Responsive manufacturing, says Nottingham University’s Professor Nabil Gindy, ‘is about allowing a company to be as good as possible under the market conditions that exist at any given moment’.
Product lifecycles are getting shorter, technology and materials are more sophisticated, competition is global. ‘The enterprise has to be able to rapidly respond to market pressures and utilise advanced technology to compete. It needs to be a good member of the supply chain and able to operate under uncertain conditions.’
Change happens so rapidly that companies do not have the time they used to have to optimise products. ‘They need to be good at changing, able to do it all the time.’
Universities can help by taking a new technology and identifying how it can be used in industry to improve efficiency and productivity.
With this in mind Gindy set up the Responsive Manufacturing Group, later the Responsive Manufacturing Centre, when he became professor of advanced manufacturing technology at Nottingham’s department of manufacturing engineering and operations management. The centre is now 12 strong.
‘When I came to Nottingham four years ago one of my aims was to put in place a technology focus to the work the department was doing – adding new technology as a main theme for the work here.’
The idea of the centre was to improve collaboration between the department and industry, offering advice and ‘demonstrating the advantages of advanced technology and systems that go with it, how to organise manufacturing operations to take advantage of this’.
So what is a responsive company like? He gives the example of a firm making sausages. If something unexpected like a BSE scare comes along, it should be prepared to switch to making, say, toothpaste.
Gindy admits this is an extreme example: ‘To be able to move from one market sector to another may not be appropriate for every company.’ But all responsive firms have a number of attributes in common.
‘They must be good at product development; good at other management philosophies such as waste minimisation and lean manufacturing; good at working under uncertain conditions.’ They have solid core skills while keeping abreast of new technologies with an eye to exploiting them.
Gindy, 56, graduated in mechanical engineering at Mansoura University in Egypt, then came to Aston University in Birmingham to do an MSc and PhD. He has worked with industry throughout his career: ‘I’ve always done consultancy for industry. All my research has been in collaboration with industry.’
The work of the Responsive Manufacturing Centre has led to collaborations such as the Rapid Response Aerospace Manufacture research project (part of the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council/DTI Innovative Manufacturing Initiative and the Prime Faraday centre in which Nottingham is a partner with Loughborough University and independent research organisation Pira.
‘The IMI project is focused towards the aerospace sector which has its own peculiarities,’ he says, but expects there will be spin-offs for manufacturing in general. Its centrepiece is the Variax Hexacenter machine tool.
Of the Variax Gindy says: ‘Here is technology for which a lot of claims are made of its advantages.’ Part of the object of the IMI project is ‘to prove those claims within the context of machining complex parts’. The project will investigate improving efficiency in making complex parts, both from common materials such as aluminium, where it should allow faster cutting speeds, as well as exotic materials such as titanium.
Gindy is deputy director of Prime, the East Midlands Faraday centre, part of the EPSRC’s Faraday programme which aims to create better links between universities and small businesses.
The partnership between Nottingham, Loughborough and Pera focuses on ‘manufacturing of integrated mechanical and electronic devices. We are collaborating with big companies and their supply chain of smaller companies, and with the smaller companies on their own.’
It will be looking at the possibilities of transferring the findings of research conducted by the three partners into industry, but also ‘new, serious research’ of its own.
The centre is expected to get involved in European research, and will also offer training activities – short courses and MSc modules.
Gindy hopes its work will make an impact not just in the east Midlands but nationally.
He is enthusiastic about the possibilities for partnership between industry and academia. In the future, Gindy believes, industry will play a bigger role in helping define research themes.
One of the key roles of universities, exemplified by the IMI project, will be to improve technology: ‘Rolls-Royce and BAe do not want to take on a new technology and do development work to make it work in an industrial environment. They haven’t got the time and resources to do that. This is where universities can help: we can take a new technology and identify how it can be used in industry to improve efficiency and productivity.’
For information on the activities of Prime, contact 0115 951 4069.