Bringing future technology to today’s window fabricators

A Wakefield business woman is urging other small manufacturers to follow in her footsteps to find out for themselves how seemingly futuristic technology could help improve their productivity.

Margaret Wood, chairman of window and glazing manufacturer ICW (UK), visited the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with her managing director Stephen Chapman to gain insights into what the future could hold for UK manufacturing.

“The purpose of the visit was to look at the use of technology to enhance productivity and performance for SME manufacturers,” Margaret said.

She is also a non-executive director for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and a member of the government’s Made Smarter commission.

She was given a guided tour of the AMRC’s Factory 2050 in Sheffield by its head of digital, Professor Rab Scott.

“It was great to show Margaret and Stephen that industrial digitalisation is not just for the big players, and that starting out on the digital journey can be relatively cheap and easy to adopt by even the smallest of companies,” Rab said. “We work with a wide range of SMEs who want to explore how robotics and automation, augmented and virtual reality, sensors and data analytics can drive improvements in their operations.”

Margaret and Stephen were shown how inexpensive sensors had been retrofitted to a 70-year-old lathe allowing data to be displayed on a simple-to-read dashboard providing operators with crucial information about the performance of the machinery.

“So many SMEs believe that technology digitalisation is not for them but Factory 2050 shows how futuristic technology invested in by global manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce and Boeing can be adapted to meet the needs and budgets of SMEs as well,” Margaret said.

“Work is already ongoing with small businesses to improve their productivity by removing a lot of the repetitious nature of the manufacturing process. With many SMEs it’s a case of needing to work smarter. Industry 4.0 is about using modern technology to make manufacturing more efficient and competitive in the UK. As we come out of the EU we will be competing in a global marketplace; we cannot compete with the likes of China where there is so much more labour unless we make it smarter.”