Capitalising on industry’s next phase

Mark BottomleyInovative digital transformation solutions such as big data and predictive analytics can provide major benefits to firms, but a number of issues are hindering manufacturers’ progress in these fields. Mark Bottomley, UK sales director at industrial automation provider Rockwell Automation, says a lack of both technical skills and education are key challenges that have to be overcome.

“It’s very important to start early by getting more students, especially women and black, Asian and minority ethnic students, interested in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. Engineers and technicians need to be going into primary schools and taking on the responsibility of engaging pupils in what it means to work in manufacturing today,” says Mr Bottomley.

Skilled labour is as important as ever in manufacturing, but for Industry 4.0 to prosper in the UK a comprehensive agenda has to be pushed forward by both industry and government. Mr Bottomley believes that the UK’s reputation for being a nation of entrepreneurs and innovators gives the country a cultural advantage.

“Through the Made Smarter campaign and the industrial strategy announced last November, we’re starting to recognise the opportunities that are in this area. As long as UK-based staff can keep innovating, they can ensure that UK sites lead the global workforce and keep us at the forefront of the next generation of manufacturing,” he says.

Only 29 per cent of manufacturing companies had adopted the internet of things in 2015, according to Statista, indicating that the potential of these innovative technologies has not yet been fully explored. Concerns around cybersecurity, which ranks as one of the top reasons why manufacturers are hesitating to implement industrial internet of things (IIoT) solutions into their operations, are slowing down widespread adoption of IIoT.

It’s vital for manufactures to collaborate with a trusted partner that has established strong partnerships with the wider technology eco-system.

“Within our network we work closely with companies that are well respected in these areas, including strategic global partnerships with Cisco and Microsoft, which allow us to help our customers implement their existing security framework on IIoT solutions without hindering manufacturing operations,” explains Mr Bottomley. In practice, this allows verified solutions and remote support staff to gain access to keep the system running on a day-to-day basis, while still employing defence-in-depth best practices to mitigate potential threats.

Businesses that don’t fully embrace the opportunities provided by IIoT and Industry 4.0 won’t just lose their competitive edge, they’ll also start to fall behind competitors in an increasingly global marketplace. Data analytics may not be a new concept, but the next generation of IIoT technologies can be applied to many more functions.

Most high-skilled data scientists are currently spending far too long performing basic data manipulation tasks to reshape data to be able to feed it into a model where they can gain useful insights, reducing the time they spend utilising their core expertise.

Rockwell Automation’s analytics platform, called SCIO, utilises cutting-edge data science technologies to automatically interrogate data to retreive  specific information that can be used to inform real-time manufacturing decisions. “You can then start to identify and focus in on areas that in the past would have been either very expensive or virtually impossible to understand because you’re talking about huge amounts of data,” says Mr Bottomley.

Industry 4.0 has already begun to change the conversation around what is possible in UK manufacturing but, according to Mr Bottomley, the best is yet to come. He concludes: “Now that we’ve been able to collect large amounts of data, the next big challenge is how it can be used to improve productivity. The resulting benefits of IIoT, together with the innovative, entrepreneurial approach British engineers are world renowned for, will help UK industry remain competitive and grow to contribute much more to the UK economy.”


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