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Businesses front-foot the fourth industrial age

Posted: 16 April 2018
A group of Kiwi firms is heading to the US in June to get an exclusive look inside factories at the cutting edge of internet of things (IoT) in industry

For most people the term ‘industrial revolution’ conjures up images of belching steam engines and grim Victorian factories.

In truth the industrialisation of the modern world happened in several phases, beginning with steam power at the end of the 18th century, through to mainstream use of electricity a hundred years later, and then the computer revolution of the 1980s when everything mechanical and analogue turned digital.

We are now experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological.

Thanks to advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and the internet of things (IoT) our societies and economies are evolving again. Just as businesses of 150 years ago had to adapt to electricity enabling mass production, today’s enterprises face the challenge of embracing what has been dubbed Industry 4.0 - using smart technologies and data to drive intelligent action in the physical world.

Knowing when and how to incorporate these new technologies into your business model isn’t easy, and supporting companies to adapt to Industry 4.0 is a priority for Callaghan Innovation in its role as New Zealand’s innovation agency. As part of this it has joined forces with EMA and the Manufacturers’ Network to lead the USA Manufacturing Trek – a mission of Kiwi firms heading to the Internet of Manufacturing Conference in Chicago on June 6-7, and to get an exclusive look inside factories at the cutting edge of IoT in industry, such as CNC machine tool maker Haas Automation.

New Zealand companies are at the early stages of adopting Industry 4.0, Mike Burgess, senior policy analyst at EMA, says.

“Our members need to know what the manufacturing plant of the future looks like, what skills will be required, and what training they will need to develop for their workforces to adapt,” he says.

“There’s only so much you can learn from surfing websites. Nothing beats hands-on experience, talking to industry experts face-to-face and seeing how companies have implemented the new technologies.”

Philip Benson, operations manager at bronze alloys manufacturer AW Fraser, plans to head to Chicago to learn more about the practical applications of IoT. “For us it’s about a smart factory – using technology to gather, process and utilise information more efficiently.

“This is nothing new. Industry 4.0 is an evolution, rather than a revolution.”

Doing intelligent things with data in real time is creating whole new business models, says Nathan Stantiall, Callaghan Innovation’s business innovation adviser for manufacturing.

“An example is ‘servitisation’ – not selling the widget itself, but getting other forms of revenue from it,” Nathan says.

Aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce services its clients under a ‘power by the hour’ model, he says. Airlines do not own the engines, but pay for use and maintenance based on flying time. Meanwhile R-R utilises IoT technologies to collect and analyse huge volumes of data that enable it and the airlines to operate more efficiently.

While Germany is the leading proponent of Industry 4.0, it’s important for Kiwi companies to see how it’s being done in America, Nathan says. There it’s known as Industrial IoT or Internet of Manufacturing, with a focus beyond the factory.

“For example, your database might be connected to your customer or supplier’s database, so they get full visibility of stock and know exactly when to order,” Nathan says.

Firms ask him when they should implement Industrial IoT. “There is no right answer, but they should be starting now and experimenting with simple connections and data collection,” he says.

The USA Manufacturing Trek runs from 4-8 June. For more information contact us on

This article was first published in the April issue of the EMA Business Plus magazine.

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Meet Baxter

Posted: 14 December 2016
Baxter is a smart, collaborative robot. Callaghan Innovation has been putting him to work alongside humans on productions lines around New Zealand for the past couple of years.

Callaghan Innovation has been letting businesses see for themselves if robotics could help improve productivity and efficiency, letting their human staff focus on higher-value work. But don’t take our word for it, let Baxter explain for himself.

Baxter the Robot

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure, I am an industrial, collaborative robot. I’m designed to do simple industrial jobs such as loading, sorting and handling of materials. I can do these jobs working right next to people, because I can sense when someone moves close to me and I can measure how much force I am applying to something and stop if it’s too high. I was created by Rethink Robotics in 2012. I am 1.8m tall, 140kg and can be wheeled about anywhere. I have a younger brother called Sawyer.

What do you like best about your job?

I like a challenge! Unlike my cousins who require the environment around them to be very precise, I can adapt to things. For example, I can pick up items that aren’t precisely aligned, then re-orient and place them correctly. I can also see stuff around me, which means I can recognise parts - important when you are trying to sort apples from oranges. I also love working! When my human coworkers need rests, I just carry on, in fact when they go home at the end of the day I carry on then too! Don’t worry though, I’m not going to take over, I need my human coworkers to work on higher value things around the factory. I’m good at adapting to a new job quickly too, just wheel me in, I’m easy to programme and away I go, no safety cages and no complex jigs and fixtures.

Baxter emotions

What do you think are places where you might be better suited to work than a person? Why?

I just love the repetitive stuff! My human coworkers get bored more easily but I can keep up with repetitive jobs like loading material into machines that can be quite dangerous such as presses and guillotines. My skills mean I don’t put my fingers where they shouldn’t go. I can also handle hot, cold, fragile, sharp and sticky stuff humans don’t like touching. I’m good at counting and inspecting stuff too.

For a business thinking about robotic technologies, what is your advice about where they should start?

I would recommend the Better by Lean business workshop run by Callaghan Innovation which helps you review your business processes and management systems to improve productivity, reduce waste and enhance customer experience. In my experience, businesses that automate well do so when their processes are already “lean”.

Start thinking about automation opportunities in your business: Which processes could be good candidates for automation, which of these would be suitable to test? Engage with potentially affected employees. Many businesses have found that they redeploy any affected staff to other higher value activities.

Build a business case to show how automation supports your business needs. Think about the benefits, and what challenges could be overcome. Consider how will you measure whether automation has been valuable and develop a strategy for re-deploying your existing human resources.

Determine the operations model. Ask whether you have right staff and infrastructure to assess for new automation opportunities and support the automation, both hardware and software.

Identify your automation partners, who best fits with your needs and your business and understand what you are paying for.

Finally, have a strong implementation plan. Determine how long the pilot should be if you have one and what are the stages after this?

Who is your hero in the robot world?

‘Data’ from Star Trek

What’s next for you?

In the longer term, one of my creators Jim Lawton from Rethink Robotics says there are a couple of things that will help my friends and I be more useful in the future. The first is increased dexterity, such as being able to thread a needle or unwrap a package. Secondly, teaching machines to learn algorithms that can see the bigger picture, for example, if an algorithm is trained to recognise dogs, we can do that with a high level of accuracy. But if we are shown a picture of a family playing frisbee with their dog on the beach, we will be clueless about anything else besides the dog. As a consequence of these improvements, we will be able to access vast databases, recognise people, machines and parts, be able to derive insights and act on them.

In the short term, I better see which Callaghan Innovation customer I am meeting next!

Get in touch and find out if I might suit your business or consider our Better by Lean programme. My email is and I'm @robot_baxter on Twitter.

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