18 February, 2020

Embracing the future with technology

13 February, 2020

When watching films or TV shows of a certain vintage, one can’t help noticing how ubiquitous the street phone booth was for everyday ‘real-time’ communication. And there seemed to be an awful lot of paper on desks in episodes of The Bill, accompanied by the incessant clatter of manual typewriters. Needless to say, things have moved on in leaps and bounds from a technological perspective in today’s business and social world (maybe except for the reams of paper that still seem to be on quite a few office desks). Nevertheless, a new global report finds that close to half (40%) of all SMB employees who participated in the study are dissatisfied with their work environments as an increasingly mobile workforce shapes employee expectations for access to technology that enables co-working, shared spaces and better work-life balance and integration. According to the Lenovo-commissioned report conducted by Forrester Consulting, SMBs appear to have fallen behind the curve on delivering positive employee experience (EX).


The Automation debate

06 December, 2019

There has been debate recently about whether the increasing level of automation in manufacturing and warehousing environments is posing a threat to people’s jobs. Ostensibly, this might seem to be a rational concern. So, what’s the truth? Although expensive to set up, Sophie Hand, UK country manager at automation parts supplier EU Automation, maintains that highly automated ‘lights-out’ manufacturing comes with a series of advantages, the first of which is increased profitability. “Generally, robots work more slowly but more consistently than humans, since they don’t get tired, bored, distracted or sick,” she says. “As a result, autonomous robots can help manufacturers maximise productivity to meet increased demand.” She adds that lights-out manufacturing can enable businesses to save on energy and operational costs. “A fully automated factory can run ‘with the lights out,’ since human necessities such as lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning are eliminated. Robots can also operate in significantly smaller work cells, reducing the costs related to an adequately spacious plant floor,” says Hand. Moreover, she states that robots represent the perfect workforce in dangerous industrial environments, where toxic fumes, rapidly moving machinery or hot surfaces can pose serious health and safety threats to human workers.


Partnering to success

30 October, 2019

When it comes to technology it is normally the larger multinational companies that dip their toe in the water and, in some instances, take a full body plunge at an early stage. This is understandable insomuch as it is normally the larger companies that have the more generous budgets that can be set aside for such adventures in modernity. The smaller to medium-sized companies, on the other hand, might consider that they don’t have the money available to make such investments – or maybe feel they only have the wherewithal to push the technology envelope so far. Another reason for some SME’s lack of focus in the direction of the latest tech may be simply because they are so busy keeping their head above water with the orders coming in and the books to balance that they don’t feel they have the time and resources to give too much thought to the automation revolution that’s happening all around them.


IT - stay protected

01 October, 2019

Using some kind of computer technology has become de rigueur for many people in business and industry today. Indeed, it is now playing a critical role within digital transformation; the world of Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence et al. However, as we become more reliant and dependent on IT, along comes the dark side – the risk of cyber-crime. And things are looking pretty grim in this regard. According to a new report published by Make UK more than half of manufacturers have been the victim of cyber-crime, and a third of those have suffered some financial loss or disruption to business as a result.


Morning glory

20 August, 2019

We all have our own experiences of when we tend to feel more alert, inspired, creative and likely to fire on all cylinders. Well, now a detailed study has been undertaken to more accurately determine when these peak periods of full industrious energy are most likely to be among different professions. Innovation funding specialist MPA Group recently surveyed 1000 UK office workers looking into the time of day employees feel most creative, and considering which working environments best help to stimulate their creativity. Interestingly, the morning was found to be the most creative time across all industries, with the average time for optimum creativity being 11:05am. As would be expected, the moment workers feel the most creative varies by profession. According to the survey, journalists feel most creative at 9.48am and architects at 10.06am, whereas engineers cite later in the morning – 11.54am.


Keeping digitalisation simple and goal orientated

27 June, 2019

When we think of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a number of prominent buzz-phrases will probably come to mind – for example: Digital Transformation, Industry 4.0. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Smart Manufacturing; and maybe even Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Digital Twin and a lot more besides. Of course, the key purpose of all this technology and accompanying terminology surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution is greater device and application connectivity through the convergence of IT and operational technology. The potential benefits include everything from improved business and operational visibility, greater potential for innovation and general agility, to better cost-effectiveness and access to more useful data (often in near-real time).


Seeing sense

17 May, 2019

With the need to become and remain successful in today’s highly competitive professional world, the reliance on various forms of information technology has never been greater. This is, of course, all well and good if you have the right IT applications for the jobs at hand and positive results are achieved. However, there are several high-profile concerns related to computer usage – security being one of the bigger ones. There are also certain IT issues that arguably don’t get the profile they deserve. One of these is quite simply the need to take regular screen breaks.


When the focus on digital transformation becomes blurred

21 March, 2019

As Brexit uncertainty continues it is understandable that many manufacturers are finding it difficult to put in place a clear strategy as to what to make and in what quantities over a certain timeline, what levels of stock to keep and what supply chain models to adhere to over the short to medium term. Many are also naturally concerned about ongoing relations with existing customers and suppliers across Europe. Of course, the backbone of most manufacturer’s ability to deliver reliable products and services to customers is its plant & machinery and its ability to keep up to speed with current technology trends.


Safe Brexit

01 February, 2019

One of the fundamental expectations in any workplace is that the workforce is able to about its daily activities without any undue risk of injury. Of course, different professions can potentially pose different levels of bodily risk, but it remains a given that regardless of the job at hand workers should be able to return home at the end of their daily tasks uninjured and fit for another day’s productivity.


Removing the barriers

04 December, 2018

One realm of professional endeavour that could still do with a bit of a nudge in the direction of greater gender parity is that of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, perusing the findings of new research by WISE, the campaign for gender balance in STEM subjects, it would appear, encouragingly, that things are moving in the right direction, with the UK set to have 1 million women active in core STEM jobs by 2020. Over 900,000 women are currently working in STEM, according to the research, and an estimated 200,000 women with STEM qualifications will reach working age within the next 2 years. The news was announced at the recent WISE 2018 Awards presented by the Patron of WISE, HRH The Princess Royal.


The price of success

23 October, 2018

Higher education is, of course, of great importance. It’s important for students with career aspirations, and it’s important for any nation keen to protect its economic and knowledge-based standing at home and abroad. All this is of course a given from a philosophical standpoint. However, on a more practical note, some fairly powerful tremors were felt among the student community when the government decided to allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year in tuition fees from the academic year of 2012-13. This left many bright and aspiring students with the prospect of either foregoing a university education or facing a level of accumulating debt they could well do without by the time they took their first steps within their chosen professions.


A shifting gender balance?

26 September, 2018

It’s fair to say that, historically, STEM subjects (including: physics, maths, further maths, chemistry, computing, ICT, design and technology and other sciences) have predominantly been the domain of male students, many of whom went on to enjoy secure and professionally rewarding careers in their chosen fields. However, it is encouraging to see that this gender imbalance would appear to be moving in a direction of greater parity. According to analysis by Leeds based non-profit community interest company, WISE, of the 2018 A level results, the popularity of core STEM subjects at A level is soaring, especially among girls.


Stay safe

22 August, 2018

Naturally, most people go to work in the expectation of doing a productive, fulfilling day’s work and returning home satisfied and, most importantly, free from injury. In this day and age, one might think or expect that injury risk is largely a thing of the past. Well, it would seem that there is still work to be done in light of the recent HSE report showing there were 144 workplace deaths from April 2017 to March 2018 – an increase of 9 on the same period last year (6%). Despite the increase, there has been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981 and the number has broadly remained level in recent years. However, the proportion of fatal injuries to older workers has been steadily increasing in recent years, although the increase seen in the most recent year is particularly large (Over 60s 2016/2017 – 35) (Over 60s 2017/2018 – 55).


Knowledge is power in the digital age

20 June, 2018

Discussions around Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution continue apace within industry and Government, and the recently held Engineering & Machinery Alliance (EAMA) evening reception at the House of Commons very much continued this positive momentum. One of the most resonant points made during the evening came from Dr Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens plc, who led the Made Smarter review of industrial digitisation for the Government. He commented that while the UK manufacturing community needs to continue to forge ahead in embracing the fourth industrial revolution – projecting its capabilities around the globe as innovators and creators – there has been concern aired that new technologies will increasingly displace humans from the workforce. “I don't subscribe to the argument that the fourth industrial revolution is going to eat up all of our jobs,” he said. “As matter of fact, if you look at what's happening in our factories right here in the UK we are very much using cobotics to work alongside our people in our factories, and we are using virtual reality and augmented reality to support our people in our manufacturing operations.” Dr Maier added that UK companies are also using data analytics to allow people to make better decisions about the manufacturing process. He stressed that it’s really about the augmentation; all these technologies working with and alongside people within businesses. “I think our agility, our innovation and the strength that we have in those fields are going to be pretty good for us if we invest well in the fourth industrial revolution,” he remarked. However, he recognised that one very fundamental and important factor surrounding the issue of humans and the fourth industrial revolution is that of skills. “All of what I've described is only possible if we skill our people to be able to master the fourth industrial revolution,” he said, adding that the upskilling of people who don't fully understand the technology is critical. “They might be scared of the technology and worry about it, and therefore not know how to embrace it,” he said. “This might mean they are blockers to embracing and moving forward with this technology at pace. So, we the industry have a very big job to do in terms of upskilling our people. There are some great initiatives and training schemes available, but I think we need to make sure more of that is focused on digital skills and especially on industrial skills.” The argument for a greater focus on upskilling the workforce marshalled by Dr Maier does indeed make a tremendous amount of sense. Without the right knowledge base within the workforce to utilise the technology available to realise Industry 4.0, companies are in danger of falling at the first hurdle. However, with the right knowledge, the right attitude, the right motivation and a hunger for pushing the innovation envelope, UK industry has everything to gain – leading the world in creating a stronger fourth industrial revolution. Ed Holden Editor


In the AI vanguard

08 May, 2018

Technologies aligned with artificial intelligence (AI) are developing as a rapid pace and are gaining major traction within the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0-related areas such as machine learning, robotics and autonomous vehicles. As a Stanford University paper – ‘Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030’ – neatly pointed out, “there is growing interest in applications that can utilise the complementary strengths of humans and machines – for humans to help AI systems to overcome their limitations, and for agents to augment human abilities and activities.”


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