Unlocking value: Demystifying digitalisation in Industry 4.0

At Digital Talks 2019 Mike Lewis, Innovations Director at Mpac Lambert, talked to science and technology journalist Katherine Templar-Lewis about how strategic collaboration in areas of digitalisation can benefit the entire value chain.

Hi, Mike. To get started, tell us a bit about yourself.

As the Innovations Director at Mpac Lambert I focus on developing factory automation products and processes for both the business and for our customers.

Many of our automation projects are centred around new product introductions in the medical, health and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) markets. But new product introductions bring with them new manufacturing challenges, so we are always conscious that we need to identify the right technologies.

How long have you been with Mpac Lambert?

I have been with the business for more than eight years now. When I joined, it was just starting its evolution. It was a mechanically-based business and control systems were very much a part of the solutions, but they were not leveraged to the extent that they are today.

Now we are in a position where our solutions are far more complex. For instance, the amount of digital integration in the systems we produce is ten times where it was when I started in the business. 

For many people, digitalisation is still seen as quite a scary concept. How do you explain the benefits of digitalisation to somebody who is reluctant to embrace change?

I would firstly say that digitalisation doesn’t need to be scary. In fact, digitalisation is all about simplifying what your business wants to achieve.

A good way to start is to avoid thinking about technology as the standalone solution and think instead about where value opportunities exist in your business. When you have an end goal for what you want digitalisation to do for you, it becomes much easier to find the technologies which match that application.

For example, it is easy to think, "Why would I virtually commission a machine when I can commission a real one?" In this case, digital is being viewed as a direct replacement for existing processes.

The value add of virtually commissioning a machine is that you don’t need to change anything on your factory floor; other processes continue to run as normal without any risk of downtime. You have also virtually tested your machine for various scenarios. This means the first machine you commission is first for purpose, and not a prototype.

The entire commissioning process has the potential to be much faster and more cost-efficient, but it is about identifying those value opportunities first.

Do you think that manufacturers sometimes underestimate the potential of digitalisation across the whole value chain?

I do. However, I think that many early adopters are presenting the business case of connecting data through digitalisation.

Whether that is in component manufacturing, assembly or packaging, various companies are gradually realising they can unlock more value from their business operations when they take a wider view and make one smart investment at a time. This is made simpler through collaboration. 

Can you explain a little more about how you collaborate with your customers?

Mpac Lambert is, and always has been, a company who works collaboratively with customers in the product development and machine development space.

We hold collaborative sessions so that we can learn how our customers’ value chains work. The sessions give us the full picture behind their strategy, and this helps us to see where digitalisation could add value to their business. From there, we are able to see how we can unlock that value using new and existing technologies within our solutions.

We also work closely with our supply chain. From Sales and Application through to Design, Manufacturing and Commissioning of machines, we all share the same value chain. By showing them our processes, they can see where digitalisation can deliver the most benefits to them.

In many ways, this is the beauty of collaboration in manufacturing. Alone, you may not see the value in specific digital technologies. Together, you see the bigger picture and, with that, the potential.

We are still at the very start of the fourth industrial revolution. How do companies future-proof themselves, and is that possible given the pace of change?

There aren't many standards in place for digital technology as it is still a very new concept to many businesses. That remains a major challenge for users and the industry, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.

For the best chance at future-proofing themselves, companies need to find the right partners who have a long-term vision of where digitalisation is headed.

To find out how digital technology could align to your strategy, visit our Digital Experience Centre in Manchester

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