability to review business needs, processes and workflows against each module during a rebuild, with an iterative and incremental upgrade path. This particular approach can also help to remove complexities that come with large-scale systems with convoluted business logic.

System extensions can also be a viable alternative to ripping out and replacing legacy systems. By introducing automated workflows over existing systems, organizations can benefit from a richer user interface with additional functionality without having to replace the existing software or databases.

While this sort of gradual introduction could well be a lower risk strategy, a complete replacement of legacy systems may be non-negotiable in some cases – for instance, when it is agreed that the old system is too expensive and/or poses too many risks to the business. In these circumstances, replacing the systems completely could be faster and more cost effective.

Deciding which solution and approach is right for legacy technology upgrade projects will depend on the expertise within your team, the resources available and your business goals, as well as the complexities, time frames and your budget. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for manufacturing businesses however, when planning for such technology projects, organizations should keep in mind how the solution will support both short and long term scalability plans, tie back to wider business strategies, and provide the ability to react to growing and evolving business needs. v

Philip Rashleigh
Philip Rashleigh is Audacia’s technical director. Audacia is a Leeds and London-based software development company, specializing in the design, development and delivery of scalable and robust, business-critical software systems. Audacia has established a reputation as a critical technology partner with long-standing relationships; helping customers automate their processes by delivering intuitive and reliable technology solutions.

With data becoming a more precious resource every day, do you have an IT Disaster Recovery Plan? Philip Bridge takes a look at the issue

Enhancing data availability is something that is on the minds of many in the manufacturing industry. Today, data is king. Thanks to the digital transformation of the industry, the data mountain continues to get bigger and bigger. In fact, Data 1according to IDC, it will reach an incomprehensible 175 zettabytes by 2025.

Unlocking this data has never been more critical. However, ensuring your teams have access to this data when the unthinkable happens can be a real challenge. Unfortunately, in the climate we now live, having that data made unavailable is not a question of if but when. Whether caused by an over-enthusiastic staff member clicking the wrong button or a state-sponsored, ultra-sophisticated cyberattack, swift recovery from a data disaster can be the difference between extinction and survival.

With that in mind, we have put together a template to help manufacturers familiarize themselves with the building blocks of an IT Disaster Recovery Plan (IT DRP). Filling out the plan will also encourage thinking about what it would take to resume normal operations if their data and infrastructure were implicated in a severe IT-incident.

It is essential to get ahead of the problem and detail the policies and procedures you need to follow in the event of a disruption to critical IT services or damage to IT equipment or data. These processes will ensure that those assets are recoverable to the right level and within the right timeframe to deliver a return to normal operations, with minimal impact on the business.

A good starting point is to undertake a thorough business impact analysis. In this, the first section identifies important IT-services needed for the business and the impact if interrupted. The second section focuses on the business needs regarding availability, recovery times, backup, data integrity and data confidentiality.

The Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is the time frame agreed upon to get the business process/delivery operational again after an IT-interruption. The Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is the acceptable amount of data you can lose in an incident without being able to recover it to a previous ‘point in time’. Data integrity is the demand that information stays intact, and data confidentiality is the demand that ensures that information is not made available to others.

When the need for essential IT-resources is identified, you need to do an analysis to ensure you have the right level of robustness to support your business. The best way is to contact the individual responsible for each IT-service in-scope for the planning work and have an extensive discussion about Data 2the business need and what is covered in the service today. In the end, it is a business decision on what to have in place, including what risks the business is willing to take.Finally, you need to identify just how you will respond should one of your key systems fail. This part of the business continuity plan covers preparations to handle IT-interruptions efficiently so that you can reduce the impact on the business. Cyberattacks, rogue employees, natural disasters, media damage and human error are just a few ways you can lose access to your data.

IT teams in the manufacturing industry are increasingly focusing on resilience as a strategic objective to ensure that the data that is core to their business remains available 24/7. It is a case of keeping the lights on when disaster strikes. It goes beyond simple business continuity and disaster recovery planning, though. It should encompass an Data 3entire culture and practices. In the age of digitization, data is integral to every business, so protect what is most dear.

Philip Bridge
Philip Bridge is President of Ontrack. KLDiscovery Ontrack, LLC (doing business as Ontrack) provides technology-enabled services and software to help corporations, state/local/federal government agencies, educational institutions and consumers solve complex data challenges. As a business unit of KLDiscovery, Ontrack provides market-leading data recovery services for any type of media – hard drives, SSD, servers, RAID, virtual, cloud, mobile devices, tape, NAS/SAN/DAS. Additionally, through proprietary technologies and expert services around the globe, Ontrack provides additional solutions for clients with email extraction, tape management, and data destruction.

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