Surprising similarities in the MX Awards Smart Factory category

by Alan Griffiths

Cambashi, an international, industry analyst company based in Cambridge, UK was selected to provide a judge (myself / Alan Griffiths) for The Manufacturer’s 2017 MX ‘Smart Factory’ award, given in conjunction with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Smart Factory finalists

The finalists, all visited between 12th and 14th September, were:

  • Brompton Bicycle
  • Dura Automotive
  • Forterra
  • Hosokawa Micron
  • Hyde Aero Products
  • McLaren Automotive

These companies differ greatly in size, industry and the nature of their operation – what they all have in common is advanced or innovative factories and production systems.

Figure 1 – McLaren’s factory has plenty of reminders of its racing heritage

What was surprising was the similarity between some very different companies.

McLaren and Brompton

For example, I never expected McLaren supercars and Brompton bikes to have such similarities across their production lines;

They both pride themselves on hand-built vehicles, and therefore don’t use robots on the line.  And both use manual transfer methods – trolleys – to move between production stations.

Both companies are successful because they have developed high-end, world-beating products for which they offer millions of options – 9.8 million in the case of McLaren and 28 million in the case of Brompton.  They both need sophisticated systems for ordering, configuring and building their products, and have solved this in very different ways; McLaren – a much larger company now at nearly £1billion annual turnover – uses SAP, whereas Brompton – with annual sales of £28 million – has developed its own system using Raspberry Pi computers.

Figure 2 – a view of Brompton’s smart factory

Dura Automotive and Hyde Aero Products

Dura Automotive and Hyde Aero Products, although in different industries, also have strong similarities:

Both are ‘multiple tier’ suppliers within their industries.  Dura is a tier one supplier to automotive OEMs such as Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Rolls-Royce, while being a tier two supplier to many of the leading tier one suppliers.  Hyde Aero is in the aerospace industry and also serves OEMs – for example Airbus, Leonardo and Bombardier – as well as other tier one suppliers.

Dura and Hyde, unlike McLaren and Brompton, use robotics and machine automation extensively.  This is because they work with difficult materials to produce extremely accurate shapes with high-quality finishes in large numbers.  They also need to be competitive on cost and delivery.

Both companies do a significant amount of design work, although they mainly ‘make to print’ as required by their customers.  The systems used by Dura and Hyde need to cater for different products for different customers at different times with very strict delivery schedules.  This means they need finite capacity planning.  This is a particular issue to Hyde, which also has to cater for ‘AOG’ (Aircraft on Ground) situations, which is difficult to plan for.  It is therefore implementing a scheduling system from FORCAM to work in conjunction with its SAP system.

While Dura also has varying production requirements, its production runs tend to be longer – sometimes over a year for the same product.  Dura has also developed several internal systems to complement its SAP and FAMOS systems.

Both companies share design and production data with their customers; Dura using ENOVIA (the PLM component of Dassault’s 3D EXPERIENCE) and Hyde using SAP.

Figure 3 – Some of the components produced by Dura Automotive

Forterra and Hosokawa Micron

The final two companies – Forterra and Hosokawa Micron – share similarities in the type of production they are involved in.

The Forterra factory in Thatcham is one of 18 facilities in the UK which used to belong to Hanson Building Products.  It was built about 30 years ago as a highly-automated factory to make building products such as Thermalite blocks, London bricks and Formpave paving.   Although state-of-the-art when built, factory automation has moved on a lot since then; hence Forterra is now introducing a range of modern technologies including RFID tagging, vision recognition systems, smartphone apps and display tablets for the operators.  Its mission is to improve efficiency on a process flow manufacturing system while maintaining quality and safety.  This is a large factory, manufacturing high volumes of a range of products – yet it takes only 74 staff to run it 24×7 on four shifts (and this number includes additional resources for health and safety reasons).

Figure 4 – In the control room at Forterra

Hosokawa Micron was formed in 1989 by the amalgamation of Alpine Process Technology, Hosokawa Mikropul and LE Stott to become a specialist in the development, manufacture and installation of equipment for powder/particle processing, weighing and filling.

For the last few years the people at the Runcorn facility have been offering ‘toll processing’; this is a contract service to provide powder processing for one-off projects or repeat activities where the customer doesn’t wish to – or is not ready to – invest in its own plant. For example, supplementing production in peak times, R&D projects and market development of new products.

Hosokawa Micron is similar to Forterra in that they both operate process plants which are highly automated using similar technologies (SCADA, PLCs etc.) although the products are very different; Hosokawa’s are mainly food-based and we had to put on special suits to enter the production facility to prevent us contaminating the product.  At Forterra, we had to wear safety clothing to protect ourselves.

Industrial Internet of Things

I have a particular focus on the Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) so it was interesting to see that  each company had some involvement in or plans for IoT.

McLaren Automotive couldn’t say much for commercial reasons, but its sister company – McLaren Applied Technologies, on the same site – is ‘investing heavily: developing sensors for the “Internet of Things” to improve system performance in a wide range of applications across the technology spectrum,” according to Dick Glover, Chief Technology Officer at McLaren Applied Technologies.

Brompton Bikes has implemented a scheme for bike rental using large vending machines where the bikes are tracked with sensors to show how long they have been in use and when they have been returned.  Brompton is also testing RFID devices to track the trolleys as they move through the production line, and are considering sensors on the bikes to track performance of key components to allow for preventative maintenance or replacement in advance of failure.

Dura makes extensive use of sensors in its machines to monitor performance and predict maintenance – although not ‘full’ IoT at this stage (it uses an intranet rather than the Internet within the plant) it has many IoT attributes including analytics which helps manage the critical environmental conditions on injection moulding equipment.  It also uses ‘digital twin’ techniques based on CATIA and ENOVIA to model and verify processes and it extensively monitors energy usage and compares performance with other plants in the group.

Forterra has hundreds of sensors throughout its plant and is experimenting with RFID tags on the moulds.  Its SCADA systems use this to control the equipment, and its suppliers can also see the levels on the input hoppers so they can schedule replenishment.

Hosokawa Micron is implementing remote monitoring for its contract powder processing suite with its own GEN4 system which provides remote data collection, analysis, online advisory systems and intelligent monitoring.  GEN4 interacts with embedded sensors using ‘edge computing’ as well as cloud-based systems such as MindSphere and Autodesk’s Fusion Lifecycle and Connect.  Hosokawa is also working on a digital twin project with the AMRC in Sheffield.

The Awards ceremony

The winner of the MX Awards Smart Factory award will be announced at the Manufacturer MX Awards gala dinner and ceremony to be held at the Exhibition Centre in Liverpool on 16 November.  For more information see the MX Awards website.


2 thoughts on “Surprising similarities in the MX Awards Smart Factory category”

    1. My pleasure James. Glad you found it interesting. Please let me know if you have further interest in the IoT or Connected Applications – the more encompassing term that we now use.
      Best regards,

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