We’re lucky to live in the most abundant time in history and to work in dynamic industries that continuously innovate. Digital transformation in manufacturing is a rising trend, sweeping up old practices and establishing new and powerful ones with the help of digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its subtype Machine Learning (ML). If you think about it, the way you perceive change is not related to the trend itself but it has a lot more to do with your preparedness for it. It’s automation o’clock all around the world, so will you stay still or move your clock forward? 

 

The lack of a cohesive long-term innovation strategy and hesitations about digitalisation are among the biggest obstacles towards embracing Industry 4.0 revolution. As with any hot trend out there, lots of misconceptions around AI-powered automation circulate online, demotivating small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to optimise their manufacturing process and gain momentum when they need it the most. In the UK, a number of tech startups help manufacturers get a fresh perspective on the affordability and scalability of building intelligence solutions for manufacturing. One such instance is the collaboration of IndustriGen with the University of Manchester, MAKE UK, The Blair Project, etc. with a focus on available use cases for SMEs. 

 

Avert or Welcome New Challenges?

As the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the Brexit aftermath became evident, lots of business blind spots emerged from the massive economic uncertainty and market insecurity. The UK’s Office for National Statistics recently revealed an unsettling decline in the capital used in manufacturing production, dropping to 8,8% in 2020 – the lowest since 2010. It seems like the only reasonable option for SME manufacturers is to welcome the winds of change and get ready.

 

In fact, 2021 MAKE UK’s executive survey pinpoints that digital technologies and innovative software tools were essential components that glued together business continuity and remote work throughout the pandemic waves. Having learned their post-pandemic lessons, 42% of the manufacturers now seek new opportunities to invest in green technologies, bringing them process efficiency and lowering their environmental impact and energy costs. Emerging concerns around new potential lockdowns, high bureaucracy costs and technical skill gaps also urge manufacturing SMEs to equip their daily operations with business resilience.

Automated Quality Control 

Each manufacturing facility involves a process of Quality Control (QC) for examining and analysing the products and their features to make sure they are fit for the customer’s needs and comply with the company’s quality standard policies. However, the disrupting Industry 4.0 is getting hard to contain, and it can get expensive for SMEs to fully engage human specialists during the step-by-step QC process. Manufacturing is traditionally based on four key elements: Quality, Dependability, Flexibility and Costs and according to the famous Sand Cone Model, attention and resources should firstly be directed to quality and then all else as quality management reflects on cost efficiency in the long term. 

 

Thankfully, we live in the golden age of digital revolution and AI can successfully help small and medium manufacturers survive and thrive in the approaching Fourth industrial revolution, lowering both technical and manpower costs. According to a Delloite report, companies are now starting to grasp the full scope of the massive digital transformations that take place as you read these lines and seek options to further automate their existing manufacturing processes. Chances are that, in the long run, later adopters simply won’t be able to keep up with niche competitors and will risk being marginalised or start losing clients.

 

When AI Steps in, Product Quality Blossoms

Artificial intelligence tends to befuddle people. After all, the perpetual struggle to create new work positions for employees in an overpopulated world now seems illogical when intelligent AI systems slowly take over. No such thing. In fact, AI promises to create more additional positions for manufacturing staff to shine, simplifying existing tedious jobs, as described in a Delloite report. For innovative manufacturers, leveraging digital transformations means they’ll have to design new jobs in the manufacturing sector such as predictive supply network analyst, digital twin engineer or smart factory manager. 

 

But before all this can turn into reality, smart integratable software tools like DCS (Data Collection System), IPQS (In Process Quality Control System), EQMS (Enterprise Quality Management System) and MES (Manufacturing Execution System) will have to enter the game. For instance, a DCS gathers all relevant process data such as material handling, data entries, activity and performance logs to create visual reports on process outcomes, making paper documents redundant. Then, it communicates with a visual control quality inspection programmed with ML algorithms to detect defects on the assembly line and remove them before final packaging and dispatch. Functions like real-time monitoring & diagnostics through computer vision can assist predictive maintenance, boosting quality control and generating remaining useful life estimations of machines. 

 

It’s Officially Automation O’clock

The main purpose of innovation has always been to improve current processes, boost productivity at a lower cost and bring more business value. The opportunities of Industry 4.0 when it comes to new Quality 4.0 practices around technologies such as Big Data, AI and ML, Cyber-Physical Systems or Visual Inspection are immense. In fact, their implementation is the digital milestone before reaching new business heights for small and medium-sized manufacturers. New digital software solutions flow into your factory’s Deming cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) and help you optimise quality inspection processes while saving you time and money.

 

What’s even better is that recent political initiatives, such as the super-deduction tax incentive leads businesses towards innovating more than ever now as it was designed for repositioning UK businesses as international competitors. Recent political initiatives, such as the super-deduction tax incentive, aim at boosting innovation more than ever now as it is designed to reposition UK businesses as international competitors. A sneak peek into the budget’s factsheet reveals that companies can claim temporary 130% capital allowances on qualifying plant and machinery investments such as computer equipment, computer software etc. The key criteria are that expenditure contracts must date from 3 March 2021 and incurred between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2023. The strategy creates a time-sensitive period to accelerate digital transformation among all manufacturing facilities. It’s time for executive discussions as the clock is literally ticking.

 

Author Biography Aleksandrina Vasileva 

 

Aleksandrina is a Content Creator at Dreamix, a custom software development company, and is keen оn innovative technological solutions with a positive impact on our world. Her teaching background, mixed with interests in psychology, drives her to share knowledge. She is an avid reader and an enthusiastic blogger, always looking for the next inspiration.