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Make the most of what you already have

14 November, 2022

Digitalising a manufacturing operation does not necessarily involve making large investments in new equipment. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, argues that upgrading existing installations and upskilling your workforce can often achieve similar results at a much lower cost.

The age-old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, can resonate in many ways. It can make you stop and appreciate what you already have, and can also lead to you paying more attention and care to existing assets. The concept can fit perfectly into digitalising factories and the journey towards smart manufacturing.

There are two stand-out problems that can occur from not paying close attention to equipment that you already have. Firstly, you may spend large amounts of capital on new equipment with high running costs and this could, in turn, affect your long-term budgets. And secondly, a misunderstanding of what is needed to update existing equipment demonstrates a lack of knowledge and may result in a lack of confidence in the existing kit.

To avoid these issues, there are two methods that many manufacturers are already using: assessing what already exists on site; and training and upskilling staff to use and understand the latest technologies.

Historically, most maintenance of existing equipment has been either reactive (not done until a machine breaks) or preventive (done at regular intervals to help avoid breakdowns). Both of these practices can be time-consuming, costly and inefficient.

The digital alternative of predictive maintenance combines the use of a sensors and AI machine learning to detect when a machine could fail as a result of excessive temperatures, physical problems, software errors and so on.

Predictive maintenance gives users the ability to foresee when their equipment will need upkeep. In many cases, all it involves is a simple retrofit of sensors and communications devices to connect them to a cloud platform, allowing the equipment to be monitored remotely.

Fitting sensors to a machine can open up the doors of maintenance for both consumers and manufacturers. It can result in substantial savings, both short-term and long-term.
This is more important now than ever before. During the pandemic, the ability to maintain equipment remotely became essential rather than a novelty.

Enhancements to legacy equipment can improve both efficiency and productivity. To become a smart factory, doesn’t necessarily require brand-new kit, but simply making the most out of what you already have.

There are also other ways that existing equipment can be upgraded or enhanced to maximise its capabilities. Calling in a digitalisation expert, or a specialist from a Catapult, to examine your processes is one way to get the ball rolling.

Alternatively, upskilling your existing workforce to improve their knowledge of connected technologies can allow them to re-assess your processes and see where beneficial upgrades could be made. Having in-house staff with up-to-date skills and knowldege is an under-estimated investment when it comes to digitalisation.

Connected and digital technologies have been around for years and are here to stay. You should no longer be discussing implementing “new” technologies because most are already well-established. The key to a successful smart factory is using and adopting what is already out there, and making it work in harmony with what you already have. The only restrictions are those of the mind.

Two of the biggest barriers to adopting advanced manufacturing technologies include the reluctance to make large capital investments and an unwillingness to embrace change. If close attention is paid to the initial steps – upgrading existing equipment and upskilling staff to become IoT experts – then other areas where efficiency could be improved through digitalisation can be identified readily. Alongside identifying the initial business problem, it is clear that a smart factory doesn’t necessarily mean large investments. And with higher levels of IoT knowledge in your workforce, the drive to digitalise will indeed intensify.

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.
For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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