Britain's Department of Trade and Industry has been monitoring developments in information technology, including CAD/CAM and related fields. Government policies call for development of new products and techniques through direct support and enlightened public purchasing. An 85 million pound Microelectronics Application Project (MAP) was launched in 1982 to promote the use of microelectronics in product and process control in the manufacturing industry. And a three-year awareness and training plan by the Department had as its goal the increasing use of CAD/CAM by Britain's engineering industry.
In the electronics industry in the UK, computer-aided engineering has developed a different range of techniques from those in the mechanical and electrical engineering industries. A three-year (CADMAT-computer-aided design, manufacture, and test) program of awareness, training, demonstration and support activities aimed specifically at accelerating the use of CADMAT by small and medium size firms has been launched.
Because the government recognizes the implications of new technology on employment, a national network of Information Technology Centers has been set up to give young unemployed people training and work experience in microelectronics and computing. For information on these Centers' locations and programs, contact the Department of Trade and Industry, Information Technology Division, 29 Bresseden PI., London SW1 E 5DT, Telephone 01-213 6526.
Automation in British Car Production
Automation is becoming increasingly important to Britain's manufacturers. Among them is Austin Rover, a leader in Britain's motor industry. Its Maestro and Montego production lines at Cowley use advanced robotic techniques.
Long before the cars reach the production stage, however, engineers have used computer workstations. They draw straight onto their visual display units with an electronic light pen, and are linked via computer to colleagues who can put the same drawing on screen. Design tasks which used to take weeks now are completed in minutes.
At Vauxhall, the General Motors division at Ellesmere Port in northwest England, new production techniques are used to produce car doors. Once the body shell of the new Astra is painted, the doors are removed and whisked away on floor-guided vehicles (robo-carriers) to be built on their own production lines. When the doors are finished, a computerized system makes sure they're returned to the same car from which they were originally removed.
A similar sub-line assembly system builds up the whole cockpit module of the car-instrument panel, wiring harness, steering column, pedal assembly, heater and ventilating controls-and returns it to the main assembly line so it can be put into the car body in one operation. Previously, line workers added these components as the car moved along the assembly line.
Ford of Britain
Ford of Britain, which uses one of the largest robot armies in the country, opened a $11.5 million pound paint shop using robots at its Halewood plant in June 1985.
At Ford of Britain's European Research Center at Dunton, another high technology machine-provides an endless belt simulated road surface for investigating the rolling resistance of tires in an effort to improve fuel economy. Computer controls let the action of a vehicle's suspension be reproduced, while variations in suspension and steering geometry can be introduced and repeated under controlled laboratory conditions. The entire rig can be computer-programmed to operate automatically, supplying printouts at predetermined intervals.
Bedford Commercial Vehicles
Formerly a stand-alone domestic producer, this company is now a major participant in the newly-established General Motors Truck and Bus Group. Its $8 million pound investment in two years has given it one of Europe's most advanced computer-aided design facilities: computer augmented design and manufacture (CADM), the corporate graphics system (CGS), and engineering analysis. A sophisticated communications network also lets engineers at Bedford's Luton plant, near London use a teleconferencing audio/video link with GM's design engineers 4000 miles away. Drawings and documents can be displayed and modified during the two-way discussion.
Other CAD/CAM Uses
Many other British companies are using the new technology. At research facilities for Perkins Engines of Peterborough, world's leading manufacturer of diesel engines, engineers use computer-aided design to develop quieter and more fuel-efficient engines. More than 100 computer-controlled test beds let engines be studied in sound-proof cells.
At Teignbridge Engineering Ltd. in Devon, computers design manganese-bronze fishing boat propellers in minutes by analyzing data about a boat's operating conditions, speed, horsepower, rpm, reduction ratios, and maximum swing. The computer makes all the detailed calculations for the shape and thickness of the blade and its associated hub machinery. The company has designed its own computerized machining center for high quality casting and machining.
At Bath University, researcher Dr. Philip Willis has devised computer-based technology to "paint" directly onto a television-type screen. The digitized color picture can be used to illustrate a book or magazine, or to design packaging material.
When it's introduced commercially in 1987, the new technology will let graphic artists draw, color, and edit pictures on screen. The final pictures, combining elements of designs recalled from early data files, will be immediately available in digitized form on magnetic tape or disk exactly as required by printers, saving time and cutting costs.
And in Scotland, the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels has developed computer systems being used by mills in Britain and the United States that cut design costs by 20 or 30 percent.
In Ormskirk, northwest England, a sophisticated cast iron production facility at Hattersley Newman Hender Ltd. opened in 1986 uses computers for the entire process: from preparing production schedules, to transporting raw materials, components, and completed valves around the system on automatically-guided vehicles.
British manufacturers are also exporting CAD/CAM technology. Ferranti Metrology Systems, of Dalkeith, Scotland, has supplied three computerized inspection machines for measuring engine blocks and gears to the Daewoo Motor Company of Korea, and has trained Korean employees in their use. Pneumatic Systems (Engineers) Ltd. of Sheffield has designed, built, and installed a continuous production computer-controlled balloon making plant in Malaysia for producing 100 million toy balloons per year. The manufacturing cycle in the Ulu Tiram, Malaysia plant is controlled by a computer system. A single push button initiates automatic sequential start-up and shut down of the plant. The computer also alerts the operator if there's a malfunction, and shows the exact location of the problem.
Northern Ireland is part of the European community, with 320 million consumers, so products manufactured there enter this market entirely tariff-free. Northern Ireland government agencies have identified industrial automation as having major potential for stable long term investment and excellent employment prospects, so companies are receiving special tax treatment. For instance, building costs can be reduced by 75 percent, future corporation tax by 80 percent, and equipment costs by 90 percent. Government R&D and training grants are geared to the special needs of the new technology companies.
Northern Ireland's three major institutes have special units that investigate practical and commercial applications of technology. The Northern Ireland Automation Center at Queen's University, Belfast, is a production advisory unit operated on commercial lines. It, and the Polytechnic's Innovation and Research Center, are recognized by the UK Government as Robotics Consultancy Centers. Each, does feasibility studies on sophisticated applications of automation, and provides project development and training facilities.
Each year, the two schools produce over 500 engineering graduates, almost 25 percent of whom have practical experience in industrial automation, and nearly half in computer science.
In secondary schools, 16 to 18 year old students are building sophisticated robots. One team from Carrickfergus School has won the Irish Young Scientist of the Year Award, and has gone on to further European success with their robot development project. In Government Training Centers, skilled operators are being trained on equipment, including computer numerically-controlled (CNC) machines similar to that used in the plants where they will work.
Behind government support of industrial automation, of course, is the desire to attract and encourage foreign investment. The financial support offered by Northern Ireland is attracting attention from large U.S. corporations who want to establish European subsidiaries, and from smaller, rapidly-growing companies who see their major growth opportunities in Europe, and who find the investment support particularly helpful in the first crucial years of operation.
As part of its economic development strategy, the Ontario Government has established six Technology Centers across the province, in order to help Ontario industry to apply technology. Funded by government, but operated by the private sector, they provide technical assistance to businesses in identifying and implementing applications of technology that can make them more profitable and competitive.
Of special interest is the Ontario Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, which has two branches: the Ontario CAD/CAM Centre in Cambridge, and the Ontario Robotics Centre in Peterborough. Seminars and demonstrations help businesses by explaining the technologies. Consultants help businesses decide what applications are technically and financially feasible, design custom applications when requested, and arrange training for personnel. OCAM's robotics staff provides expertise needed for preliminary assessment of the potential for profitable applications of robots in a particular manufacturing operation through detailed feasibility studies, design, specifications, and implementation.