Digital Talks 2019: Transforming Industry Together

01 July 2019

On 11 June 2019, 1,000 professionals from several major industries came together at the Siemens’ ‘Digital Talks’ event to hear 37 expert talks on digital transformation.  
Rebecca Aris

Digital transformation has immense potential to change consumer lives, create value for businesses and unlock broader societal benefit, and it is becoming a key theme of the UK Industrial Strategy.

The potential financial reward is huge, the World Economic Forum has identified that digital transformation could bring as much as $100 trillion value to industry over the next decade. This 2019 flagship event sought to educate businesses and value chains on the steps needed to embark on the ongoing journey of digital transformation. 

Made Smarter UK

Graham Malley , Principal Director of Digital Manufacturing at Accenture and National Programme Manager of Made Smarter UK, began the day by providing an update on Made Smarter UK.

The Made Smarter programme is a Government industrial strategy programme intended to enable manufacturing productivity and growth through digitisation technologies. The North West pilot project has seen £20m of Government-backed investment, coupled with support from companies including Siemens, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems, for the procurement of digital skills and technology solutions.

According to the Made Smarter Review, the positive impact of faster innovation and adoption of industrial digital technologies could be as much as £455 billion for UK manufacturing over the next decade, plus a net gain of 175,000 jobs across the economy. With a potential gain of over 25% in industrial productivity by 2025, it’s clear that Made Smarter is a big step towards Industry 4.0.

Accelerating R&D

Jonathan Hague, Vice President of R&D Homecare Discover at Unilever, and member of the innovation committee within the Chemistry Council, spoke on the topic of automation and digitalisation in the context of accelerating product development and product innovation.  

Siemens Jon HagueJonathan Hague, Unilever. Image: Siemens

Jonathan spoke about how digitisation enables a two-way conversation with consumers whilst increasing the speed of R&D and of bringing new products to market.

In March of last year, Unilever opened its Advanced Manufacturing Centre in Port Sunlight. The facility serves to boost Unilever’s existing R&D presence and features a state-of-the-art pilot plant which allows scientists and engineers at Unilever to test new ideas on a factory scale. The centre allows the team of scientists and engineers to create consumer-focused innovations and quickly scale them for Unilever’s global supply chain team. Product simulations that may have taken three months to develop can now be done in minutes.

Unilever is still exploring scale-up predictability, with the objective of reducing time to scale up and manufacture, reported Hague. The aim is to get products from lab concept to full-scale manufacture within a year – a significant acceleration in the R&D pipeline!

Robotics in retail

There was a packed audience for the Ocado presentation on the challenges of intralogistics and digitalisation. Andrew Selim, Projects Manager, Ocado Engineering, talked about the future of robotics in retail.

With the UK being the most penetrative market for online groceries, Ocado manages to thrive in it due to innovations in logistics, coupled with great partnerships.

The robotics research team at Ocado faces a remarkable challenge: to develop smart and generalised robotic solutions and systems capable of picking the 50,000 different items available on safely and reliably. With 260,000 order to fulfil each week, Ocado has designed a robot pick station - consisting of suction cups and articulated arms capable of lifting items with the use of an air compressor. The items are lifted and transferred to the delivery crates to carry on their onward journey to the customer.

Ocado’s vision is that from the moment you place your online order to the moment it arrives at your door (possibly via a driverless van), there will be no human intervention, and they are well on their way to achieving their goal in this system that could revolutionise online retail.

Digitisation in the chemical industry

As the exhibition floor buzzed with exciting technology such as AI, VR and robotics, a panel debate took place on the topic of digitalisation in the chemical industry, hosted by Ian Elsby (Head of Chemical Industry GB&I, Siemens).

Siemens ian elsbyIan Elsby. Image: Siemens

Digitalisation and the Internet of Things have been identified by the UK Chemistry Council as one of the main strategy levers to accelerate innovation-led growth in the chemical industries.  The panel, comprised of Sharon Todd (CEO, SCI), Iain Crosley (Managing Director, Hosokawa Micron Limited), Darren Budd (Commercial Director, BASF) and Dr Richard Smith (Chief Operating Officer, 2M Holdings Ltd), explored the challenges and opportunities that digitisation brings to the sector.  Topics such as predictive quality, the digital plant, the connected supply chain and product customisation were discussed.

The theme that came across strongly from the audience questions was one of supply chain – just how far will the connected supply chain and automation take us? There is no limit, according to the panel, however, people would always be part of the chain. Skills, therefore, remain a key enabler to digitisation.

Siemens digital talks panel

(L-R) Sharon Todd, Iain Crosley, Darren Budd, and Dr Richard Smith. Image: Siemens

‘Training and upskilling are major for us’, said Darren Budd. ‘We’re looking heavily at augmented reality and predictive maintenance to train our apprentices right now.’

Smaller manufacturers and SME’s, however, could face a challenge in this space. Richard Smith acknowledged that for smaller companies, it can feel risky to go down a digital route. But it’s fundamentally something they need to address, and the chances are, he pointed out, ‘your competitor is probably thinking the same way.’ We’ll need to help SME’s through the pathways, stressed Todd, to make sure they’re stronger for the future.

Sharon Todd explained that SCI is establishing a new AI and Digitisation Group to begin to address the issue of digitisation,  and she reiterated why the time to act is now for the chemical industry. ‘With other countries moving at speed, and other sectors embracing digitisation and reshaping their business models considerably, we need to seize the opportunity that digitisation presents, by moving quickly and reskilling, if we are to avoid being at risk of being left behind.’

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