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Category archives: "Industry 4.0"

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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Getting cozy with cobots

Posted: 12 March 2018
‘Victoria’ is shaking things up at door and window hardware manufacturer Assa Abloy.

Victoria is a cobot – a UR5 collaborative robot able to work on 32 different product variants on the lock body line at the company’s Albany facility.

She has been a game-changer, so much so that Assa Abloy is about to commission two more cobots on a different assembly line, manufacturing engineering manager Marc Simkin says.

The sleek new employee paid for herself within a year, and has created a whole new role for the person who used to do her job. He is now the robot minder, directing her to where she’s needed and placing a much greater focus on quality.

“Our experience has been absolutely fantastic,” Simkin says.

Cobots are robots that work alongside their human colleagues without the need for safety guarding. They are easier to install than traditional robots and typically have a shorter payback period.

Compared with their American, European and Asian counterparts New Zealand manufacturers have been slow to adopt cobots. The technology is a key part of the digital revolution that is changing the face of manufacturing, and the Kiwi sector risks becoming uncompetitive if it doesn’t get on board, Callaghan Innovation’s business innovation adviser for manufacturing, Nathan Stantiall, says.

Cobots aren’t for everyone, which is why Callaghan Innovation, the Government’s business innovation agency, offers a free one-month trial of its own UR5 plus research support.

Universal Robot
Universal Robot UR5

The borrow-a-bot scheme is how Assa Abloy came to know and love Victoria. It held the “robot wars”, pitting three different technologies against each other – a UR5 made by the Danish-based Universal Robots (UR); a cobot from Swiss industrial equipment maker ABB; and the cobot Callaghan Innovation had at the time, dubbed ‘Baxter’.

Sadly for Baxter, a first generation cobot developed by US-based Rethink Robotics, the UR5 won. But without the trial Assa Abloy would have taken much longer to evaluate its options, Simkin says.

“At that stage we had no idea what we were going to do with the technology,” Simkin says. “The whole point was a process of discovery and understanding of what is out there.”

Christchurch-based Design Energy distributes UR products in New Zealand. The great advantage of cobots is that they’re easy to use and extremely flexible, managing director Mike Shatford says.

“Companies can deploy them themselves, maintain them, programme them,” he says. “Because they’re so simple, that can be put back into the end user’s hands.”

UR5 touchscreen tablet controls
UR5 touchscreen tablet controls

Smaller firms with mixed production runs may not think they are ripe for automation, but the technology can be deployed to perform a variety of different tasks even within a single day, Shatford says.

The lower implementation costs mean the payback period is typically around six to 12 months, and putting cobots into the mix also stimulates consistency in the production process, he says.

“We’ve seen multiple cases where throughput gains far outweigh savings on labour,” he says.

Embracing automation will be increasingly important as New Zealand seeks to lift its low productivity growth levels, Callaghan Innovation’s Nathan Stantiall says.

“It’s not about replacing the workforce. It’s about throughput gains, upskilling your workforce to do more fulfilling and productive roles, and improvements in safety,” he says.

Trialling a robot would be most beneficial to businesses that are new to robotics and have implemented lean manufacturing principles, he says. Combining use of cobots with Callaghan Innovation’s Better by Lean training programme may be a good strategy for some firms.

“We urge manufacturers to come and talk to us about giving cobots a go,” Stantiall says.

If your company is interested in a cobot trial please contact Callaghan Innovation

See also Manufacturing Robots

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

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