A marriage of possibility: how a new partnership is building a factory of the future

HLM Architects - NMIS Aerial View

Predictions of a contraction in the manufacturing sector, brought on by supply chain issues, harsh economics and a lack of skills, will likely have an impact on manufacturing investments and innovation. However, the new Model Digital Factory Demonstrator (MDFD), opening at the National Manufacturing Institute of Scotland (NMIS) in spring of next year, hopes to ease some of those pressures.

The centre is a physical showcase of end-to-end manufacturing use cases in a digital factory environment that allows investors, partners, students, experts and academics to see how an invention or process works in real-time on the factory floor.

Enabled by a long-term strategic partnership between NMIS and enterprise technology company, Infor, the factory is set to be a hub for manufacturing excellence and a showcase for industry 4.0 capabilities.

The physical building is already open and over the next year, and beyond, NMIS will put Infor technologies to use creating real-world demonstrations for the ‘art-of-the-possible’ in manufacturing.

New bedfellows

The partnership represents an exciting opportunity for both companies. NMIS can explore the benefits of using the latest manufacturing software capabilities within its ecosystem. Infor acquires the space to showcase what is often buried in static presentations and promote products such as its Manufacturing Execution System (MES).

Infor, a global leader in manufacturing tech, is equally as excited about the partnership and opportunity to showcase tech-meets-manufacturing capabilities. Infor is owned by Koch Industries, a significant US manufacturing leader, and the tie-up with NMIS presents a ripe opportunity for Infor to lead in a sector that is very familiar to its parent company.

“We were extremely proud to be involved in this. It came out of a meeting with ScotGov, the industrial strategic leadership advisory board and luckily we had a few people who were aware of the possibilities and invited us in. We were delighted to become a partner and can’t wait to showcase Infor technology in action,” said Anwen Robinson, Infor GM and SVP for the UK and Ireland in a conversation with ERP Today.

Infor has previous form for illustrating manufacturing in action. It was one of the founding investors of the Smart Factory, Wichita earlier this year and Robinson sees the NMIS project as an opportunity to dovetail on the work there while bringing any lessons learnt back to Scotland.

NMIS is a group of industry-led R&D facilities within the manufacturing sector with a vast network of partners. Operated by the University of Strathclyde and supported by the Scottish Government and various local government innovation bodies. The new partnership with Infor is a welcome addition to the greater objective of revolutionizing the industry and bringing home the next era of innovation.

Physical meets digital

Work and personal life as we know it in the enterprise technology industry revolves more and more around the digital world but has the space where ideas expand and breathe also moved online? Have the traditional workshop and laboratory spaces where experts met and innovations followed also gone digital?

Not quite yet, but enterprise technology is an industry that can seem buried inside the software and digital infrastructure, making the output difficult to visualize and outside of statistics and narrative descriptions challenging to conceptualize. Moreover, it isn’t easy to see what is possible when it’s not always clear what the status quo benchmark is.

The new partnership brings the digital to the physical as institute visitors have the opportunity to see innovations that have started out in small laboratories or computer simulations and experience the idea come to life on the factory floor.

“It will look and feel like a factory of the future but as realistic as it can be. So rather than simply a virtual environment, it is a physical and virtual environment where we can bring together the best of their worlds and really help people understand where they might take their own factories and supply chains, “ said Chris Courtney, CEO of NMIS told ERP Today.

But in bringing Infor into the mix, there is also the opportunity to bring the physical to the digital. Infor’s core technology and how it can work for modern manufacturers are also on show.

“Our software is an enabler and we are not manufacturers, So we’ve been working very closely with key partners to bring all of this alive, but it will be a physical production line that showcases what Industry 4.0 technology can provide,“ explained Robinson, highlighting her role in the project.

A hub of innovation

The new 11,500m2 factory building lives in Renfrewshire within the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland (AMIDS). It feeds the desire, both locally and globally, to see the sector move smoothly into intelligent manufacturing and access the full range of capabilities associated with Industry 4.0.

Bringing innovators together includes technology providers, academics, industry experts, students and businesses of all ages. The theme of the factory is realizing the art of the possible and creating a space where ideas thrive.

The new innovators

The new factory is a phenomenal building, wholly sustainable and has already created opportunities for people to come and work with them.

While the NMIS group already works with big industry players such as Rolls Royce and Boeing they are also aiming their facility at smaller companies and startups looking to discover what is possible and assess viability for development.

On the manufacturing side, the NMIS is building a community of stakeholders across industry, education, local Government, technology providers and investors, to name a few. It has also created a membership space with benefits spanning research programmes, exclusive collaboration opportunities and promotional opportunities. Opening for applications in October; the membership program has already signed up several global partners, such as Baker Hughes, signalling a solid start to the NMIS venture.

The Art of Collaboration

In the words of the great Scottish industrialist Andrew Carnegie, collaboration is where the magic happens.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

While the word common may be out of fashion and Carnegie long dead, the industrialist, philanthropist and founder of the American steelwork industry in the early 1900s, shares the collective wisdom of the new partnership.

Robinson is in no doubt of the partner’s power to drive innovation, even crossing the boundaries between collaborator and competitor.  “It’s going to be very collaborative. We’re actually working with some organizations that may be considered competitors. But it’s all about the collaboration.” she told ERP Today.

Fitting out the future

With the growing requirement for digital skillsets on the mind of both Robinson and Courtney, they are eager to talk about the teaching and educational facilities at NMIS. Of course, the question in every industry leader’s mind is how to inspire and equip the next generation of students who will be putting forward ideas to shape the future.

The NMIS Manufacturing Skills Academy is one answer to the question of the digital skills required for a career now and in the future. Apprenticeship schemes for school students leading to a qualification, a doctorate centre and a selection of online and physical courses are run from the centre.

The opening of the factory early next year beckons in the beginning of a long process of innovation. Keen that the new factory is seen as an evolving force for UK manufacturing, Courtney invited visitors to watch this space and carry on watching as the art of the possible becomes a reality.