Industry 4.0 prompts new tricks from old dogs

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

There are times on press trips when older journalists sit back with arms crossed and say ‘so what?’ to the technology they’ve been shown.

They think they’ve seen it all, and in many respects they have. Got a brand new 3D printing machine? What’s changed since the early 2000s? Printed parts that are bigger and useable? Well done for delivering on what’s been promised since the 1990s, now give us a 3D printed wing for a jumbo jet.

It might be difficult to spot the great leap forward in the physical world when all you’ve seen are incremental changes and evenly paced improvements, but changes are well underway that might reinvigorate sceptical scribes and have them looking afresh at the industry they cover.

Whilst there might not be any great mystery to a design team making use of a desk, room or wall to render a new product in 3D, making the same function available across a number of connected, geographical locations is one of the ways in which IT is fuelling enterprise-wide collaboration.

Similarly, the appetite to recycle may be fairly strong with the wider public, but companies including Ford and Jaguar Land Rover have made ‘circular economy’ part of their lexicon and are increasingly using recycled aluminium to build their vehicles.

Taking teams out of their silos and re-thinking production processes are just two of a number of topics up for discussion at tomorrow’s FT Future of Manufacturing Summit.

The summit appears to recognise that better tools – be they digital, physical or a combination of the two – and new ways of thinking will take manufacturing forward in a profitable and more sustainable way.

“Major technological innovations are fuelling momentous change and creating novel, revolutionary approaches to the way that products are designed, manufactured and used,” the organiser says. “The emergence and convergence of complex new materials, processes and technologies – such as big data analytics, advanced robotics, the internet of things and additive manufacturing – are shaping the economics of production and distribution within the sector.”

Speakers in tomorrow’s line up include Andy Palmer, CEO, Aston Martin, Zoe Webster, head of High Value Manufacturing at Innovate UK, and Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Company. The full agenda for the event can he found at FT Future of Manufacturing Summit.

Delegates may go into tomorrow’s event buoyed by today’s news that UK manufacturing’s PMI has risen to its highest level since 2014.

September’s PMI stood at 55.4, with the weak exchange rate driving export orders, and output, new orders and employment strengthening.

Commenting on September’s PMI, Dave Atkinson, head of manufacturing at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “British manufacturers have used their agility and experience to build momentum during a period of uncertainty, growing their order books in a time when others have put expansion plans on hold.

“The industry has recognised that the export benefits of a weakened pound will not last forever, and manufacturers are actively exploring new market opportunities for British products both at home and overseas.

“Delivering sustainable growth with new trade partners has taken on increasing significance in what is an evolving economic landscape, and supporting first-time exporters during this process will be fundamental to the success of the country’s export operations.”