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Accelerating Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 4Manufacturing to drive change

Posted on 26/01/2018

Choosing the right digital technology to start your 4IR journey

First in a series of events 4manufacturers from Innovate UK and the KTN focused on #robotics #artificial intelligence #data

Many manufacturing businesses are eager to join the fourth industrial revolution #4IR, but with so many digital technologies to choose from it can be difficult to decide where to start and which technologies to exploit for optimum impact. There are already many examples of successful digitisation projects – but what will your own ‘smart factory’ actually look like? Innovate UK, Catapult Centres and the KTN are working together to grow the use of Industry 4.0 within UK Manufacturing.

Our recent blog ‘Business Resolutions 4Manufacturers’ highlighted the support available to manufacturing businesses using the Knowledge Transfer Networks 4Manufacturing framework. Using this framework KTN and its partners can help manufacturers identify key focus areas for implementing digital technologies, in order to realise 4IR in their manufacturing processes and into their supply chains. One such focus area, which SMEs engaged in development of the 4Manufacturing framework were particularly interested in, was robotics and automation.

The potential benefits of automating processes with robots are well known. For example, they can perform manipulation and transportation tasks with greater speed, accuracy and strength than humans, and operate in hostile environments removing the need for humans to operate in unsafe conditions.

Robots have been successfully utilised in British car manufacturing for many years now, and this remains by far the most common application for robotics in the UK. There is a gradual uptake in robotic technologies across further industries from agriculture to social care and beyond, in addition to the manufacture of other goods such as pharmaceuticals and food. The potential for further implementation is vast, although not necessarily easy to fulfil. This can be attributed to the capital expenditure or engineering effort required, or simply that a suitable technology has not been identified.

The capability of robots is continually improving as a result of new developments in sensing, actuating and control technologies. Advanced machine vision systems and algorithms now enable robots to adapt to variability in the materials that they handle. Add artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix and a robot has the ability to learn and make basic decisions. Such advancements widen the scope for application of robotics, for example ‘co-bots’ working alongside humans without risk of collision. R&D continues at a pace; one day robotic manipulators could match the dexterity of humans.

The right RAI solution could address bottlenecks in a manufacturing process to increase throughput. It could provide greater flexibility to create different configurations of goods, it could even enable reshoring of outsourced sub-processes back to the UK. The first step towards finding this solution is clearly defining the challenge. There may be other businesses with the same challenge, within manufacturing or otherwise.

A solution may be readily available or could be developed through a strategic collaboration. Only by understanding the challenges can innovators focus their R&D on technologies which add most value to UK manufacturing.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 4Manufacturing Event, 7 March Coventry

To provide an opportunity to collaborate to accelerate 4IR, the KTN Manufacturing team and Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Special Interest Group (RAI SIG) are hosting an event called Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 4Manufacturing at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry on 7th March.

The event will explore the importance of data and the application of robotics and AI within manufacturing and supply chains. Delegates will be able learn from those who have successfully implemented these technologies within manufacturing environments through a schedule of case study presentations, facilitated round table discussions and a ‘pop-up showcase’ of challenges that the various businesses in attendance are currently facing. There will also be the opportunity to explore with the KTN team, MTC staff and wider Innovate UK family what opportunities and support are available. This could include funding and finance, or potential partners/collaborators for current and forthcoming projects.

We invite all manufacturers, regardless of sector, looking to engage with 4IR and digital manufacturing opportunities. We are also keen to welcome those who have successfully implemented these technologies within manufacturing environments – both solution providers and end user businesses.

Please register your interest in the event to be part of the discussion, and to hear first-hand from those who have experience in deploying these innovations in manufacturing.