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Is this workbench the key to a smart factory?

Today, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things are monumental forces in manufacturing, transforming the way companies gather data and do business.
But five years ago, it was a different world. Back then, Keith Jackson, the CTO of UK-based aerospace component manufacturer Meggitt, hadn’t heard of either concept. But he knew he wanted to deploy digital technology at the company.
“We used digital technology all the time ourselves—for shopping, for directions—but then when it came to work, particularly in manufacturing, it was very often job cards and pieces of paper tracking things through the factories,” he said. “We realized that can’t be right.”
Jackson started righting the course shortly thereafter, when he started visiting the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. There, he and a small team of designers began combining cameras, sensors, lasers, and other technologies to create what would ultimately be called the Closed Loop Adaptive Assembly Workbench, or CLAAW.
“We started thinking about how we really embrace the human being and the digital world so they work together,” he said.
CLAAW’s purpose, Jackson said, is to make assembly quicker, easier and more efficient. To that end, it uses laser projection to guide operators through the assembly process, highlighting where components need to be placed. It uses sensors to verify that the component has been positioned properly, and it uses cameras to keep detailed records. Throughout the entire process, the bench captures performance data, which Meggitt can analyze to evaluate and ultimately improve its procedures.
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“That’s where IBM comes into it,” he said. “All the data we collect is poured into our local cloud, and we can look at that with our dashboard and tools.”
Jackson and his colleagues are still working to perfect CLAAW before they roll it out to factories across the U.S. and the U.K. in the coming year. But feedback from employees is, so far, overwhelmingly positive.
“People in the factory were invited to come and see it and look at it and comment and give input. In the end they are the experts,” he said. “People looked at it and said, ‘Wow, we like this.’”
Jackson expects CLAAW will go a long way toward improving output, quality, repeatability and traceability at Meggitt. But he said it’s just the first phase of the company’s long-term Industry 4.0 makeover, an initiative known as Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing, or M4.
Meggitt is part of a growing number of companies using emerging manufacturing technologies to embrace the potential of Industry 4.0. Across the industry, a forthcoming report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value finds, forward-thinking organizations are leveraging AI-enabled IoT. As a result, they’re reporting faster revenue growth and higher return on assets, more agility in their supply chains, and better order performance.
Meggitt, for one, sees its digital transformation as crucial to its future success. At a time when the demand for aircrafts is growing exponentially, Jackson said, component manufacturers need to do everything they can to ensure they deliver quality products at the right scale.
“For us, it’s about faultless delivery. It’s about zero defects. It’s about making the product work the first time, all the time. That’s what our customers want from us,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is a sponsored post from IBM.

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