Under the two-year project, Shiftec will test and pilot its Aquila system, which uses a system similar to GPS to track the precise position of people, equipment and vehicles around factories in real time. The system reduces workplace accidents, enhances the efficiency of movement and – integrated with Shiftec’s high-speed, long-range network solution – can allow for remote control operation of equipment. This control solution is building on Shiftec’s Gemini system, which has already been proven in the film and television industry as well as defence.
The £10 million program is being funded by Innovate UK through its Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, which is part of the government’s larger Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
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Shiftec will trial the technology at partner companies in the metals, engineering and industrial sectors including LIBERTY’s Speciality Steels’ site in Stocksbridge and its Pipe Mill in Hartlepool. Also involved in the consortium are the Materials Processing Institute and TSC Simulation of Nottingham.
The technology falls under the umbrella category known as Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, whereby artificial intelligence is used to enhance the productivity of workplaces.
Anthony Blackwell, Chief Technology Officer, Liberty Engineering and Managing Director of Shiftec, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to further test the potential of technology developed at Liberty which could make a real difference across many different workplaces.
“This system can allow for a wireless method of controlling heavy equipment and vehicles. It can intervene automatically to prevent imminent accidents, and it can identify small ways to make processes more efficient which, over time, add up to a great deal.”
At LIBERTY Steel’s site in Stocksbridge, the project will examine technologies for semi-autonomous cranes, improved mill measurement capability for the monitoring of product during rolling, and collect 3D scan data to create a working digital twin of at least one of the mill stands. At Hartlepool, the system will improve the measurement of pipe shape during forming.
Liberty Steel’s UK Technical Director, Dr Simon Pike said: “This project, including the input from Shiftec is a significant step forward for both LIBERTY sites and will act as a test bed for the use of Industry 4.0 approaches and automation.
“In conjunction with digital camera technology and metallurgical models we aim to get more precise metallurgical information and dimensional control.”
Shiftec, LIBERTY Engineering and LIBERTY Steel are all part of the GFG Alliance, the group of industrial businesses owned by Sanjeev Gupta and his family.
Aquila has potential applications well beyond steel – including applications in food plants, chemicals factories, aluminium smelters, marine, aerospace as well as the automotive and motorsport industry.