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Enabling the future of Manufacturing by focusing on people

13 Oct 2022

In the third of our Intelligent Industry: Journey to The Manufacturer events blog series, George Hull shares his perspective on why the future of the Manufacturing sector is exciting but complex and explores the importance of focusing on people to champion best-in-class technology and processes.

How to make the complex product simple

In the Aerospace industry, safety is the number one priority when creating a product, as such designs are controlled by world-class engineers through tight tolerancing of critical features, determined by reviews of safety cases and failure mode analysis. They are therefore extremely complex and expensive to manufacture and even more so to maintain; so how do they manage to manufacture them, and does it always have to be this way?

The subtlety of building a jet engine lies with the people that build them

In my various previous roles in the Aerospace industry, I’ve often wondered how the shop floor staff manufactured and built the complex products we designed, equipped with just drawings, basic work instructions, tools, and heavy machinery. What I learned very quickly was the way to find out was just to ask them. In doing so, I discovered that the tacit knowledge required to build the product lies with those that build them every day. Unfortunately, many potential design and assembly improvements didn’t find their way into the next generation products often enough. Why? Because the flow of information between the factory floor and the design office was limited. Indeed, the flow of information was by and large one way: design office to factory floor.

Technology exists to enable the people and execute the process

People: During my career so far, I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most intelligent and determined people, so intelligent and determined, in fact, that they have been able to execute complex processes without the latest technology in place to enable them in their role.

Process: For data and knowledge transfer and improvement of processes, we often rely on human interaction that is unpredictable and random, varying in quantity and quality from interaction to interaction.

Technology: In recent years, there have been incredible advancements in systems and technology across various sectors, many of which can be leveraged in the Manufacturing sector, particularly in the manufacture of complex products such as those in Aerospace & Defence.

Imagine being able to:

  • Visualise the build process step by step prior to starting a shift by using Virtual or Augmented Reality
  • Visualise the flow of material and tooling around the factory floor using RFID tags and Smart Logistics, and using that data to fine tune the flow for best efficiency
  • Monitor and ensure the safe working conditions of shopfloor staff by using Human 4.0 technology, for example to alert when staff have been working in enclosed spaces for too long, or have been at a welding station and subjected to fumes for an extended period
  • Ensure that staff are wearing the correct PPE for their area of work on that day using Artificial Intelligence scanning
  • Have Internet of Things sensors attached to every tool and piece of machinery, telling us when calibration is out of date on tools, automatically scheduling machine servicing and ordering tool kits from stores on our behalf so we have the tools to do the job at our fingertips
  • Visualise the entire factory layout using digital twins to optimise and tailor the factory in the metaverse, before even laying the foundations
  • Communicate with Engineers & Designers regardless of where they are in the world, using Augmented Reality to show the condition of the product live, whether it be in the shop or out in the field, without having to spend time taking pictures and creating presentation packs
  • Ensure that tasset shop floor knowledge is robustly flowed back into the design offices using the likes of Manufacturing Execution Systems, giving shop floor staff a platform to provide invaluable live feedback on the product they build every day, ensuring that lessons learned are not just captured but also actioned.

The future of Manufacturing is exciting, and the opportunities are endless for the talent of the future

The Manufacturing knowledge and experience that has been developed over the last 50 years is astounding; it would be easy to think that we are already at the cutting edge of what is humanly possible. But the reality is that what is humanly possible is decided by humans.

The technology behind everything listed in this blog exists today, but the Manufacturing sector needs the innovative and creative talent of the future to make it a reality and put it all into practice. Having spent the first part of my career working as an Engineer, I know that in an ideal world, you’d always have all the data and information required at your fingertips, enabling you to make timely and effective decisions. What has been achieved by Manufacturing organisations that I’ve seen in Aerospace & Defence has been truly staggering, however as with any industry, there is always room for improvement in what is possible with rapidly advancing technology; so why not start to make it a reality today?

To read more blogs in the Intelligent Industry: Journey to The Manufacturer events series, see quick links below:

Still flying high after Farnborough International Airshow 2022 – Mike Dwyer reflects on the successes of the Farnborough International Airshow and looks forward to what we have planned for The Manufacturer events in Liverpool on 16th and 17th November.

The challenges of adopting Industry 4.0 – Do you have the vision? – Graham Upton explores the challenges organisations face when adopting Industry 4.0.