Shoestring conference: Helping SME manufacturers access the benefits of digital technology
Exploring low-cost digital solutions for SME manufacturers, the ‘Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring’ project is seeking to change the possibilities for small-scale manufacturing. An overview of the project was provided by the team at an open conference at the IfM on 24th September, which was enthusiastically received by a large audience of SMEs, technology providers and industry associations.
Opening the event, Duncan McFarlane (Head of the Distributed Information and Automation Laboratory at the IfM), introduced the project’s aims, explaining how the team is identifying shared needs of SME manufacturers and potential low-cost solutions. Lead researcher Lavindra de Silva then described how the team is developing ‘building block’ solutions which can be deployed in companies to address those priority needs.
Over lunchtime, external solutions providers were given exhibition spaces in the Common Room to demonstrate technologies.
The afternoon sessions included demos of low-cost solutions from the team, including voice-assisted assembly using Alexa (Greg Hawkridge), part detection and tracking using QR codes (German Terrazas and Lavindra de Silva), and sensors with Raspberry Pis to monitor machine status (Yedige Tlegenov).
A panel discussion heard perspectives from two SME manufacturer partners, Will Bridgman from Warren Services and Julian Bedford from BTL Precision, who have been involved in the project from its earliest phases. They shared insights into the challenges and opportunities of digitalisation for an SME, and why they think a 'shoestring' approach can provide an achieveable way to introduce technologies into their businesses. They were joined on the panel by Alastair Semple of the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service, and Andrew Cowey from Siemens, also both project partners.
The EPSRC-funded three-year project is led by the research team at the IfM along with a team at the University of Nottingham, and supported by a number of partners.