Industry 4.0 for dummies: Advanced Manufacturing

Tuesday, 6th August 2019

In the first two blogs in our series on Industry 4.0 for Dummies, we looked at principles that were equally appropriate for both manufacturing and services.

This third blog however focuses entirely on manufacturing, as Alistair McKinlay, technical analyst with R&D tax specialist Jumpstart, explores the concept of “Advanced Manufacturing’ and, in particular, which areas are most likely to deliver significant benefits for manufacturers.

Very smart indeed

Smart manufacturing is a term used to encompass the range of disciplines and technologies which integrate and automate manufacturing processes, building toward a “smart manufacturing” environment and ultimately a “dark factory” – so called because it can run without human intervention, and so could theoretically function with no lights on! (See our previous blog on digitisation for a more in-depth look at the subject).

One company involved in developing automated robotic manufacturing solutions in an automotive environment implemented a number of projects aiming at increasing automation of the manufacturing process, introducing smart sensors to facilitate self-adjusting tooling, automated materials processing and automated materials handling. The result was reduced maintenance costs, improved productivity and reduced health & safety issues (from reduced human operator involvement). All of the above project activities made the company eligible for R&D tax relief, and they were able to receive £137,500 in R&D tax relief over a three-year period. Now, that’s very smart!

The additive manufacturing revolution

The impact of technology can be felt much more deeply in manufacturing than merely the integration of systems leading to automation. In the last ten years, we have seen exponential growth of interest in additive manufacturing and in the development and application of new materials. Together these technologies and forming processes are revolutionising the design and development of components and products.

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, refers to a number of different techniques each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages: some of them laying down layers of material on a “drop on demand” basis (material jetting ), others using ultrasonic welding to bond layer-by-layer ribbons of material (sheet lamination) and some even binding successive layers of powder using heat, to build a product (sintering).

Although these allow for faster development and proving of prototypes, in many instances the integrity and strength of finished structures is not sufficient for production of finished products. However, further research and development aimed at improving the effectiveness of adhesive substrates and curing processes could make additive manufacturing mainstream and generate new opportunities for make-to-order products.

One business involved in plastic injection moulding and working on reducing processing time and contamination for medical components, used 3D printing to improve the accuracy of its moulds. The company applied new vacuum casting processes, allowing it to reduce process times by 3% and contamination rates by 15%, which in turn reduced rework and waste. As an added bonus, the above 3D printing project allowed the business to benefit from £76,500 in R&D tax relief over a three-year period.

The cost of cutting-edge materials

One area where these new forming processes are delivering ground-breaking advances is in the use of biomaterials for printing replacement human organs, to reduce the risk of rejection. This may also resolve the issue of scarcity of specific types of transplant organs.

And this brings us seamlessly to the final piece of the advanced manufacturing jigsaw, namely the application of new materials in manufacturing. At its simplest level this will include experimentation around how to most effectively incorporate new materials in a product to imbue it with specific properties such as weight or strength, or alternatively remaking products entirely from new materials.

For example, there is currently a considerable amount of research and development around the incorporation of graphene in products. While graphene is both very strong and flexible, it is also particularly expensive. The challenge is therefore to find the most cost-effective approach to imbue products with the strength of graphene, without making them prohibitively expensive: i.e. trying to incorporate graphene into running shoes in order to strengthen the soles, whilst still keeping them within the budget of the average runner.

Another example is the use of aluminium-lithium alloy in the manufacture of aircraft components. This new alloy offers improved stiffness, better corrosion resistance, improved fatigue strength and all with a significant weight saving on aircraft using traditional aluminium alloys or fibre composites.

If you would like to learn more about how you could leverage funds back in to your business through claiming R&D tax relief on your advanced manufacturing projects call Wendy Smith on 07494 499926 or email: wendy.smith@jumpstartuk.co.uk