Plant & Works Engineering
Inaugural Talking Industry digital broadcast tackles key manufacturing issues
Published:  31 July, 2020

Talking Industry, a series of digitally broadcast panel discussions, featuring leading experts from the automation and manufacturing industries, has been launched by DFA Media - the publisher of Plant & Works Engineering, Smart Machines and Factories, Drives & Controls and Hydraulics & Pneumatics magazines, took place of July 14th. PWE takes a look at one of the key discussions during the inaugural event.

Talking Industry is a new series of live digitally broadcast panel discussions with leading experts from the industrial, automation and manufacturing sectors. These digitally broadcast panel discussions present a unique opportunity to discuss strategies, technologies and issues within both the industrial digitalisation sphere and the wider engineering community.

The first in the series, Talking Industry – Manufacturing, took place at 10am on Tuesday 14th July and focused on three broad areas: increasing productivity and efficiency; reducing downtime and costs; and future technologies. The panel of experts explored a wide range of subjects and topics, and viewers benefited from hearing their opinions on strategies, technologies and other aspects of the topic. Each topic was discussed for about 30 minutes, and was followed by an interactive Q&A session with input from the viewers.

Although not possible to give a complete overview of the discussions that took place over the 1 ½ hour event, this review therefore focuses on the panellists’ experiences of the Covid-19 lockdown period and how it has influenced the future. A complete on-demand video of the whole event is available at:

Affects of Covid-19

The businesses of all our panellists had all been significantly affected by Covid-19, but in different ways. Nikesh Mistry (GAMBICA) had the broadest overview, because although the trade association’s staff had been working from home throughout, they conducted regular surveys of their members’ experiences. As with many surveys, the trends over that time tell a story.

"We ran surveys during the pandemic, starting in early March,” he said. “As you can all imagine, the initial feeling was very negative. We were asking our members what they predicted for the next six months ahead, in terms of sales pipelines, impact on supplies, actual impact on sales. And how would they envisage the effects on their place of work, their general lifestyle, and productivity.

"Last week was the most recent survey, and while the overall impact was still significant, still forecasting reduced sales, the duration of the impact is now expected to be shorter, at less than six months.”

Mistry acknowledged that the member companies had needed to be both innovative and resilient. “Being able to securely and remotely connect into machinery and do updates, though possible before, is now actually being implemented.”

Representing an additive manufacturing (AM) company, Andrew Jones (HP) was prominently involved in managing the response to CoVID, through the supply by users of emergency PPE and ventilator parts. But AM had a wider role, too. “Generally, industry supply chains ground to a halt during the lockdown,” he said. “Companies became desperate for parts that that were not only not being made in the UK, but could not be procured from abroad either. When China stopped producing things, companies were scrambling for whatever they could find.“

He agreed with Mistry that in the future there will be significant changes in production methods. “Obviously, social distancing will mean there will potentially be fewer people on factory floors,” Jones added. “But if we can automate, and we can make things more efficient, we can hopefully negate this. AM and the Industry 4.0 mean that we can potentially have factories that are largely unmanned. "

Control Techniques, owned by the Japanese company Nidec, has production plants in Shenzhen and Miami, as well as here in North Wales. “We were hit very early - one minute we were talking about Brexit and the next minute that was all forgotten and we were into a pandemic, which was quite a gear change,” said UK President Tony Pickering. “Shenzhen is the Silicon Valley area of Chinese manufacturing, and one of the first business areas to be locked down - but luckily also one of the first to be unlocked.

"The Chinese got a grasp of CoVID really quickly - we worked very closely with the Chinese Government and I was communicating with them through our local managers,” he said. “We had to build a dormitory overnight for people, hot and cold running water, showers, beds, everything. If anybody was infected or showing symptoms, they couldn't leave the factory.”

But that was just the beginning: “Then obviously, Boris announced the lockdown in the UK in late March. I came into work on the Monday and there was a lot of anxiety about what ‘essential work’ meant. We took a straw poll and sent all 700 staff home because people were just super-nervous. And then we spent the next three weeks laying out the factories in a socially distanced way. This is where we got headlined on the BBC News - we are now part of the Government guidelines. We've got shift patterns, one-way systems, shielding, even handles on toilet doors operated by your feet!”

“And now we've got the same situation in our Miami factory,” Pickering continued. “This is a bigger challenge, because the way the US are running their society - we have social distancing to the nth degree in the factory, yet you can walk out of the factory premises and you're into a bar or onto the beach!"

The theme of remote working and the automated factory was taken up by Novatec’s Sean Robinson. "Novatec spent the first two weeks of the formal lockdown period and a week or so before that in planning sessions with customers concerned about continuity and disaster recovery,” he stated. “Many had general fears about how to keep their business running and who could be in the plant.”

In the last couple of months, Robinson has noted an acceleration towards automation, with customers taking weeks and months to approve development projects that used to take months and years. "These journeys are essentially what we would have recommended as good business practice to enhance productivity, cost savings and flexibility, and to enable faster decision-making when dealing with something like COVID. People are also finding ways of managing a factory from afar, whether fishing by a riverbank, stuck at home, actually in the office.”

A European perspective was provided by Ixon’s Job Euwers. Ixon is a Dutch company based in Overloon, which is between Einhoven and Nijmegen. “In the Netherlands, our experience was not that harsh; we had people coming to the office, though the majority started to work at home from March,” he said. But the situation I his sales office in Italy was different. “Italy got hit early and really hard. Since manufacturers went into total lockdown, our activity there fell to almost zero. But now we are seeing an acceleration in the adoption of innovation, not only in Italy, but in other countries as well - at least there is a silver lining to come out of a terrible event.”

As far as is possible, our panelists see some positives for industry coming out of CoVID, though there are caveats: “It’s quite difficult to predict the future any more and plan ahead,” said Euwers. “Businesses are living from month to month and waiting to see what will happen.”

Mistry agreed: "We are now seeing a massive increase in people returning to work in their usual workplace. But as Tony [Pickering} mentioned, for other staff, the reaction to working from home as normal has been really, really positive."

The conversation then progressed on to discuss predictive maintenance, the role of Government, artificial intelligence and machine learning. It featured an interesting section on why people will invest in automation at home, but are reluctant to do so at work. Listen On-Demand HERE!

The Talking Industry panel

Anthony (Tony) Pickering, President, Control Techniques

With more than 25 years’ experience working at a senior level for some of the biggest names in the industry – including Schneider, Danfoss and Lenze – Tony takes great pride in being a true drives specialist. Now, as President of Control Techniques – part of the Nidec group – he is responsible for growing one of the industry’s best-known and most innovative brands.

Andrew Jones, End-Use Sales Manager, HP 3D Multi Jet Fusion

Andrew has more than 10 years of experience in the additive manufacturing industry, including experience with most major polymer technologies, as well as metal printing. He has dealt with end-use projects in the aerospace, automotive and the consumer industries, and guided companies along their additive journeys. He believes that meaningful applications using additive manufacturing can transform how we design, purchase and use everyday things.

Nikesh Mistry, Sector Head of Industrial Automation, GAMBICA

GAMBICA is the UK trade association for Instrumentation, Control, Automation and Laboratory Technology. While relatively new to the trade association world, Nikesh has developed an extensive understanding of both the technical and commercial areas of the manufacturing and automation industry. Nikesh believes that, with the right mindset and use of innovation, the UK will excel throughout the fourth industrial revolution.

Job Euwes, Commercial Manager, IXON

Dialling in from the Netherlands, Job started the International Core Sales Team which is now responsible for almost 70% of sales at IXON. His vision is that the world can – and will – be connected and that innovation in industrial IoT should be kept simple and small. Understanding the possibilities that today’s technology offer is simply taking that small first step.

Sean Robinson, Manager, Software Solutions, Novotek UK and Ireland

With nearly three decades’ experience in the automation and controls sector, Sean has delivered projects across North America and Europe and is the “go to” person at Novotek for software solutions in industrial IT and automation, specialising in manufacturing execution systems.

Andy Pye, Webinar Chair and Consulting Editor, DFA Media

Andy is known to many in the engineering and automation industry in the UK and has edited many leading design and manufacturing titles over the past four decades. Andy is a graduate material engineer and spent five years in engineering consultancy prior to joining the technical publishing industry in 1980.

To download the inaugural Talking Industry digital broadcast please visit: