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HP Inc. SMARC: A playground for engineering and analytics
Innovation

HP Inc. SMARC: A playground for engineering and analytics

20 Jul 2018

HP Singapore’s new smart manufacturing research centre is going to up productivity by a fifth with smart processes and lead the digitisation of its entire value chain towards adopting Industry 4.0 technologies.

 

Traditional manufacturing systems face a constant dilemma. They excel in either one of two things: efficiency or flexibility. A factory can produce the same thing repeatedly and find the most resource-efficient way to do it. Or it can produce a highly-customised product using a flexible manufacturing process, but at significantly lower efficiencies.

 

But the world is changing. According to Manufacturing Ecosystems, a 2017 report by Accenture Strategy, consumers of the 21st century have increasingly demanding expectations, desiring “more frequent product launches” and “extreme personalisation” from businesses. In other words, they are no longer willing to choose between efficiency and flexibility. Companies at the forefront of manufacturing innovation must develop smart processes that transition from mass production to mass customisation to respond to the needs of this new generation.

 

HP’s manufacturing solutions are leading this new era in manufacturing. Its Jet Fusion 3D printer gives precise control over the production of manufactured parts, all the way down to the voxel level (3D pixel), and is especially useful when quickly creating cost-efficient prototypes, or samples, of designs in small quantities. According to HP’s own internal tests, superior quality, customisable physical parts can be produced at up to 10 times the speed and half the cost. Global titans like Nike, BMW, Jabil and Johnson & Johnson are just some of the companies that are already users of this platform.

HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printer gives precise control over the production of manufactured parts, all the way down to the voxel level.

HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printer gives precise control over the production of manufactured parts, all the way down to the voxel level.

Doing SMARC manufacturing with data analytics

 

In the smart manufacturing landscape, 3D printing is just the tip of the iceberg. In December 2017, HP Singapore opened the Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre (SMARC), an “engineering playground” for HP’s technical staff to “experience, trial and prototype” solutions, according to Ms Jamie Neo, HP’s Director of Operations for Supplies, whose initiative led to the creation of SMARC.

 

Elements of this playfulness are scattered throughout the 550 sq.m facility. The labs have single-word verbs for names, such as “Think”, “Build” and “Sense”. In the Move Lab, which explores the potential of cyber-physical integration, a sleek white single-armed collaborative robot (cobot) demonstrates its flexibility by brewing a cup of coffee, while an autonomous intelligent vehicle (AIV), a rectangular-shaped tray on wheels, roams the room inquisitively, careful to stop well short of visitors’ feet. Nearby, a live map of the room represented how the AIV “saw” its surroundings, with symbols for feet shifting in accordance with visitors’ movements.

Examples of labs within the facility are the “Think”, “Build” and “Sense” labs.

 

Credit: HP    

HP Inc.’s mission centres around the drive to “keep reinventing”, to “engineer experiences that amaze”. And it was this creative freedom that enabled Ms Neo to see the need for SMARC in the first place. When she moved to a business development role in 2009, she learned about business intelligence and translating data into consumer insights, using data collected by individual printers to understand usage patterns of HP customers and break them up into meaningful segments.

 

But the big revelation came when she went back to a manufacturing role in 2014. “I realised that we could use Big Data in manufacturing too”, she said, “[and] started the journey within the business to use data analytics in manufacturing and Industrial IoT to derive meaningful algorithms and insights for manufacturing”.

 

In Singapore since 1970, HP’s strength has always been in the fundamentals of engineering. But what Ms Neo realised was that these fundamentals can be augmented and improved by data-driven analyses and other smart processes. “In recent years, with volumes of data outstripping the capacity of manual analysis, computers becoming more powerful, networking ubiquitous and algorithms developed that can connect data-sets to enable broader and deeper analysis — we can make the data work harder”, she said.

Ms Jamie Neo, HP’s Director of Operations for Supplies.

One example of this is in the domain of quality control. Most companies use Statistical Process Control, a means of monitoring the output of processes to ensure that they fall within certain statistical boundaries. While traditionally this is done with only one variable at a time, such as the weight of a component or speed of a process, HP has derived data analytics algorithms which can measure and monitor multiple parameters at one go. If the analysis of any of these variables reveals a significant anomaly, HP’s system will trigger early warnings and drive corrective action.

 

Bringing together more than 3,000 innovators and problem solvers from over 35 nations in a single location, HP aims to increase such efficiencies in the entire supplies manufacturing process by adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, with the overall aim of improving productivity by 20 per cent. Apart from the Move Lab with the cobots and AIVs, the Think Lab focuses on developing tools for data analytics and the Sense Lab applies these developments to industrial applications. 3D-related experiments and prototyping happen in the Build Lab, with its focus on the convergence of flexibility and efficiency.

SMARC brings together innovators and problem solvers from over 35 nations in a single location with the aim to increase efficiencies in the entire supplies manufacturing process by adopting Industry 4.0 technologies.

 

Credit: HP    

An ecosystem view of Industry 4.0 in Singapore

 

The decision to open SMARC in Singapore also leverages on the Industry 4.0 transition that the country is undergoing. The transition takes into account both employers and employees, aiming to equip the workforce with the capability to engage in smart manufacturing processes and enable companies to integrate smart processes into their systems.

 

In October 2017, a new set of the SkillsFuture series of adult training programmes was started, offering more than 400 courses across eight areas developed by the Singapore government in collaboration with industry partners. Data Analytics, Tech-Enabled Services, Cybersecurity and Advanced Manufacturing are just four of the areas that train the Singaporean workforce in skills that are integral to smart factories. These government programmes parallel similar initiatives in the private sector.

 

HP Singapore has invested in its local workforce through a range of training initiatives, including its own “Brain Candy” learning platform and graduate programmes. These training initiatives have enabled their employees to learn new skills relevant to their jobs, in emerging fields such as data analytics and additive manufacturing.

 

In support of the SkillsFuture movement, HP recently launched an in-house initiative to certify employees as SkillsFuture-Growth Mindset Ambassadors. These Ambassadors will be tasked with promoting lifelong learning throughout the organisation.

 

In 2017, HP set up a multimillion-dollar Graphics Solutions Service Learning Academy in Singapore, providing professional development courses in digital printing technologies to over a thousand customers, managers, engineers and operators across the Asia Pacific and Japan.

 

On the side of corporations, the Singapore government is pouring S$450 million (US$335 million) into the National Robotics Programme, which helps companies adopt robotics to make their work more efficient. Another initiative, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster, supports collaboration between leading universities and industry partners with the aim of translating 3D-printing techniques into practice.

 

Such a holistic focus on equipping both corporations and the workforce is crucial to a successful Industry 4.0 transition. As a founding member of Singapore’s first Additive Manufacturing Coalition in partnership with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC), HP, like other leading companies, demonstrates an understanding of the fact that a transition to Industry 4.0 cannot be managed in isolation.

 

For example, in HP Singapore’s case, supplies manufacturing is just one part of the whole production ecosystem, which also includes materials suppliers, equipment vendors, automation and tooling vendors, contract manufacturers and logistics firms. The full benefits of smart manufacturing and big data are only attainable with the entire ecosystem on board.

 

“To transform into a data-driven decision-making organisation, we [need] to digitise the whole value chain, [and] connect the data sets to enable broader and deeper analysis within the ecosystem”, Ms Neo said. “The reinvention of our supplies manufacturing processes impacts not just us, but also the wider ecosystem we work with.”

 

With their new engineering playground in place and an ecosystem view in mind, HP is leveraging on the synergies of Singapore’s comprehensive transition to Industry 4.0, involving both employers and employees alike, to drive sustainable growth of its whole value chain for years to come.

HP is leveraging on the synergies of Singapore’s comprehensive transition to Industry 4.0 to drive sustainable growth of its whole value chain for years to come.

 

Credit: HP    

“By creating better more efficient ways of working with data analytics, automation, robotics and 3D printing while helping our wider ecosystem participants digitise their business, we are using technology to deliver better experiences and accelerated performance for the future”, she said.