Trends in digital manufacturing at Smart Factory Expo 2018

Jan 10, 2019 · 4 min read

By Jovile Bart and Matthew Skelton

Summary: 2019 is the year for manufacturing leaders and engineering managers to begin and accelerate their company’s digital manufacturing journey. The UK manufacturing sector lags behind many similar countries in terms of 4IR and digitalisation, and the world will not wait for the UK to catch up.

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We visited the Smart Factory Expo 2018 in Liverpool on 14–15 November 2018 to catch up with exhibitors and see that state of the art in digital manufacturing.

The Smart Factory Expo is part of Digital Manufacturing Week, the UK’s national festival dedicated to bringing together manufacturing executives across dozens of events over four days. The festival is organised by The Manufacturer magazine, the UK’s largest industry title with 158k-strong reader community, and a heritage of over 20 years. As part of the week, four main events were separated into Smart Factory Expo, The Manufacturer MX Awards, Manufacturers Night Summit and Manufacturing Leaders Summit.

Digital Manufacturing in the UK

Mark Hughes, Regional VP of Epicor for UK & Ireland, explored the trends for today and tomorrow and shared some statistics of how UK businesses look in the global context. According to research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the benefits of digitalisation in manufacturing are huge: industrial production can be 30% faster and 25% more efficient.

We learned that:

  • 1% vs 10% — Only 1% of UK manufacturing companies are “digital champions” compared with 10% globally.
  • 1% of UK firms have attained master Industry 4.0 status, compared with 5% of firms in EMEA, 19% in Asia, 11% in Americas, and 10% globally. The UK is well behind on 4IR adoption.
  • Only 1% of UK manufacturing firms have implemented Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions although 24% see the potential.

Mark also reported significant concerns within UK manufacturing around Brexit and the possible use of 3D printing and on-demand additive manufacturing to alleviate possible supply-chain problems. The Digital Readiness Level (DRL) tool - supported by Digital Catapult - can be a useful starting point for UK manufacturers looking to assess their digital readiness.

Adoption of digital techniques for manufacturing

Over the next 3 years, many UK manufacturers are planning to increase their investments in digital technologies for manufacturing:

  • Advanced robotics: 49 % of firms are currently investing and 40 % of these will increase investment over 2019–2022
  • 3D printing: 46% investing now and 37% will increase investment
  • IoT: 44% investing now and 39% will increase investment
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence): 38% investing now and 41% will increase investment
  • AR (Augmented Reality): 26% investing now and 28% will increase investment
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Digital manufacturing is already here

It’s clear that there is a wide spread of digital adoption across the manufacturing sector. Some firms have already adopted digital approaches with significant success. For example, auto giant Ford is using exo-skeleton suits for factory workers to help them lift heavy parts and reduce injury.

EksoVest is the latest example of advanced technology Ford is using to reduce the physical toll on employees during the vehicle assembly process, lessening the chance of worker fatigue, injury or discomfort [source]

On display at the Smart Factory Expo was the Mark system from ProGlove, a simple but radical innovation that helps logistics and factory workers to complete scanning and order picking more effectively whilst reducing mistakes and ensuring correct tracking of inventory.

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Digitalisation for Manufacturing from Conflux

At Conflux, we offer a Digitalisation for Manufacturing service that helps manufacturing organisations to adopt effective practices and approaches with digital technology at a sustainable pace.

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Conflux now offers a Digitalisation for Manufacturing service. Find out more at

We have been working recently with a UK-based global manufacturer in the pharmaceuticals space, looking at ways in which both the laboratories and the manufacturing plant could benefit from increased use of digital sensors and data aggregation/display. Through a partner we ran a hands-on workshop for managers demonstrating the practical benefits of digital sensors, and we’re now working on increasing the use of digital tools and sensors in the testing and manufacturing processes.

It is clear that with targeted adoption of digital sensors and enhanced approaches to data collection and display, significant improvements can be made in many manufacturing areas.

Digitalisation for Manufacturing from Conflux

Conflux - software delivery insights

Conflux - software delivery insights

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