Sharing digital skills and data knowledge to improve productivity.
AMRC Cymru set to pass on digital skills to Welsh manufacturers
AMRC Cymru is based in North Wales and its goal is to help Wales’ manufacturing community adopt new technologies to drive improvements in productivity, performance and quality.
Funded by Welsh Government in a £20 million state-of the-art centre in Broughton, it is run by the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and is a member of the 'High Value Manufacturing Catapult', a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres, backed by Innovate UK.
Andy Silcox is AMRC Cymru’s Research Director. He says:
"Our role is to react to industry and the challenges and manufacturing problems it needs to solve. We work with companies towards their specific goal through the use of digital technologies."
AMRC Cymru installs digital tools on the factory floor to gather and analyse data and then uses this valuable information to suggest improvements.
The focus has, more often than not, centred on making products more efficiently and therefore, more cost effectively. But now AMRC Cymru is gearing up to work with companies to help them become more sustainable. Dubbed its SMART Sustainable Factory programme, the team of researchers and engineers will help manufacturers reduce their emissions through the same principle of retrofitting digital technologies onto shop floor equipment.
"Put simply, it boils down to data and analysing it in order to help Welsh firms understand where they can make their biggest energy efficiencies.
"One of our greatest strengths is that we know how to use digital manufacturing technologies and we’ve got some of the best brains in Britain on that topic and it’s a case of applying those tools to the sustainability issue.
"We ‘instrument up’ a business’s machines and equipment with energy monitoring technology so we can work out where we can reduce energy usage and waste."
And of course, reducing energy emissions also means a cost saving. Andy said:
"It’s a really good time to reduce your emissions not just from an environmental point of view but it will also lower operating costs, particularly as the cost of energy is currently so high."
The next stage is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to examine trends and patterns to recommend improvements. The data might suggest, for example, that a Welsh business should alter its shift pattern so that it can operate on a cheaper energy tariff. Alternatively, there may be a process which, if slowed down slightly, could also make an energy saving.
In a collaboration with Airbus, the anchor tenant at the Broughton facility, AI and machine learning has been used to gather a rich pool of data to deliver insights and suggested actions. For example, it has enabled them to continually reduce carbon emissions. In just two months, electricity consumption has been lowered by 4000kWh which equates to an annual reduction of 49,901kg in CO2 emissions.
At the very heart of AMRC Cymru’s approach is the sharing of learning and skills with Wales’ manufacturing community. It hopes to leave a lasting legacy by firstly throwing open the doors to the Broughton facility to showcase the wide range of SMART factory technologies that can help achieve carbon reduction goals.
It is hoped this will be followed by a pilot initiative whereby AMRC Cymru engineers work with companies to install low-cost energy monitoring technology, passing on digital and data skills.
"Our aim is that Welsh industry will be trained to use digital tools which we believe are incredibly powerful and have many benefits for a business, reaching beyond the lowering of carbon emissions.
"In the past with other projects, we’ve pushed very hard with Wales’ food and drink sector as it is such a key contributor to the nation’s economy. But we’ll work with any business, of any size, in the manufacturing sector."
AMRC Cymru has also deliberately focussed on assisting SMEs but its work benefits multinational businesses such as Airbus to small start-ups that consist of just one or two people in a garage.
"Whatever the firm and whatever their size, our aim is the same. We want to equip a company with digital skills, the knowledge of how to use data and how to make improvements.
"It’s my belief that it will be engineers who help save the planet. We have just hit the milestone of about eight billion people on Earth and our demands for energy and resources are higher than ever. The only way to get around it is to either go back to living as if it's pre 1937 again or engineer our way out of the problem.
"But we need to attract more young people to become engineers. We are looking for people with the skill sets of data analysts or software developers. But yes, if you want to help save the planet, become an engineer."