20/11/2017

Smart Factory Expo 2017: UK's perspective of Industry 4.0 #4IR

Our CTO describes his experiences of the second Smart Factory Expo, this year held in Liverpool UK, hosted by themanufacturer.com

This was my second UK Industry 4.0 exhibition of the year as my first was the premiere of the Industry 4.0 Summit held in Manchester during February.

A date clash meant I decided to attend the Smart Factory Expo over Productronica in Munich, Germany. This choice was made because the Expo was focused on more generalised manufacturing markets rather than just Electronic Assemblies (EA). Having good contacts working within EA I felt I already knew how that segment is progressing with 4IR and that the big event was the launch of The Hermes Standard.

For those unfamiliar with UK geography and history, both Liverpool and Manchester are in northern England, in an area nicknamed by the Government as the Northern Powerhouse. This area is where the original industrial revolution began and where heavy industry still exists. I feel this is the reason the Expo was ideally positioned and seemed to be well attended. This was confirmed to me by businesses whose stands I attended.

The Expo was split between stands used for businesses to promote their services and wares, and four small theatres that were used to conduct themed talks.

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At the centre of the exhibition floor was an area called Innovation Alley. This area featured both Startup and established businesses that were entering 4IR as a new market opportunity. This is where I caught up with Luke and his team from our existing partner Brainboxes.

To put these growing businesses at the heart of the exhibition was a great move from the organisers as it highlighted that 4IR was about a growing new industry made of small entities. This was unlike Productronica 2014 where IT and software related businesses were pushed aside in a hall away from the main action.

There were all the normal big names at the show such as Siemens and Schneider Electric but you get the feeling these would be flogging their established automation wares even if the Industry 4.0 buzzword didn't exist.

What did interest me are the young platform providers that didn't have the bloat of an old-skool international sales team.

The benefit of talking to these sized businesses is they are very good at answering detailed questions. We have to remember that industrial IoT deployments and support are conducted by Engineers and Agents much lower down the food chain using off-the-shelf platforms.

These Engineers need quick answers to questions, so they can't go via long support chains of yesteryear, or form time-consuming relationships with suppliers.

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The general question I asked everyone I met at the show is how we, or the MultiPlug, could work for them, in providing their customers with a flexible solution. Once they realised I was there to collaborate, rather than to compete, their backs lowered and warm conversations flourished.

Asking this question to the businesses that focused purely on the manufacturing industry, I was often directed, after some small-talk, to their website or knowledge base. This was the correct answer to my question in an industry movement that has to be efficient.

This was a contrast to asking the question to the big names of the show that seemed to not know where their software was being made or where the support would come from. Simply stating that they worked for a multi-conglomerate with offices based all around the world.

The message I took away from this encounter is that 4IR suppliers need to remain small and lean, with localised support ecosystems removing the need for costly travel and promoting the investment in local talent. Large multi-conglomerates will simply over cook solutions and create bloat in the supply chain, however they can help themselves by removing the barrier-to-entry to their platforms, knowledge and Engineers.

Platform providers that stood out are; Line View Solutions, ThingTrax, SolutionsPT (Wonderware), Iconics and Valuechain. I thank them for giving me time during the Expo to talk-shop about our industry and the 4IR movement.

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Smart Factory Expo was a worthwhile trip to the North to get a UK perspective of Industry 4.0. We look forward to exhibiting in the Innovation Alley next year.

About INDUSTRY4.UK

INDUSTRY4.UK is a Industry 4.0 solutions provider for the smart industrial manufacturing sector. It develops bespoke Extensions for the MultiPlug Fog Computing Platform that allows for realtime configuration and monitoring of production line equipment. The flexibility of off-the-shelf software combined with inside industrial experience means that INDUSTRY4.UK is ideally placed to anticipate and respond to a factory’s changing needs.

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David Graham

David was a Software Architect at INDUSTRY4.UK