Exciting exercise in growth
A unique collaboration in the Liverpool City Region is helping businesses grow by using the most up to date digital advances
by Andrew Edwards
So you’ve just spent a fortune on the latest smartphone … and you only use it for social media, send texts and do selfies. The manufacturing industry equivalent is having the very latest in digital innovation at your disposal – but not having the expertise to use it to boost productivity and growth.
The convergence of digital, physical and biological assets is now so enormous it is being tagged the Fourth industrial Revolution (4IR) and industry cannot afford to waste the opportunity this astonishingly fast growing phenomenon can present.
For the Liverpool City Region a unique collaboration is helping guide businesses through this minefield and to grow and prosper – and it is looking to help even more. The ground-breaking LCR4.0 programme, backed in part by money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is providing fully-funded digital innovation support for the region’s businesses.
The LCR4.0 team has harnessed some of the finest digital technology brains in the region as partners to help provide that critical support to allow businesses to use digital technological advances to help them grow.
The unique collaboration of six brings together Liverpool University and its ground breaking Virtual Engineering Centre, the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, Liverpool John Moores University, Sensor City, and the innovative Hartree Centre to create a powerful driving force to put the LCR at the heart of an evolution which is set to transform production in the modern World economy.
It’s a heady cocktail of brilliant academic research and the latest digital technologies – and its joint expertise and assistance is available now for up to 300 of the region’s SMEs who need help playing their part in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The dedicated team at LCR4.0 helps SMEs explore the potential of 4.0 technologies by providing funded support ranging from research and development, knowledge transfer and the acceleration of ideas from concept through to commercialisation.
Dr Andy Levers, Technical Director at the Virtual Engineering Centre, has been hugely impressed by the businesses he has his team have been working with so far.
“They have come from an extremely broad spectrum and without exception have had excellent ideas and just need the right help to get them up and running,” he said.
“Many of the people behind our SMEs are working flat out on the business escalator and find it so hard to get off and find the time to implement or even fully explore digital technologies and that’s where we can come in. A number who do introduce digital technology do so without fully knowing how to best exploit it and we as a group can help them to get the most out of the enormous assets and the potential that they have.
“We are looking to stimulate productivity, growth and jobs in a market where your own digital innovations can create roles that never existed before and play a vital part in the modernisation and progression of your business.
“As a group we are unique in that we have the expertise across academic research, grant sourcing, science, virtual reality, simulation, sensor technology and digital security all under one roof.
Dr Levers added: “Virtually any business has a need today for digital innovation and I would urge them to get in touch with us to talk about how we can help them carry ideas forward.”
Simon Reid, Sector Manager for Advanced Manufacturing at the Liverpool City Region LEP said: “We have been working on a 4IR business engagement framework for nearly two years and were keen to utilise local ESIF funds to allow us to reach 300 of our local manufacturing SMEs to get them using 4IR technologies as well as developing new products, processes and market opportunities.
“Our aim is to make the Liverpool City Region’s manufacturing community the most digitally enhanced in the UK. I am delighted to say that LCR 4.0 has been recognised by both national Government and the private sector alike as an exemplar 4IR project.
Anthony Walker, Strategic Manager at LCR4.0 partners Liverpool John Moores University, said: “The collection of world class expertise in the project is focused on improving the competitiveness of our local SMEs, and the focus is providing the ‘right’ support at the ‘right’ time to really make an impact on manufacturing and associated organisations in Liverpool City Region.”
Walker added: “The time for talk is over, the time for action is now. To remain competitive in the global market, the UK needs to stop talking about Industry 4.0 and start implementing it. LCR 4.0 is the first step in making that happen in Liverpool City Region.”
LCR4.0 partner Sensor City has a team of engineers under the LCR 4.0 programme who will work with companies to refine their ideas, gain access to funds, help with designs and help create the actual prototype. Not only will companies get expertise they will also have access to state of the art electronic, mechanical and optical equipment in the workshops at Sensor City.
Alison Mitchell, Executive Director, said “I am very excited that we can help customers leapfrog from a business idea through to concept and then to a prototype product. The LCR 4.0 team have a rich range of skills and experience in sensors and IoT and creating new products. When this is coupled with the amazing equipment we have in the workshops it will really assist companies to get to market faster.”
The Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Hartree Centre is a key digital asset to the North West, working at the interface between industry and pioneering international research in high performance computing, big data analytics and cognitive computing.
The Centre’s Director, Alison Kennedy, said: “The Centre is unique among its computational research peers in that our key strength is industrial engagement. We work with companies to accelerate innovation and productivity.
“Our commitment to the LCR 4.0 initiative promises to heighten our focus on local SME engagement, helping them to incorporate Industry 4.0 technologies such as simulation, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to operate more efficiently, saving time and money.
Digital incentive to use the gym
AWARD winning product design company 4D Products knew what it wanted to do to create its new Microgym, but needed help with the digital technology to make it happen
4D Products supplies innovative design solutions to businesses in a range of industry sectors. Based in Daresbury Science & Technology Park, 4D Products wanted to create a new form of smart exercise device utilizing resistance bands.
They teamed up with LCR 4.0 to work towards creating a wireless sensor system to improve their personal exercise device. This would allow for users to easily connect the product to a smartphone or similar device, collecting real-time data from their own exercise sessions.
The challenge facing 4D Products was a lack of resource in the electronic and software design of wireless sensor technology.
The company worked closely with LCR 4.0 partners, the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) who provided expertise and assistance in constructing a proof-of-concept prototype.
4D Products provided the model of the prototype device and the VEC team undertook a pre-agreed package of work to develop a pre-production solution using sensors and wireless technology integrated into the current 4D design. This collaborative work introduced new possible technology and devices to 4D Products including the wireless sensor system and the Android Wear application.
The VEC and 4D Products worked closely together throughout the design and development process, this allowed 4D Products to apply their new knowledge and create new products. After the period of support from the VEC, 4D Products has completed a patent application and are looking to release this new product to market in the near future under the name ‘WAVEX microgym’.
To find out more about LCR 4.0 and to access help visit lcr4.uk