Made Smarter virtual factory tours to accelerate digital adoption among SME manufacturers

3 mins read

Made Smarter’s technology adoption programme is deploying smart glasses to SME manufacturers to virtually fast track their digital adoption strategies and navigate Covid-19 restrictions.

The wearable device enables technology specialists from Made Smarter to perform virtual end to end production line walks of factories with a business as part of the digital transformation workshop (DTW) process.

These fully-funded, bespoke workshops are led by technology advisers who cut through the jargon to provide impartial advice to help a business identify the most effective technologies to overcome their operational challenges.

The virtual visit allows advisers to dial in to a conference call and watch each manufacturing operation being performed in order. This enables discussions around inputs, outputs, process control, and quality performance in order to provide a clear picture of each businesses’ bespoke operation.

The introduction of smart glasses has enabled Made Smarter to overcome access restrictions and limitations caused by the pandemic to get the vital insights needed to support the manufacturer’s digital transformation. It also gives manufacturers a valuable opportunity to test how this emerging technology could be used in their business.

Will Kinghorn, industrial digital technology advisor for Made Smarter, said: “In the wake of the pandemic we redesigned our digital transformation workshops to continue delivery when in-person visits were not possible.

“This approach has helped 141 manufacturers in the region engage in a streamlined process designed to accelerate manufacturing growth by identifying digital tools and technologies that can maximise operational processes.

“In that same spirit of innovation, as we tread a cautious roadmap out of lockdown, and to minimise the spread of the virus, we have developed virtual line walks.

“When it comes to how things are made there is no substitute for seeing it for yourself, but the use of smart glasses is a fantastic alternative. They are specifically designed to keep both your hands free, letting the wearer demonstrate how things work, what products look like, or easily show relevant paperwork.

“We have designed these workshops to require minimal time investment for manufacturers to turn the actions into results, while still allowing participants to focus on the day-to-day operations of the business.”

JTAPE, a manufacturer of masking products for commercial applications based in Macclesfield, used the smart glasses as part of its digital transformation workshop.

Daniel Copeland, systems manager at JTAPE, said: “The workshop with Made Smarter was a very helpful exercise in bringing together people from different parts of the organisation to openly discuss the challenges in the business.

“The virtual line walk enabled us to give Made Smarter a fuller understanding of what we do and how we do it. The experience has helped us develop a digital roadmap which aims to transition to a data-driven approach and away from manual and paper-based processes.”

“Working with Made Smarter has been transformational in supporting us to navigate the adoption of this new technology, but also develop a digital roadmap with a view to removing the paper-based processes in our organisation and improving access to and visualisation of the vital data across our business operations.”

JTAPE is also investing in smart glasses technology to overcome a number of business challenges.

“Since the Covid-19 outbreak and throughout the pandemic our global sales representatives, who typically make eight to 10 visits a day to demonstrate products, have been completely grounded,” explained Copeland.

"We are developing a demonstration studio where a sales representative can use the smart glasses to give an interactive tutorial of the products to customers via an online portal. This will not only help us overcome social distancing restrictions, but also reduce travel time, and increase the frequency and reach of demonstrations.

“We also believe we can apply this technology to maintain and perform fault-finding on our production machinery. By using the smart glasses to connect to engineers and experts remotely we can significantly cut costs and reduce machine downtime.”

Made Smarter has different types of smart glasses to suit different requirements including: the Epson Moverio; Realwear HMT-1; Vuzix Blade; and Magic Leap.

The glasses come with a 4G dongle to ensure connectivity if there are WiFi or network coverage challenges. They even work offline, which means manufacturers can record a video of the production line walk which can be reviewed later.

The glasses are connected through Remote Eye software which enables a live stream video and the opportunity to take high definition screenshots which can be tagged in a library for swift access.

Viewers can also use a cursor to direct the wearer to any areas of interest and annotate the picture in real time.

Digital transformation workshops identify other ways the Made Smarter programme can support a manufacturer including: fully-funded digital technology internships to help implement projects and bring a fresh perspective and new skills into the business; specialist advice about workforce development and skills; and funding for new digital tools and technologies such as data and systems integration, robotics and automation, or additive manufacturing.