The smart factory: collaboration with packaging company to boost efficiency through digital technology

The next generation of “smart” factories, which use advanced digital technology to improve efficiency, are the focus of a new collaboration between a leading packaging manufacturer, Crown Holdings, Inc., and Swansea University.

Dr Cinzia Giannetti, from the College of Engineering at Swansea University, working with Crown’s R&D centre in the U.K., will be using new data analytics techniques and digital technologies to improve production efficiency. 

One example of Industrial Digital Technologies is Cyber Manufacturing, which links together data from different machines, creating smart production lines that can adapt to change and recover from failure more quickly.

Crown is a leading packaging manufacturer with worldwide operations. Its portfolio includes cans and ends for soft drinks, beer and other beverages, food cans and ends and other metal and glass packaging for consumer products. It operates in highly competitive markets where manufacturing excellence is key to success.

Drawing on Crown’s expertise in the high-speed manufacture of metal packaging, the three-year study will focus on improving machines’ rapid decision-making capabilities to optimise production processes. With unique access to Crown’s plant data, the project will develop robust computational models that can be used in the company’s smart factories to make predictions about machine failures and optimise operational efficiencies, with the ultimate aim of decreasing waste and reducing downtime.  

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Dr Giannetti is a researcher into smart manufacturing with a background in software engineering.  She was one of three successful applicants from the College of Engineering for EPSRC-UKRI Innovation Fellowship funding, embodying Swansea University’s intention to carry out research that can have a real impact in industry.

The fellowship for Dr Giannetti is part of the IMPACT (Innovative Materials, Processing and Advanced Numerical Technologies) operation – a £35 million semi-autonomous research institute that will provide future proof highly specialised laboratories with a dynamic environment for collaboration between industry and academia. 

Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and Swansea University, this unique operation aims to attract world-leading expertise and significant research funding, with the new building due to open in summer 2019.

Dr Cinzia Giannetti of Swansea University said:

“A key benefit from the research is the potential to increase the efficiency, accuracy and productivity of manufacturing processes.

The current productivity levels of UK manufacturers and suppliers are lagging behind global competitors, preventing the UK from successfully competing with other countries in the manufacturing domain, which is vital to keep businesses and jobs in the UK rather than relocate production abroad.

A key means of boosting the manufacturing sector is the widespread adoption of Industrial Digital Technologies, including the application of Cyber Manufacturing Systems.

Using highly digitalised production systems and real world data from Crown’s plant, combined with their vast engineering knowledge, I aim to develop and deploy robust data driven computational models to predict occurrences of failures, so that timely adjustments to the process can be made to reduce downtime and increase process operational efficiency.

An important outcome of the project will ultimately be to improve our understanding of the benefits of adoption of Industrial Digital Technologies, and their value, and inspire confidence for manufacturers and suppliers to invest in this area, contributing to the UK to become a leader in digital manufacturing.”

Crown’s Vice President for Digital Technologies, Nigel Wakely, adds:

“We are delighted to have this opportunity to collaborate with Swansea University and support Dr Giannetti in her research.

Developing automated systems to optimise our high-speed, high volume production processes will be challenging, but is a goal that we think is highly valuable. The potential to apply her learnings to other industries makes this project even more worthwhile.” 

Find out more about IMPACT

Swansea University College of Engineering

Crown Holdings Inc.

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