Smart Machines & Factories
4IR arrives in Manchester
Published:  08 June, 2017

April opened with a major 4IR event making its debut in Manchester - the city that proudly lays claim to having the world’s first factories and first industrial estate. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

As the next momentous phase of development starts to gain real traction in Britain, the inaugural Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo was a major opportunity for those who are looking to embrace this major change.

Sixty eight exhibitors and numerous guest speakers came together at the first conference and exhibition dedicated solely to encouraging debate and interest in Industry 4.0, held at Manchester’s Central Convention Complex.

It will surely be a welcome relief for those in UK manufacturing who may have been concerned about the domestic rate of progress on this issue, especially compared to the steady march in Germany, the U.S, and China.

Smart Machines & Factories made the most of what was not only an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the latest developments at home and abroad, but also engage with those in attendance to gauge opinion on the event and Industry 4.0 as a whole.

A choice panel discussion on Day 1 saw speakers from Airbus, Bosch Rexroth and Schneider Electric focusing on many of the key issues surrounding 4IR, and in conversation afterwards Hans Michael Krause, head of sales in processing & packaging at Bosch Rexroth further emphasised an important point – that the UK has great potential, and there are people who want to be involved: “In the UK you have a good base, with the Raspberry Pi and other processors. You have a strong heritage”, Krause said. “You have to use it in a better way. I can think of two encounters I’ve had at Bosch Rexroth…where people have come to us because they want to be a part of shaping Industry 4.0.

“They can see that things are changing, it’s not boring PLC languages anymore, and what you have to learn as an automation engineer is new connectivity…it’s disruptive”.

However, Krause also pointed out one thing that can be a great hindrance to the progress of 4IR: a fear of risk-taking.

“In France it took a long time to get their own Industry 4.0 going, but it is now moving. You can also see in countries like the Netherlands, the Scandinavian states, Italy, and Spain – it brings a lot of benefit to get these things started”, he added. “Many people ask us: what is the investment return on your project? I get this question…of course because of shareholder value.

“Then I say okay, we are foundation, we do things because we believe in it, even if it’s not clear we do it because we want technological progress. Government money also helps to start these kinds of things when the return on investment is not clear.

“With certain companies, if they don’t have it on paper they don’t do it. Of course this is not fostering innovation”.

The need to take a risk with the intimidating prospect of having to upgrade to Industry 4.0 and make a factory “smart” – as well as all the inherent complexities and potential difficulties that this process may entail – seemed to be playing on the minds of many delegates.

Representatives from software solutions company Syncronology were at the Expo promoting its software solutions, chiefly its flagship program called “Singlepoint”. Company director Andrew Holland had a firm belief that of all the businesses at the event, it was the SMEs (Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises) who would be finding it most daunting: “It can be intimidating and probably quite expensive” Holland said. “People…in that smaller company category think ‘where do I start? Because this looks like a big topic. And how much is it going to cost?’

“An SME doesn’t have the time and money to be able to stop its operation and chuck it all out with 3 months downtime while re-equipping…there’s quite a big difference there”.

Holland was able to sum up what seemed to be the quintessential problem for the smaller manufacturers and businesses attending the Summit and Expo, probably the aspect of Industry 4.0 that’s the biggest challenge: “They have to keep making money and evolve without breaking stride. There’s still a leap of faith involved in this”.

Many exhibitors shared this opinion, including those who were perhaps on the fringe of the UK market or offering an alternative take on 4IR. A spokesperson from Italian company REPLY said: “Some people that have come to our stand at this event are confused…we’re used to working with customers that are big enterprises, but now we are in the UK we are having to adapt to smaller businesses – not huge companies, but they still make a lot of products.”

Meanwhile Peter Green, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, was demonstrating its ‘smart’ musical instrument: “Looking around and talking to people who’ve stopped at the stand has been quite interesting”, he said. “I think there’s a fair few still trying to understand what 4.0 means, whether it’s relevant to their companies…but there’s other people who’re clearly at the other end of the spectrum, purely looking around to see if there’s any new developments they’re not aware of”.

Intriguingly, one of the main talking points arising out of the event was also the fact that no single exhibitor was really offering a complete package, the taste of Industry 4.0 in one bite. Each was one flavour, working with other solutions providers to help manufacturers tackle the 4IR.

One part of this Industry 4.0 jigsaw is automation and networking company Red Lion. Its EMEA director of business development IIoT Andreas Berz summed up how he perceived its involvement: “It’s a huge ecosystem solution stack, and Red Lion is only delivering one part of it. Customers are of course seeking a complete solution, so we need to partner with other companies to deliver the rest of that solution.”

This sort of co-operation and understanding requires a pragmatic approach, with an emphasis on breaking down barriers.

“The problem we’ve had for many years is the huge gap between informational technology and operational technology”, says Berz. “Different people in the company are responsible for these areas, different technologies have different languages so to speak.

“Also, within the Internet of Things, companies that need to partner together are coming from these two worlds. So it is important to find the right partners, and I guess that companies that are trying to do everything will find it more difficult.” It’s a view that’s echoed by Hans Michael Krause, who has pointed out how within Bosch Rexroth there has been a need to alter attitudes.

“A big company tends to think in silos…we need to link people together, and share information”, he said. “One example is the fact that we have a huge social internal network…to link the experts to each other. You post progress on a blog, then other plants see it in the network and think ‘that’s interesting, I can use this’…it’s more like a decentralised exchange, which is a big mission for our management.

“We also understand that there are experts in different fields and it’s only when they join together that they can reach something bigger – so we see a lot of co-operation forming in the industry.”


The event also gave companies such as SICK the opportunity to highlight relevant product developments such as its battery-powered SICK PGT-12-PRO - a pocket-sized programming tool, designed initially for rapid configuring and programming of SICK’s AHS/AHM36 programmable absolute encoders and TMS/TMM inclination sensors with CANopen or analogue output.

With a large LED display and simple intuitive menu structure, the PGT-12-PRO enables easy set up and adjustment of parameters such as node-ID and baud-rate without having to complete complex and time-consuming set up.

Darren Pratt, SICK UK’s encoder specialist, explained: “The PGT-12-PRO shows the future of flexible and easy-to-use programming in CANopen environments,” says Darren Pratt, SICK UK’s encoder specialist. “Integrating encoders and sensors into a CANopen fieldbus can vary significantly between different applications and often requires specialist programming knowledge and skills.

“Whether in the design office, on the production line, or in vehicles out in the field, the PGT-12-PRO liberates the engineer from having to complete remote programming via a PLC or PC.”

Sensor upgrades and new functions for the PGT-12-PRO programming tool can be installed easily via a firmware update. Configurations can be saved to the device’s SD card, then transferred quickly to enable device replacement and also cloned to enable easy installation of any number of identical applications and configurations.

To conclude, there were a lot of important issues being raised and discussed at the Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo. What was most promising was the recognition of its significance across varying levels of business, and a desire on the part of the less well-informed to engage with the concept. Looking forward, it’s now up to Britain’s enterprises to start making their moves and perhaps even think about how they can help to promote Industry 4.0 on a wider scale.