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How Industry 4.0 can be built on legacy equipment

clock 7 minutes | 17 Jul 2018

Man using tablets to program robots

Debunking the myth that legacy equipment prevents manufacturers from adopting Industry 4.0

A 1956 Colchester Bantam lathe and a legacy milling machine were both recently retrofitted with new-cost technologies. These included sensors for data acquisition, accelerometers and thermocouples to measure vibration, temperature, current and power consumption.

The demonstration, at MACH 2018 in April, was led by Dr Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in partnership with the Manufacturing Technologies Association. The exhibition highlighted advanced engineering and manufacturing technology and showed that putting life back into old limbs can be just as important for machinery as well as man.

Bridgeport Milling Machine

“At the AMRC we believe that it is important to break down the barriers between SMEs and the adoption of Industry 4.0,” Scott says. “The overall cost of adding the sensors to the lathe was £250. The message is that having legacy equipment does not stop you from adopting Industry 4.0. You can do it and build confidence around your return on investment.”

Scott says there are three stages to Industry 4.0 adoption:

  • Information
  • Education
  • Application.
Man checking machine as part of digitisation process
“The message is that having legacy equipment does not stop you from adopting Industry 4.0. You can do it and build confidence around your return on investment”

Time to connect and capture data

“We have seen and heard the Industry 4.0 presentations and had the sales people telling us what this new technology or that one can do for our business,” he says. “Now we are ready for the next two stages. We know Industry 4.0 is here, let’s see how it is best applied and implemented. We also need to think about the enterprise architecture it will connect to and how businesses can capture, store and analyse data, and display the results.”

Opportunity for you to be involved

Scott says that following the legacy demonstration at MACH, interest has been garnered from companies keen to hear more about how AMRC can help them in their Industry 4.0 journey towards smart manufacturing.

“We are going to run a number of sessions around improving legacy equipment here. Let’s do a deep dive and see how we can help,” he states.

The ‘here’ he mentions is the Connected Factory located in the state-of-the-art Factory 2050, part of the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Campus.

Getting Industry 4.0 support

The Connected Factory provides an environment for manufacturers to ‘explore the impact of Industry 4.0 in relation to key manufacturing functions’. These include inbound inventory, shop-floor management, process technologies and methods, asset maintenance, quality, and environment, health and safety.

The facility also ‘supports discussions on benefits in terms of improved agility, transparency and optimisation of manufacturing processes’ – as well as practical demonstrations of supporting technologies and insight into how organisations are successfully navigating digital disruption in manufacturing.

“We are a sandbox for manufacturers to come in and see how different Industry 4.0 components are put together. We look at AI and data and how to connect systems, as well as how to use virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) in practice,” Scott says. “We can also put together proofs of concept or prototypes for any SME manufacturer projects to demonstrate the potential of Industry 4.0 technology. They want to see the value, quality and performance. We’ve worked with hundreds of firms in this way – 300 SMEs in Yorkshire and Humber regions alone.”

Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre - The University of Sheffield
“We can also put together proofs of concept or prototypes for any SME manufacturer projects to demonstrate the potential of Industry 4.0 technology”

At the ‘vanguard’ of success

One example Scott highlights is that of a van manufacturer who has, under the guidance of the AMRC, started to use virtual reality in customer design.

“This company carries out van conversions. Previously, it was carrying out several costly iterations to ensure its customers were happy with the interior design of the vehicle,” he explains. “Now with the use of virtual reality, the process can be done much more quickly, cheaply and effectively.”

It isn’t just SMEs that the AMRC is working with on Industry 4.0. It is presently testing and trialling a range of AR systems with the German conglomerate Siemens.

Regular events to attend

The AMRC also runs regular forum events involving speakers from manufacturing companies and technology providers.

“SMEs worry that they don’t have the resources or manpower for Industry 4.0 implementation, while larger companies worry about how it will fit into existing IT architecture,” he states. “A lot of Industry 4.0 is not new and it can be adopted at lower cost than supposed. SMEs need to look at the tremendous resources that exist within our universities in the UK, including getting in master’s students to help them shape direction and gain more knowledge. There are also a range of innovation funding streams out there to benefit SMEs. We at the AMRC are part of these efforts to bring up the long tail and help SMEs adopt Industry 4.0.”

AMRC background information

The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing was founded in 2001. It carries out research into advanced machinery, manufacturing and materials. It employs 500 researchers and engineers from around the globe, as well as more than 100 industrial partners, from Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Airbus to SMEs. It is located on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire.