The MTA has followed and supported The Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring programme. It is focused on the development of simple, low cost digital devices and systems that improve the effectiveness of operations of small manufacturing companies.
To ensure the industrial relevance of Shoestring developments and pilots, the programme conducted a requirements study to answer the question “What are the most common and important digitalisation needs of manufacturing SMEs”. The outcome was a catalogue of typical operational challenges that SMEs face, that could be alleviated with a digital solution. The image below shows the top 15 priorities from the catalogue as indicated by the SME participants of the workshops. It is important to note that none of the solution areas identified in the catalogue are new, but for many companies these were areas not yet addressed . In fact, 86% of companies chose one of the top 5 solution areas as a highest priority for their business. These rankings have enabled the Shoestring project to prioritise the low-cost solutions to focus on as exemplars. The learnings from developing and deploying these solutions has then be applied to the solution areas from the wider catalogue, ensuring as broad an impact as possible.
The programme has already developed 15 demonstrators and industrial pilots being used to illustrate and evaluate Shoestring solutions. One such development has been a simple, low cost system for extracting, digitising and displaying data from analog display panels in real time. A legacy panel within the factory of one of the Shoestring partners is shown. The solution, whose hardware consists of a camera and a Raspberry Pi computer, is capable of recording and plotting the displayed temperature, the position of a switch and whether a light is on or off resulting in improvements to fault detection and quality control.
The next step for the Shoestring programme is the development of a design configurator - a web-based tool that allows end-users to browse and then adopt or adapt low-cost digital manufacturing solutions by simply putting together existing technology 'building blocks' (i.e., hardware and software components ‘wrapped’ within suitable interfaces). The configurator will be part of a the Shoestring portal to be accessible to any manufacturing SME in the UK, to provide engineers, system integrators and solution developers with all the necessary information they need to develop and deploy their own digital solutions for their business needs using off-the-self, low-cost components and open source software. This portal is part of a larger Shoestring Foundation effort that will allow researchers, academics, regional associations, and technology providers to interact with SMEs, identify emerging needs and continue developing digital solutions and relevant technologies suitable for small businesses. The foundation will also provide training and skills development for SME participants. For more information see www.digitalshoestring.net or do not hesitate to get in contact with Sami Ortiz at firstname.lastname@example.org .
A recent webinar can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vro9AYpMmPg