How university partnerships are bringing industry 4.0 to manufacturing

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The manufacturing industry has successfully incorporated various digital technology into business processes.

By U2B Staff 

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Industries are increasingly seeking ways to revolutionise manufacturing processes. Industry 4.0 and the digitalisation of processes have provided ways for industries to reimagine traditional manufacturing processes and tools.

Industries are often urged to future-proof themselves, and with industry 4.0’s disruptive tendencies, industries are increasingly looking at ways to be more proactive.

The manufacturing industry, for one, is highly impacted by the revolutionisation of digital technology in line with the industry 4.0 revolution. A whitepaper published by technology giant, Microsoft states that the manufacturing industry is ahead of the game and has successfully incorporated various digital technology into business processes.

The publication reveals that manufacturing industries are implementing end-to-end digital transformation to achieve objectives including improving efficiency and quality, reducing costs and waste, and creating innovative products and services.


One of the pioneers in research into using digital technology to optimise the manufacturing industry is a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Leyuan Shi.

Shi’s research was borne from her extensive studies in the production processes of nearly 400 manufacturing companies in the United States, China, Europe, and Japan, over 16 years.

Shi has since used that insight to develop tools that increase the efficiency of these processes based on a “digital twin” or a computer representation of physical assets.

The technology that Shi developed has helped factory managers run processes and machines more efficiently, including reducing production downtime and allowing systems to respond with agility to unpredictable circumstances.

“That’s what we mean by smart manufacturing,” Shi said.

In as early as the year 2000, Shi’s discovery, which is a mathematical algorithm was detailed in a research paper. The methodology, known as nested partitioning uses ultra-fast computers and wireless technology to connect machines, devices, and people to the internet and to each other.

“It was a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing a real paradigm shift in the industry,” Shi said.

She added, “By giving manufacturing companies the ability to track the progress of their sales orders in real-time and manage their shop floors proactively, they can deliver high-quality products to their customers much faster than before.”


Large organisations like Microsoft, IBM, and Siemens follow a similar design, they assist businesses in process transformation by digitising existing processes and procedures to improve efficiency and operations.

Businesses also undergo product and service transformation as they develop new digital services and experiences for customers and prepare for industry 4.0.

More and more businesses will undergo digital transformations, and corporations such as IBM and Siemens have been working with numerous universities and research institutes around the world within the scope innovation strategy to bring smart manufacturing to various industries.

A report published by consulting firm, Deloitte, titled the Future of Manufacturing: Making Things in a Changing World, emphasised that manufacturing is no longer solely about making physical products. Along with industry 4.0, shifts in consumer demand, the products themselves, the economics of production and economics of the value change have all increased the complexity of economic environments.


Digital innovation strategies that improve existing practices, or reinvent processes are increasingly vital in business survival as boundaries between manufacturing and technology on one hand and manufacturing and retail on the other are blurring.

Universities are rising to address the need for skilled personnel to aid this shift. The Purdue University, will now offer a Smart Manufacturing Enterprise minor, which will prepare students for an entry-level career in a manufacturing environment or related industry by gaining knowledge about smart manufacturing practices and current manufacturing techniques, organisations, methods, and technologies.

Other organisations are working directly with universities to implement smart manufacturing.


Made Smarter with Lancaster University Management School prepares business leaders for industry 4.0

Earlier this year Lancaster University Management School, through a collaboration with Siemens, designed and delivered the Made Smarter Leadership programme. This eight month programme was designed to equip business leaders with not only the digital skills but with the vision and systematic approach to pursue smart manufacturing.

Programme participants attended a mixture of workshops and site-visits, thus enabling knowledge transfer between businesses leaders in the manufacturing field. Participants also joined in special project sprints, delivered by Siemens Digital Industries.

The purpose of the design sprints was to provide an avenue for the business leaders to brainstorm for new products and ideas.


New digital skills grow North West manufacturing
North West business leaders are armed with the vision and the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing after completing Made Smarter’s innovative leadership programme.


Participants raved about the effectiveness of the programme. One participant, who experienced great success through this programme was Head of Operations at Milexa Group, Anthony McMullin.

Milexa reported a 2% GDP increase over the year and McMullin attributes this achievement to the introduction of digital technology that facilitates automation, standardisation and overall waste reduction.

McMullin says, “I feel like I understand much better what constitutes good leadership, in terms of the personal characteristics this involves, but also in how we can focus our energy to inspire a transformational culture that thrives in a changing world.”


University of Sheffield, Rolls-Royce and Accenture partner to develop smart factory testbed 

University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has partnered with Rolls-Royce and Accenture to develop a facility that will act as a testbed for smart factories.

This research centre aims to reduce the risk of investment in digital technologies at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy and Made Smarter initiative.

This connected smart factory testbed will provide real-time data streams from remote machining activities, smart assembly using intelligent workbenches and augmented reality, visual inspection linked to artificial intelligence and a reconfigurable factory cell.

The testbed will explore the opportunities that digital technologies present to the manufacturing industry. The areas of research will focus on how industries can use these digital technologies to increase productivity, reduce manufacturing defects and increase time to market.


‘Factory in a Box’ with the Universities of Birmingham and Loughborough

The University of Birmingham and the Loughborough University developed an automated, self-contained miniature factory through a partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre and funded by the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) through Innovate UK.

This innovation, known as the Factory in a Box (FIAB) was developed to help provide SMEs with access to the next generation of manufacturing techniques.

This clever invention provides intelligent factories that can be distributed, linked and centrally controlled, all contained in a unit the size of a shipping container. This allows manufacturers with factories that can be deployed quickly, used in many ways and can also be scaled rapidly.

This initiative was designed to level up smart manufacturing in the country.

Factory in a box
“Factory in a Box” is an industrial scale demonstrator, showcasing how industrial digital technologies can benefit manufacturers and their supply chains.


Autonomous robotics are taking over in the pharmaceutical industry 4.0 revolution


University College Dublin and Technological University Dublin have also collaborated with industries to study the use of fully autonomous robotics in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry for quality control and environmental monitoring purposes.

The project at the University of Dublin dubbed ‘Project Marvin’ aims to develop fully autonomous robots for environmental monitoring in pharma manufacturing areas. This initiative is a collaboration between the academic institutions and industry partners Novartis and Lonza.

The goal of the study was to ultimately create a flexible and adaptable robotics platform with evolving applications.  This study will investigate expanding the robot capabilities to include systems that perform on configurable operations.

The pharmaceutical industry is exploring the use of artificial intelligence to improve its drug development process. GlaxoSmithKline’s AI team, through a partnership with the University of California will focus on using AI to speed up drug development and the success rate from the current 10%.



According to the Robotic Industries Association, manufacturers see the potential of robotics and automation in the manufacturing industry. It is reported that robot orders are up 5.2% through the third quarter of 2019, with 23,894 robotic units ordered, a value of $1.3 billion.