PTC has signed a deal with the Materials Processing Institute to participate in a £10m project exploring the implementation of digital technologies in brownfield manufacturing sites.
PTC will work with the North East-based research and innovation centre to implement its ThingWorx Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform at three steel plants in the region.
For this project, MPI will undertake an initial pilot project using its Normanton Steel Plant to assess and improve the Industry 4.0 technology, before applying it to production processes operated by Liberty Steel Group’s Hartlepool Pipes Mill and Stocksbridge plant.
ThingWorx will capture and analyse data in real time, giving operators the option of changing processes and potentially saving millions of pounds per year.
In a statement, David Grammer, general manager for UK and Ireland at PTC, said: “Digital technologies are commonplace in new build, modern factories, but implementation in older plants in more traditional sectors is a lot more difficult.
“This is why this £10m digitisation project with The Materials Processing Institute is so important for UK industry. Our experts have been working with specialists at the Institute to trial our platform over a four-week period and have made some specific changes to the software to make sure it will deliver what is required in what will be very demanding environments.”
The two-year project is being funded by Innovate UK through its Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, which is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
It will focus on using camera and imaging technologies in conjunction with intelligent processing and machine learning to increase accuracy. This includes process characterisation, the creation of digital twins and intelligent interactive process models.
Chris Oswin, who leads the Institute’s Digital Technologies Group, said: “Whilst this project is centred on the metals sector, it can easily be applied to any process where digital imaging can be linked to machine learning and intelligent process control.
“The three sites involved will act as demonstrators for Industrial Digital Technologies (IDT) – enabling the lessons learned to be shared across other foundation industries, including energy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and the process industries.”
Whilst ThingWorx is the initial deployment, PTC is in discussion with the Institute about the benefit of cloud technology and using Augmented Reality (AR) to cascade vital skills throughout the workforce.
“Vuforia Expert Capture could be a great way of training and upskilling staff by recording the expertise of a seasoned professional and sharing it via wearable tech at the heart of a steel plant,” Grammar said. “The same technology could also be used to solve problems quickly. For instance, when you are on the casting line, it can be very difficult to isolate and rectify an issue quickly enough to make a difference. Once a solution is found, it can be stored and using AR deployed quickly.”