Powering industry in a time of uncertainty
As the summer of 2018 draws to an end, the manufacturing sector seems to be standing on the brink of countless changes. The advancing technology of ‘Industry 4.0’ promises to re-shape how factories function from the ground-up, while threats of trade war tariffs play havoc with global business and the spectre of Brexit leaves the UK uncertain and unsteady.
With so many questions still hanging in the air, it is understandable that many manufacturers, especially in the UK, are hesitant to commit their capital budgets to projects that could be skewered by a political decision before the first products roll off the line.
But at least it’s possible to push back plans over brand new plants and upgraded equipment until things are a little clearer. The same cannot be said of the decision to replace power or cooling equipment at sites whose long-term fate still hangs in the balance.
There are many plants and factories up and down the country that could either be shuttered or revitalised depending on how the industry moves between now and 2020. If a cooling tower or generator at one of these locations begins to fail, the business is faced with a tough decision.
Power demands of a building, project or construction site can often be variable, fluctuating up and down during operational and non-operational times. For a long time, the default assumption has been that if a manufacturer needs industrial power or cooling equipment they will simply buy and run it themselves. After all, in the long run that has usually been the most cost-effective way to operate.
As with many other assumptions, manufacturers thinking is beginning to change. The increasing importance of flexibility and reliability means that hiring equipment, that would normally require a capital expense, is becoming a sound business decision.
This is especially true in the case of plants with uncertain futures. Hiring a handful of cooling towers or a few megawatts of power equipment for a 6 months or so is much safer than spending hundreds of thousands, or possibly millions, of pounds buying the same systems outright. At the same time, it’s also much more sensible than closing down a functioning site because one piece of equipment has failed and the analysts are uncertain of its long-term future.
Cost hasn’t been the only reason why manufacturers have sometimes been shy when it comes to investigating the advantages of hiring. There has also been an assumption that leased equipment will have a generic, one-size-fits-all design that may not meet a site’s specific requirements, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When we work with customers we make sure to fit the product we’re supplying to their needs. Sometimes this means ensuring that it can handle tough environments and locations, from deserts to the open sea, and sometimes it means supplying super silent generators for low-noise applications or arranging a load-on-demand set-up for a site with variable power demands.
POWERING THE FUTURE
The advantages of hiring equipment don’t just extend to helping businesses wait out the time needed to spot upcoming changes, of course. They can also play a major role in helping the industry adapt and react to the new shape of the sector.
While it’s hard to be certain what manufacturing in the UK will look like ten years from now, one of the major trends seems to be an increased demand for flexibility and reliability. The core concepts of Industry 4.0 revolve around integrating physical production equipment with automated computer systems that can rapidly process and learn from data streams.
The advent of these smart-factories means that businesses will be able to react to political and financial challenges faster than ever, potentially altering what and how much is being produced at the site to maximise value. However, any shifts in production capacity or processes will still require support from both cooling and power systems.
Once more, this is an area where the ability to hire reliable, affordable power and cooling equipment will prove invaluable. Rather than specify an oversized generator that only operates at peak efficiency when the site is working flat-out, businesses could save money by leasing equipment to cover peaks in production. With the aid of a skilled supplier such as Aggreko this could be tailored to the site’s specific needs, and an agreement could ensure that equipment is available as soon as it’s needed.
The emphasis that Industry 4.0 places on computerised control systems also increases a site’s need for reliability. Downtime can already be incredibly expensive for manufacturers, and having the entire operation depend on data and remote computers means that a loss of power or cooling could be devastating.
Once again, hire of equipment could help to quickly respond to unexpected failures or bridge the gap when systems need maintenance or replacement. Aggreko already offers bespoke contingency plans to manufacturers all across the UK, and we expect this to only increase at businesses become more reliant on these vital systems.
We’ve spent decades supporting the UK manufacturing sector, and though the future is uncertain we are confident that we will continue to play a vital role no matter what happens.
Future of Manufacturing Report
Aggreko features in the 2018 ‘Future of Manufacturing’ special report, published by Raconteur Media on 22/08/18 in The Times.
This report is produced in association with the EEF and MTA and is educating around the complex and fast-moving manufacturing environment: Industry 4.0 and how to get there, as well as debating how best to drive forwards the UK manufacturing industry at this time of uncertainty.