Over the last 18 months we at HSSMI have been talking to a lot of our customers and academic partners about digital manufacturing, or industry 4.0 or Factory of the Future; the names vary but the intent is the same; how can we increase productivity, quality, flexibility and reduce cost for example, by employing digital technologies in our manufacturing plants.

HSSMI has valued and taken on board a number of points. Firstly, there is no clear definition of what digital manufacturing means? Is this a technology approach, or an organisation issue? Second, is it best to phase digital into my operations or is it only suitable for greenfield operations? Third, how and when should I approach my customers, suppliers and partners about digital manufacturing? Finally, and most importantly, how do I demonstrate I can deliver value from digital at the lowest possible risk?

To address these questions HSSMI thought long and hard about the best response. We identified there was a need for a common approach and language to discuss digital. To deliver on this ambition we looked at and referenced the well-respected indicators of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) and have determined both of these offer a ‘brand’ and approach that could be applied in a similar way to digital.

During late 2016 we sounded this idea out with a number of stakeholders and found that although a number of readiness and maturity models existed, none offered the ‘brand reputation’, clarity or acceptability of TRL and MRL. HSSMI has registered DRL as a term but will share this with collaborative partners on an open basis.

HSSMI now recognises it cannot develop DRL on its own. So, we are pulling partners into the concept, these include the High Value Manufacturing Catapults, the Digital Catapult, Knowledge Transfer Network and others – to test and develop the concept.

We will soon have an outline vision, scope and objectives for DRL and will share these in the next few months. After that, with the support of our partners, we will work to produce DRL 1.0. We look forward to clarity, depth and quality of a comprehensive measure to support UK industry to take full, value-based advantage of digital manufacturing to realise its full potential.

If you are interested in learning more please email myself, Simon Barnes, Commercial Director at simon.barnes@hssmi.org.