Advanced Manufacturing and the wave of change

By Darren Southgate.

Statistics are always a good way to start a conversation and manufacturing as a sector is full to the brim with how it has performed and underperformed. Data is king and data sits at the heart of what has become the Industrial Fourth Revolution, preoccupied around digital twinning and making systems super efficient in a world with ever seemingly stretched resources. We will come back to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The UK overall sits fifth in the world with a GDP of $2.8 trillion, however this is a fraction of the USA at $15.1 trillion. The order is important as the Far East economies are on the heels of the USA and the UK sits in a cluster of principal European countries surrounded by Germany and France, therefore surrounded by fierce economic competitors.

It is well known that manufacturing contributes to economies in a positive way. Globally, manufacturing adds £6.7 trillion to the global economy, with Britain ranked as the ninth largest industrial nation. Manufacturing makes up 10% of Gross Valued Added (GVA) and accounts for 45% of our UK exports. It employs 2.7 million people. [1]

The 1970s are cited as the decade in which manufacturing declined from 25% of the economy to 10% today with a decline in employment from 7.1 million to 2.7 million. This is important, as the rise of service industries inclusive of creative industries has revolutionised our approach to manufacturing, filled the employment gap with high quality jobs and has put the UK once again at the forefront of advanced manufacturing in the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. Without this painful transformation (and it has been, particularly social impacts in hard working communities set up around first and second industrial revolutions), glorious products developed by Jaguar Land Rover or Rolls-Royce would not compete, in a fiercely competitive global market. Manufacturing quality and after purchase servicing and care relies on data and supply chains. Rolls-Royce real time engine analysis is leading the way in safety and reducing costs for example.

Arguably, financial investment by TATA heralded a fantastic growth period in automotive manufacturing from 2008 for Jaguar Land Rover, identifiable through massive expansion of their research and production facilities, but allied to attention to detail, to build the best in class and therefore attract global attention to their prestigious products. Design, engineering and digital technology are transformative in so many ways and create the ‘wave of change’ needed in the UK.

The UK is the second or third largest aerospace global economy with BAE (the world’s second largest defense contractor) and Rolls-Royce (the world’s second largest engine manufacturer) headquartered in the UK and with world-leading companies like EADS and Airbus benefiting from the UK’s extensive supply chain industries.

Why is this pretext so important? Well it is context that describes a fantastic back-drop of changing culture and economic imperative and ideas. How we manufacture is a product of process and environments we need to create. We have inherited many buildings, increasingly out of ‘spec’ and unable to be converted easily or cost effectively. Therefore new and hopefully universal format buildings are the answer. This ‘changing need’ generates new business for new and appropriate building spaces but allows historically rich buildings in delightful contexts and resource-rich detail be re-made.

Inherited environments have industrial hang-ups peculiar to their industrial period. For example, our remaining Victorian or earlier industrial buildings are largely not suited to a modern scale of manufacturing production, physical loadings, environmental conditions, primary infrastructure needs, sensitivities around vibration, to name but a few. What these building do offer is reuse for residential or office where multi-storey, therefore providing support spaces for living and working in other ways. This is allied to modern production spaces which have a need to be more open plan, thermally controlled, vibration sensitive or ultimately very flexible as product lines change or adapt, hence the idea of the ‘super shed or industrial theatre’ whatever its scale. There are of course exceptions to this where industries have shrunk in output, therefore facilities are over capacity in many ways. Steel works with overhead travelling cranage capacities up to 300T normal in heavy ship building or armament manufacture, whereas now most products are designed modular and may be up to 40T for road haulage purposes. For the recent McLaren research facility in Sheffield, a new composite manufacturing press with a compression force of a 1000T has a machine weight of 100T made up of 18T components fixed together, all transported by road.

What is the, ‘super-shed or industrial theatre’?

So two things are happening in industry, firstly industry is relying on data, more and more to process manufacturer. The digital revolution is changing at an unprecedented pace and impacting machine development and process simplification therefore building space is becoming less and less important for stage by stage process and the size of machines are ultimately going to get larger as requirements, confidence and accuracy enables, changing in ways that make space assessments difficult. If Airbus could build an A380 wing in one piece, using composites laid by robots, strength, errors, productivity would all be altered, and with it the size and shape of its production facilities. Airbus Broughton has a 1,000,000sqft facility with two halves set up to create wing production, with a central spine of three storey offices. Wing assembly goes from one side catering for component part assembly requiring significant production space to be laid out to a single assembly rig for one wing at a time assembly to then be rotated through 180 degrees into a second production hall which includes fitting the wings out with electronics and mechanical parts. Pairs of wings go ‘pair by pair’ down the hangar-sized space until complete. This is the super-shed, made up a single large space, very flexible and versatile. Inside the shed anything could be built up to suit a requirement.

Imagine an alternative, shed as ‘industrial theatre’ where a single space has around it all the manufacturing kit to produce the wing in one go, with overhead ‘fly towers’, ‘adjacent wings and pits’ to suit production of a single object, a very different proposition regarding manufacturer and space needed and therefore building form. This idea however could be built in a large single volume rather than having to recreate a new building each time. This is the industrial theatre. Ship builders have used this idea for a long time and where the investment is long term and the object is high value, this approach works well. The building can only be described as a huge voluminous space supporting very little, other than overhead cranage, limited to keeping water out and helping move parts about, the rest is assembled or made on the ship.

Modern advanced manufacturing environments are changing of course as secondly our relationship with machines and how we work amongst them changes. Modern production facilities have quiet offices, collaboration space, work spaces, largely clustered in a front of house office block, because this is cheapest. However increasingly pod office pop-ups around the workshop floor space, as health and safety around environmental effects stipulate human safeguarding, localise pods can offer increased protection, whilst mobile technology means individuals can work adjacent to machines and therefore create a more intimate data relationship in real time. The real change is mobile technology, as real data, information and checking can take place without having to walk back to an office to trawl through paperwork or records manually. Health and safety has enhanced the quality of internal spaces and therefore gentrified industry – visually much more appealing to young people otherwise put off by grime and dirt.

What are the important factors to industrialists from an architectural perspective?

Industrial flooring has been the subject of much debate from finish, to strength, to flatness, to flexibility but ultimately the most important part of any industrial building. A floor of 180mm thick, 30Kn/m2 with class FM2 flatness is relatively standard and flexible. Flexibility means two things in this discussion: Firstly machines with limited loading can be put anywhere in groups and fixed down. Secondly, the floor is relatively cheap and can be dug up, reinstalled to suit particular equipment requirements, a preferred arrangement of most industrialists. Factory 2050 and other Advanced Manufacturing Research Centres have flexible floors with much higher parameters of strength, fixturing capability and flatness for ultimate machine configuration and robot maneuverability. The answer to flexibility is two-fold in both the floor and machine capability, both advancing together. In Germany, an advanced concrete industry is regularly delivering joint free concrete floors with super flatness.

Overhead cranage and its reliance in industry based on cost benefit analysis means the building frame is limited to sensible spans circa 25m and therefore limits machine cell layouts. There is no doubt as component tonnage goes up and alternative forms of transportation like air-skates and the like diminishes, overhead cranage does becomes very attractive. However having objects airborne does present risk and should be limited if possible, industrialist cry foul of their floors with too many joints or lack of flatness, on this point look to Germany. Overall, a combination of floor quality, cranage and free spanning structure will be dictated by process requirements and layout – optimization is key but so is future flexibility. Having designed very specific process based buildings seeking to maximise value for money costs, ‘shrink-wrapped’ buildings offer no flexibility without significant disruption. Business case versus common sense will be debated where money is at the heart of decisions.

Servicing strategies are complicated by so many factors! Principles to follow are services are temporary, should be seen as such, this means all services should be accessible unless truly permanent and unlikely to be upgraded. This includes drainage within facilities, which should be pumped and treated as needing to be accessed. Effluent should be pipe in tray for access and safety for example. Electric, gas, data and compressed air form grids of primary and secondary service installations above machines. Clashes with overhead cranage or access equipment need to be considered but in a modern flexible space, removing services is equal to installing – safely. Sadly, overhead services can look visually disturbing and not portray the right image. McLaren in Woking insist services are hidden and orchestrated behind high quality finished panels in the same way as their product the McLaren car. ‘Quality indicators’ puts McLaren certainly at the highest end of the market for interior and servicing strategies.

Enveloping (building facading) any facilities is often considered the least important part as long as it performs. This is the right technical answer, but the wrong human answer as mostly this leaves a building devoid of delight. Human factors of colour, lighting, texture and surprise means facilities are often described as boring or unimaginative, the ‘grey or white box, lifeless’ especially ironic when the work is so advanced and exciting within the production environment. The enlightened industrialist is become attuned to changing human needs. Colour is easy to apply and use, lighting particularly natural needs control and can be relatively expensive to let in, although occupants’ wellbeing grows with visual connections to the outside, the art of surprise is more difficult but finding a ‘pod’ or planting on the workshop floor does change perception of an employer’s attitudes to working life. Worthy of note, a well-finished and colourful floor, plays well to our human psyche around quality and delight in our experience of a space. Happy staff equals productivity.

Water ingress through a roof, probably rates highest on any industrialist list of worries about building failure because it’s complex to repair and could cause significant consequential losses. Homogenous roofing without penetrations is a utopia, but fails basic human wants of seeing the sky, weather and seasonal changes. Some of this can be compensated for through windows but in deep plan buildings, this isn’t an answer. Roofing material, falls, avoidance of internal details and gutters are all design priorities. The answer, well in part, good quality metal roofing, no flat roofs, external gutters, elevated roof lights that are clear and easily cleaned form part of a total solution allied to solving the human need for delight, unless it’s simply a machine environment, as Jaguar Land Rover have created in part at their new engine plant in the West Midlands.

Largely, human environments include offices, meeting rooms, breakout space, showers, changing areas, exercise rooms, all are essential spaces. What are missing from this list of spaces are the linking and serendipitous spaces that allow people to see each other openly in transit. These offer designers and industrialist the opportunity to invest in ‘delight’. Spaces with character, allow the mind to escape from the every day and offer an opportunity to rethink, explore ideas without going off site. Leaders and thinkers often have their best ideas when in transit, in the pub or out and about, that is disassociation that allows the problem to be thought of in a fresh way. Creating ‘retail type spaces’ that encourage participation psychologically in things that interest you, is well documented, therefore have art and graphics, comfortable seating and quality refreshments.

What is the future of modern advanced manufacturing?

The future will include universal machines that can produce whole objects, universal buildings that allow flexibility without much alteration, shared resourcing and connectivity so ideas can quickly inform a solution, humans at one with their machines informing through Artificial Intelligence. The future of advanced manufacturing is certainly a clear relationship between product need, human design and machine manufacture


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