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Innovations in sensor development and digitalisation for the foundation industries

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Sarah Connolly, Innovation Technologist at Innovate UK is responsible for driving innovation in the Foundation Industries. In this post, she explores how innovations in sensor development, deployment and digitalisation can increase process efficiency, reduce environmental impact and improve competitiveness.

Sensor development and digitalisation

The term “Industry 4.0” has been adorning trade shows and conference programmes since 2011. But what do we really mean by the term, and how does it relate to the foundation industries?

The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 is the automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practises, using modern smart technology.

Ultimately this could mean machine-to-machine communication, self-monitoring, analysis, and diagnosis, with physical systems working as autonomously as possible with no need for human intervention.

Countless sensors are currently available on the open market, measuring temperature, chemistry, physical tolerance, surface finish, through a mixture of numerical measurements and image mapping.

Yet alone, this data is of no use, and simply populating large “data lakes” and consuming endless server space.

Where does the value lie?

The value in this data is in the utilisation and live response. The use of experienced eyes by trained workers has been slowly replaced by process sensors as the demands of quality, complexity, reproducibility and production speed have been pushed over the last 30 years.

Gathered data is often used to highlight when target temperatures have been overshot, or defects have been identified, for operators to respond to.

Few examples have been seen that utilise real-time intelligent data processing: enabling the machines to adapt and automatically change the process parameters to meet the specification.

Most of the manufacturing world is a long way from being fully automated. However, there are changes being made that exploit the benefits of increased data capture and use.

If you see an opportunity for increased sensor usage in your foundation industry process, or have developed sensor or data analysis and feedback technology that could be beneficial to these industries, please join us for our upcoming webinar series where we will discuss more challenges and opportunities for innovation in the foundation industries.

Early success

The Fast Start Competition, the first collaborative R&D competition run by the Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge, provided up to £5 million. This was used for cross-sector, collaborative, short duration, feasibility studies and industrial research and development projects. The projects focused upon common resource and energy efficiency opportunities and 13 successful projects are due to launch shortly.

The two projects covered in this blog post look at how sensors can be used within the manufacturing process and within the product.

Intelligent robotic inspection for foundation industry optimisation

Led by I3D Robotics, this collaborative project will develop sensor technology used to detect defects in metals production for use in glass and ceramic manufacturing.

The use of digitised inspection sensor technology should enhance productivity by identifying defects in real time.

If these defects are addressed through manufacturing, this reduces material scrappage and downgrading of higher value products. As well as reducing the need for reprocessing, increasing energy efficiency and competitiveness.

This project aims to use vision sensors to feed information into machine learning to monitor and improve the metals, glass and ceramic production process.

To guarantee the repeatability and accuracy of measurement, modern multi-axis robotic systems will be explored.

It is anticipated that a reduction in energy costs and improved production yields associated with the manufacture of tempered glass & dense ceramic materials will be significantly and positively impacted. As is the case in the steel industry where this technology is currently utilised.

Re-usable net-zero carbon structures

A consortium spanning the value chain of the construction industry, from steel and concrete producers all the way to construction firm and project lead Mace Ltd.  Mace Ltd aims to make energy-efficient, reusable structures for achieving zero-carbon buildings.

This project looks to develop an off-site modular production route for preparing panels ahead of on-site assembly. In order to significantly reduce the embodied CO2 value over the life cycle of the product, the consortium are working towards making these panels easy to dismantle and safe to reuse.

Understanding the safety of a concrete structure requires complete knowledge of the conditions and stresses faced by the component over its life.

To facilitate this understanding, sensor technology from project partners Converge will be utilised to give live concrete strength data, predictions and material performance analytics to allow accurate optimisation of design-life.

The full list of projects can be found here Fast Start Project Winners.

This is an exciting time for these industries, with the opportunity for transformational changes in the processes, approaches, or products.

For the first time, cross-sector funding is enabling the development of mutually beneficial innovation across these industries. Providing opportunities for the development of smart efficient processing methods and accelerating innovation in these inherently energy-intensive industries.

These projects are just the beginning of what will be achieved through this ISCF competition, with new technology being developed across the numerous stages and we are eager to hear about any ideas you may have.

We are now open for applications for the next round of funding. For details of this open competition and to keep up to date with the new challenge announcements visit the Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge Website.

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