Facing digital 04 April 2019

Make UK (formerly EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation) held its National Manufacturing Conference in February. A panel of speakers in one workshop spoke about their own, very different digital journeys, and warned delegates not to get left behind

Make UK held its annual National Manufacturing Conference in London during February. With a focus on ‘preparing for Brexit and the changing world’, delegates were eager to hear from Business Secretary Greg Clark and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. But away from the political chaos and talk of Brexit, the theme of ‘the changing world’ continued in smaller workshop sessions. The author attended one workshop entitled ‘monetising your digital future’, where speakers from different manufacturing sectors explained their own digital journeys and why industry needs to get on board with digital.


Atlas Copco Compressors specialises in the production of air compressors, as well as blowers, generators, treatment equipment and air systems. For over a decade, the company has been exploring the Internet of Things and how it can be implemented in all Atlas Copco machines. “When we started [this digital journey] 16 years ago, there wasn’t such a term [as the Internet of Things],” explained Alexander Pavlov, general manager of Atlas Copco Compressors UK & Ireland. “We were pioneering connectivity into our machines at the time, [as] already, we had the vision to connect as much as possible.”

But being an early adopter in 2002 wasn’t easy. Atlas Copco would use the Internet to connect machinery to a centralised data warehouse, which in turn would provide customers with data and help it monitor its own equipment. “When I joined the company in 2003, we had about 30-40 customers connected. However, we were struggling with connectivity and the amount of data that was coming in. We were also struggling with the systems reliability, as we had to host everything ourselves,” added Pavlov.

Luckily for Atlas Copco, digital is constantly evolving, and five years ago the company was able to launch a system called SmartLink (www.is.gd/ezojuw). The data monitoring programme for compressors is designed to automatically gather, compare and analyse data – and so help air users increase maintenance and service efficiency. The system monitors productivity on a 24/7 basis, helping to predict potential problems and showing how and where production can be optimised, and energy saved.

“Every compressor going out of the factory has a small unit that automatically goes online when you power on the machine and it starts communicating to the warehouse in the cloud,” explained Pavlov. “[This provides] service information and measurements such as temperature, pressure, and other measures for R&D purposes, and allows customers to know how their machines are doing.

“If we speak about monetising the strategy offering, we have a lot to bring up. Service efficiency – we are fully responsible for the machines as the manufacturer, so it’s in our interest to prevent breakdowns. We also sell licences – a standard licence is free of charge to customers – but you can get more advanced options such as warning notifications via email or texts, or our highest level of licence is the energy licence where customers can get a full overview of their energy efficiency.”


Tails.com is a manufacturer of tailored dog food. Through its website, pet owners can input their dog’s nutritional needs, with unique food being delivered to their door. This is a case of software being at the forefront, with software engineers and manufacturing engineers working in sync.

“We set out to create a solution that could provide a dog with its own unique recipe, in the quantity needed, and as individual as the specific dog is,” said Steve Spall, COO of Tails.com. “That feels as though it would be impossible. I think from a traditional manufacturing perspective it would be very difficult, but the trick was building from scratch and having mass customisation, servitization, and digitisation in mind from the start.”

Before Tails.com could get off the ground, research into dog breeds and dog food was carried out, and a food formula created. The workflow was designed end-to-end, and everything else “built in python”. “When I say end-to-end, I mean from the moment the customer clicks on the website,” said Spall. The customer is taken through a consultation process about their dog. Nutritional profiling then creates a unique feeding plan and, from that, a blend of kibbles unique to the dog is created.

Billing is then prompted before order generation goes to the factory. “Every value adding step that happens in the factory, whether by a person or a machine, is as integral a part of the digital product as the text on the website,” added Spall.


Up next was William Bridgman, chairman of Warren Services, a machinery sub-contractor, carrying out milling, turning, welding, and fabrication. Unlike the two previous speakers, who are well into their digital journeys, Warren Services is just starting to make the move towards digital.

“We are passionate about our digital future, but we also know we don’t have any choice,” said Bridgman. “We aren’t making dog food, but [if we were] competing against Tails.com, we would just get left behind [because] by making a digital business, you can provide a bespoke product that is directly built by the customer. For manufacturers, it’s not a case anymore of ‘it would be nice to be digital’. You have no choice.”

So far, on its digital journey, the firm has implemented 4K screens on to the shopfloor, thus removing drawings and allowing engineers to have access to different machine models. “Short lead times mean that drawings can continuously change during the manufacturing process. We can make that connection between the office and the shopfloor much faster and have fewer quality issues,” said Bridgman.

In addition, the firm is in the process of spinning out two digital businesses from its manufacturing business – an online marketplace for raw materials and an IoT platform for monitoring machine efficiency. “Within every manufacturing business, there is a digital business,” added Bridgman. “I think a lot of companies are frightened about the words ‘digital’ and ‘digital manufacturing’, but you don’t need expensive consultants, or machines. It is not frightening. It can be low cost, driving savings and making profit.”

Andrew Kinder, VP for industry & solution strategy at global software company Infor, concluded the workshop by giving advice to delegates on getting started on the digital journey. Forget the digital strategy, he advised, and focus on your business and innovation strategy.

“Everything starts with ‘what is the business trying to do?’,” he explained. “New technologies really allow you to turn that on its head and ask these questions: what does my business really need to do? What do I want to do and what are the data and processes I need to put in place to make that happen?” Kinder said that innovation strategies typically fall into two camps: looking at existing business processes and trying to make them more efficient with new technologies (save money), or looking to do something different (inventing a new business process and, through that, creating a new business and revenue stream).

But the last area to think about is where the money is. Is it from customers (engaging with them differently), internally at the business (the efficiency of the plant), your network (connecting with suppliers, third parties and banks), or your own people (making them more productive). “If you think of these four categories [when deciding on an] innovation strategy then the digital will simply follow. Data, sensors, and analytics – nothing is impossible,” Kinder concluded.

Picture caption: (L-R) Andrew Kinder, VP, Industry & Solution Strategy, Infor; William Bridgman, chairman, Warren Services; Steve Spall, COO, Tails.com; Alexander Pavlov, GM, Atlas Copco Compressors UK & Ireland; (workshop chair) Jim Davison, membership director, South of England, Make UK

Adam Offord

Related Companies
Atlas Copco
EEF (Engineering Employers Federation)
Infor (United Kingdom) Ltd
Warren Services Ltd

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