Recently, there’s been a lot of commentary on how new and developing technologies are going to dramatically change the industrial sector and what this means for the future of industrial engineering, manufacturing and other industrial processes.
There’s a plethora of jargon out there and you don’t have to look too hard to find a mountain of perceived complexity, that can leave even the most initiated wondering where to start and how to apply some of these new systems and capabilities into everyday operations. Despite the focus on the new and the developing, traditional businesses still have a crucial role to play. Ignorance is not an excuse. The advent of the next industrial revolution is something we all must embrace in order to stay ahead of a game that is increasingly being played on a global field, by continuing to innovate.
At Clyde Blowers Capital, applying these new tools across our existing portfolio’s operations is exactly what we are doing. Product, service and process innovation is in our DNA and we have always invested with the aim to achieving and sustaining competitive advantage across our global platforms. The difference today is the pace at which technologies are changing the way we think about how we do things.
Before we take a look at some of these specific innovations, let’s try to cut through some of the noise and understand what all the excitement is about. Surely the fourth industrial revolution should be introduced with a bigger fanfare and more clarity, so that everybody has the chance to recognise what is going on and grasp it? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as straightforward as that, as the concept of “cyber physical systems”, the integration of computing power, networking and physical processes, is far from easy to grasp on a day to day, operating level. However, adoption and implementation has already started – and you need to move quickly as the competition is already doing so. It’s vital to begin to understand how the concept of cyber physical systems breaks down into a wide range of new tools and innovations that will come together to revolutionise how we carry out industrial processes in the future.
Drivers of the next industrial revolution revolve around connectivity, automation and the concept of “big data.” The connection and integration of machinery and processes across the whole value chain of any particular industrial process is being aided by the development of industrial software, the use of which has moved from controlling machines into all forms of design, analysis and simulation, allowing us to apply artificial intelligence capability across any particular process. Application of these new software tools produces vast quantities of performance data that needs to be managed and understood, driving the need for new data science and data analysis tools. Cloud computing is making the ability to handle such quantities much easier today, whereas sensor and control technology is rapidly developing in order to accurately capture performance data and relay it back for analysis and interpretation, improving operational efficiency.
Furthermore, new manufacturing processes are constantly being developed that reduce operating costs and crucially, increase the speed to market. Developments in additive manufacturing and materials science can significantly reduce production lead times and the invasion of robots continues to gather pace, particularly as “user friendly” collaborative robots can now efficiently work alongside human employees in a safe and protected environment.
Across the CBC portfolio, we have been embracing the industrial technology revolution and utilising some of these new tools to differentiate our businesses and to help serve our customers’ requirements.
At Moventas, a global leader in wind gearbox technology, we’ve been developing technology that radically enhances the wind gearbox power to weight ratio, allowing our customers (wind turbine manufacturers) to optimise their own product designs, save costs and improve operating efficiency at the same time. Moventas are pioneers in remote condition monitoring technology, utilising sensor technologies and advanced software tools to remotely monitor in field gearbox performance, identifying potential operating issues well in advance of a potential failure, saving our customers significant amount of costs that would otherwise be incurred for routine maintenance or avoiding lost revenue and major expenditure in the case of wind turbine failure.
Our leader in precision motion control technology, Cone Drive, has developed unique operating software to run its machine tools and manufacturing operations, allowing the business to produce bespoke configured products in industry-leading lead times as low as 2-3 days, without the need to hold finished goods inventory. The engineers at Cone Drive have also developed a range of exciting product development software and combined with digital cloning of our manufacturing processes this permits real time design and manufacturing simulation, significantly reducing the time it takes to bring new products to market. These tools have helped Cone Drive to develop ultra-high precision critical components, our new harmonic solutions range, that have been launched into the robotics and automation markets across the globe.
Allrig, our global oilfield services business, has been using new technologies to enhance their customer service offering whilst at the same time reducing operating costs for our customers. Innovations like smart glass technology allow them to remotely access experienced engineering resources from remote locations in real time, reducing the cost to our customers and allowing faster production of reports and implementation of services. Embracing drone technology for remote and inaccesible locations similarly helps reduce our customers’ operating costs, as what might have taken days in the past can now be achieved in a matter of hours. It’s not just financial benefits either; the new technologies can also significantly help to reduce risks to personnel health and safety.
Embracing the emerging technologies driving the fourth industrial revolution is vital in order to achieve and sustain competitive advantage in a world that is ironically becoming smaller due to the technologies now open to us all. Competitors across the world now have the tools and capabilities to access our markets. But we have the same access, and must respond by applying the new tools available to us to continue to innovate, enhance our product capabilities and service offerings, and, vitally, stay one step ahead of the game. Undoubtedly, the next few years are set to be an exciting time for the industrial sector.