The question is, will the UK’s food and drink manufacturers be in the vanguard of these developments, or lag behind as tight margins prevent them from investing in such modern technology?
YCF – a not-for-profit organisation in the field – certainly believes the next 12 months will be key to manufacturers realising the importance of a ‘smart factory’ and plugging skills gaps.
“The technology behind the idea isn’t simple at all,” said YCF’s chief executive Jill Mooney. “But the benefits – heightened productivity, more intricate product specifications and the potential to reach a wider customer base – are hard to ignore.
“So, while a wholly ‘smart factory’ isn’t likely to be realised in 2017, we may see more manufacturers developing plans to implement new, collaborative machinery. Watch this space for the ‘fourth industrial revolution’!”
However, such emerging technology requires new skills and the nation needs to start training people to meet this impending shortage, argued Mooney. Employers, schools and the government must push for more young people to take up vocational apprenticeships, she added.
“This is something we’ve gone some way to champion, as we helped to launch the new Process Manufacturing Centre at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, earlier [in 2016],” she said.
“For manufacturing firms to remain competitive, they must adapt to an ever-changing business environment, meaning that further spending on technology is inevitable,” she added.
“But to implement new systems successfully they must also invest in the training and development of their people – something crucial to the survival of our industry.”
At this year’s maintenance and asset management exhibition and conference Maintec 2017, which takes place at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre from March 21–23, the IoT will be centre stage.
IoT will be centre stage
Its conference theme is being guided by the publication of new research that addresses how the IoT is set to change the way that maintenance engineers go about their work.
The research is presented in the form of a whitepaper: ‘The Future of Maintenance Engineering: How the Industrial Internet of Things Will Deliver Smarter Factories with Reduced Downtime and Lower Repair Costs’, which will be distributed free-of-charge to delegates.
In a separate move, The Engineering Group and Comau have signed a global cooperation agreement on the development of new systems for predictive maintenance.
They will be based on modular hardware and software and designed to acquire and analyse field data using the IoT and ‘big data’ analytics.
Food and beverage is one of the main sectors being targeted through the alliance.