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TFI Network+ Director reflects on the first year of the Network

Dear Members,

The need for innovation and transformation has never been more significant in the Foundation Industries. COP26 highlighted the critical juncture we are at as a species in the fight against global warming and climate change. The looming rise in the cost of electricity and gas is casting a shadow over our energy intensive industries and disruptions to global supply chains and available personnel caused by the pandemic have exacerbated issues around production.

In the first year since our launch in February 21, TFI Network+ has managed to fulfil its commitments despite operating largely through lockdown, and is providing support to the Foundation Industries in these turbulent times through sponsoring of small-proof of concept-projects, workshops, seminars and acting as a point of contact for information and conversation. There is still much to do and we have a full programme of events and project calls planned in the coming months and years. Based on our experience and feedback from the community however, we now have a better idea of the ‘enablers of transformation’ in the Foundation Industries and have become aware of some of the barriers towards their implementation.

Our workshops on ‘roadmapping’, ‘resource efficiency’ and ‘energy efficient manufacturing’ were well attended and created a lively discussion. For energy efficiency manufacturing, retrofitting legacy equipment with new systems engenders risk and creates considerable capital expenditure, unavailable in many instances to even the larger companies. Nonetheless, there is a clear understanding across the Foundation Industries that such systems are required which has been brought into sharper focus by the current energy problems. We would encourage our members to explore ways in which research and development of such systems can be de-risked through partnerships with other companies, sectors and academia to seek government funding through the numerous initiatives for which information is available through our website.

Professor Reaney presents during a TFI Network+ virtual workshop

Our call and workshop on the wider area of ‘resource efficiency’ proved highly successful with proposals funded and already some initiatives becoming embedded in industry. The take up of these concepts seems to offer one of the lowest barriers to implementation as substituting native raw materials with those from a waste steam requires a change in processing conditions rather than new equipment and expertise. The risk and cost are thus reduced.

Our theme of digitalisation, explored in our workshop on ‘Next generation intelligent processes’ provided the TFIN+ team with a conundrum for the future. Of all the ‘enablers’, it offers the greatest potential to impact across multiple Foundation Industry sectors and its benefits of reduced plant downtime and energy and raw material savings are clear and were well-illustrated by our speakers. The necessary work however, deviates significantly from the classic skillsets associated with the foundation industries, requiring knowledge of advanced computing, sensing, modelling and data handling. At TFI Network+, we recognize this ‘skills gap’ and we are working with UKRI, KTN, Industrial Cadets, the TFI Future leaders Group and the Engineering Development Trust to address this issue. We would also encourage companies within the Foundation Industries to explore this avenue of transformation and we are happy to discuss this issue and make introductions to the right people and organisations who can help.

The TFI Network+ has made progress and we have learned much from the close collaboration with different stakeholders from the Foundation industries, but we know the task is huge and it is essential therefore that we continue work together in the push towards net-zero and more efficient manufacturing. We are also putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our activities, ensuring our Network remains inclusive and supporting the Foundation Industries with an upcoming workshop to encourage discussion and raise awareness. We look forward to continuing to work with our members and community in the next months and years.

Professor Ian M. Reaney, Director of the Transforming Foundation Industries Network+

Published: March 9th, 2022
Posted in TFI Network+ News

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