The future of manufacturing is digital

November 1, 2018

The North East has an opportunity to become a world-leader in digital manufacturing, and Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley is working hard to make it happen

The North East has long been synonymous with manufacturing, from building ships that navigated the globe hundreds of years ago to the automotive giants based in the region today. And now, with the advancement of digital technologies, it has the opportunity to be a world- leader once more.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is now underway and manufacturers in the North East are well placed to take advantage. While previous Industrial Revolutions were characterised by steam and water, electricity and more recently the start of the internet, the 4IR refers to the concept of the blurring line between the real and technological worlds. It incorporates technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), and is starting to impact on every element of business.

For manufacturers, it presents clear opportunities to increase productivity and efficiencies. But it also presents challenges – where do companies start and how do they know which technologies are the most relevant?

For Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley (NETV), this challenge needs to be tackled quickly to ensure that manufacturers in the region don’t fall behind.

Large UK manufacturers need to compete on a global scale and even SME manufacturers risk losing business if they don’t adapt, as supply chains are increasingly expected to embrace digital technologies.

Sophie Craggs, programme engagement manager at Digital Catapult NETV, says: “We’re seeing more and more manufacturers starting to utilise advanced digital technologies. VR and AR are being used to improve employee training and speed up engineering processes. Connected technologies like the Internet of Things and low-power wide-area networks are creating smart factories which are more efficient, while AI is being used to make data- driven decisions.

“While it can be intimidating trying to work out where to start, those manufacturers that embrace emerging technologies are setting themselves up for long-term success. At Digital Catapult NETV we have a number of support services available to help manufacturers – large and small – understand what the technology can do and how to start implementing it in their companies.”

This support includes Business Challenges – an open innovation approach to problem solving – and the NETV Immersive Lab, housed at PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre in Gateshead. One of only three dedicated immersive technology hubs in the UK, the lab provides businesses with access to the latest VR/AR hardware and software, as well as hands-on workshops and training opportunities.

Alex Cook, innovation manager at PROTO – which is owned and managed by Gateshead Council – says: “Digital technology is having a significant impact on manufacturers, and given the pace at which technology is advancing, it can be hard for businesses to keep up to date.

“At PROTO, we support companies to get
ahead of the game by providing them with an understanding of the potential of emerging technologies and supporting them through their own innovation programmes. We do this by providing expert advice, hands-on access to kit and industry-leading digital content creation facilities.”

The North East manufacturing industry has a long history of leading innovation. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution showing no signs of slowing, it’s time for it to take centre stage once again.

Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley
Manufacturers that are interested in exploring emerging technologies can contact the Digital Catapult team to find out about the different support programmes available. Digital Catapult NETV is partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, as part of the Digital Innovation Partnership.

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