Steve Martin, Head of the Glass Sector, Siemens UK & Ireland, says that glass manufacturers need to ready themselves as the digitalisation of industry gathers pace. Connected, flexible and intelligence-led technology solutions are set to drive marked manufacturing productivity and performance improvements, but the glass sector must embrace all that Industry 4.0 entails and take the first strategic steps on a digital journey that can underpin future success.

The ongoing intrigue, speculation and comment surrounding the impact of Industry 4.0 shows no sign of abating. As the descriptor for available digital technology solutions designed to optimise productivity in manufacturing, the anticipated digital revolution described by Industry 4.0 will be a new dawn for the so-called ‘factories of the future’.

In the words of Juergen Maier, Chief Executive, Siemens UK, such a step change will for example, “utilise vast data volumes to enable manufacturers to ultimately produce batch sizes of one - but at mass market prices - and allow for the customisation of all manner of consumer and industrial products to meet market demand, made possible by flexible, highly connected and intelligence-led manufacturing processes.”

Respected commentators are in no doubt as to the untapped potential of Industry 4.0. Professional services firm, Accenture said: “an industrial-scale version of Industry 4.0 could add $14.2 trillion to the world economy over the next 15 years, and the UK alone could benefit by up to $531 billion.” While the creation of pivotal industry events, such as the forthcoming and highly significant ‘Industry 4.0 Summit’ (Europe’s first dedicated exhibition for the 4th industrial revolution, to be held in Manchester in 2017) signifies another milestone on the digital journey that will see a fundamental change in the way manufacturing businesses operate in the future.


But, as Industry 4.0 begins to move from concept to reality for glass manufacturers, gathering pace and momentum as technology solutions start to deliver tangible benefits, the time is fast approaching when glass making operations need to face up to the choice that confronts them, and begin to take the detailed steps required to strategically prepare for a digital transformation.

Glass manufacturers are exposed to ever growing sources of information around operational performance, efficiencies and production outcomes. Such information will derive from internal sources such as the factory’s network and sensor technology within assets, as well as data from functional areas such as procurement, research & development and finance. This will be supplemented by external sources of information from customers and the supply chain.

Using the internet as a medium it is now possible for manufacturers to collate, transfer and store these vast information volumes on remote servers where it can act as a fundimental driver of current and future strategic decision-making.

The use of this information or Big Data, is the real key behind the benefits that Industry 4.0 can deliver. It is what manufacturing operations do with the data at their disposal that will make the real difference. Highly connected technology solutions that are now available for the manufacturing environment and the supply chain, utilise powerful algorithms via Apps to help analyse critical data streams and enable vital real-time business information to be readily available at the fingertips of business operators to drive decision-making. Of course, this also presents challenges in terms of the digital skill sets and expertise required within the manufacturing community to take the data and use it effectively.

However, the primary business objective is that by using data in this way, glass manufacturers should ultimately be able to see up to 40% improvements in terms of reducing time to market, a 30-40% uplift in productivity, as well as generating an ability to customise products at the same cost as high volume manufacturing to compete within an aggressive marketplace.

So why hasn’t the industry taken advantage of the technology so far?

The barriers have been varied, but the good news is that that they are starting to be removed. The previous lack of sufficient computing processing power has been rectified, while the technology cycles within glass making operations that relied upon proprietary networks for the past 10-15 years are coming to a natural end – opening possibilities for change. An appetite to use essential data in a proactive way to drive business benefit is slowly replacing its traditional use that was steeped in a reactive philosophy, while technology vendors such as Siemens have worked hard to drive down price levels so that the cost benefit is much clearer for manufacturers seeking to take the digitialisation route

The manufacturing community, from the largest corporation to the smallest SME, certainly has a lot to consider when it comes to the digitisation of their businesses and gaining access to the massive benefits it brings with it.

To understand a little better how manufacturers are thinking, Siemens recently brought together a number of representatives from across the process industries, including the glass sector, and asked them to discuss the issues around Industry 4.0 relevant to them. With the process sector generally considered to be behind more progressive industries such as automotive in the adoption of digital technology solutions, the sector needs to make a significant leap forward to unlock its true potential.

Below are some of the informative highlights from the discussions.


The business potential inherent in digitalisation is based on far better connectivity, data communication and intelligence. However, participants cited the practical difficulties of ‘getting communications working’ between disparate sites or locations and failure to address this is often a cultural issue. For others, difficulty in technology adoption came down to cost and having to adapt what is in place. A call for better access to smaller-scale trial systems to allow companies to innovate and test as part of attempts to commercialise new ideas and production would be welcomed.

The topic of non-physical production runs that use technology to model and test was cited as a potential way forward. The example of a pharma company in the USA using digital technology to simulate and carry out multiple experiments at the laboratory stage, and share outcomes and learnings through a highly connected structure, is allowing its modelling to take place at a fraction of the cost of a physical lab. Such an approach relies upon the intelligent use of data, and there was general agreement that cyber security issues and vastly differing company culture approaches to the uptake of data continue to hold many manufacturers back in this area.

Making the case at board level for digital technology investment remains an ongoing challenge for many, despite the advantages it can deliver in terms of supporting innovation and productivity enhancements.

It was also argued that supporting the uptake of digital technologies would require new and enhanced employee skill sets. Traditionally skilled process engineers need to build engineering skills now for a future digital environment, while operations departments will also need support to optimise their understanding of digital technologies that increasingly include industrial software, communications, cloud computing, intelligent sensors, simulation and data management.

The case for shaping digital solutions is also highly dependent upon the user seeing the end benefit for themselves. Technology providers and system integrators have to help manufacturers on this journey of discovery, and unearth and pin down project deliverables as proof points to assist end users in building the case for wide-scale investment in digital technology adoption.


With UK gross research and development today standing at 1.72% of GDP versus an average of 2.06% across the EU - Germany’s level is 6% - innovation remains a key topic when it comes to improving UK manufacturing competitiveness. New technology innovation centres such as the High Value Manufacturing Catapults and the industry's own Glass Futures are making innovation more accessible to manufacturers, but some barriers remain. These include funding obstacles that can enable, for example, small-scale modelling to take place before committing to significant levels of expenditure. It was felt that the Government needs to get fully behind a push for innovation and unlock funding streams to allow small and medium-sized businesses to go to the next innovation stage.

The issues of intellectual property and commercial sensitivity constraints are holding companies back from using the centres designed to support them from an innovation perspective. They are wary of sharing valuable information in a more collaborative setting and are therefore reluctant to engage. Leadership is required to see beyond the immediate constraints and develop a vision that places the value of innovation at the heart of the sector.


Manufacturing companies in a new digital world need to move much faster to adopt and develop technologies, requiring stronger collaboration between research and development and innovation networks through to commercial manufacturing.

Trade bodies and higher education institutions were highlighted as strong examples where collaboration can thrive, while the example in the commercial world of a specialist biotech company now working with other specialist businesses to offer a more holistic market solution, also illuminated what is feasible on a collaborative basis notwithstanding commercial sensitivities. It was felt that huge efficiency gains would be possible through a more collaborative philosophy, for instance across the supply chain.

It is safe to say that Industry 4.0 and the digitalisation of manufacturing processes is coming, the UK glass container industry, supported by Siemens, aims to be at the vanguard of this change with the stated ambition of the Glass Futures project aimed at digitising the complete manufacturing process. According to global management consulting organisation, McKinsey, it is based on “the astonishing rise in data volumes, computational power and connectivity, especially new low-power wide-area networks; the emergence of analytics and business-intelligence capabilities; new forms of human-machine interaction such as touch interfaces and augmented-reality systems, and improvements in transferring digital instructions to the physical world.“

The Glass Futures team recognises the need to embrace Industry 4.0 concepts, especially the exploitation of the cyber-physical world to help address its key challenges of training, decarbonisation, fast prototyping, enhanced productivity and driving innovation.

For the glass sector this translates into a need for glass manufacturing business models to change, for traditional glass industry skills to evolve and for age-old processes to alter. Virtual platforms, zero prototyping, digitalised connections to complete supply chains, clear and accurate data analysis and consumer connected channels, will become the norm leading to the types of business changing improvements outlined above.

The digital revolution is underway. Are you going to be part of it?


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