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CW International Conference explores digitalisation of industry



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A Virtual Reality set on one of the 36 stands at the 2019 CW International Conference. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative
A Virtual Reality set on one of the 36 stands at the 2019 CW International Conference. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative

This year’s CW International Conference began briskly, with a significantly enhanced sense of purpose contrasting well with last year’s slow start.

Agriculture, retail, smart cities, transport and utilities were all part of the 'Digitising Industry' agenda at the Wellcome Genome Campus and Raj Gawera, VP and managing director, Samsung Cambridge and chairman of CW, set the tone in his eloquent opening comments.

“The thing you do is connect,” he told the audience. “Once the tools are connected then you can unleash practically an unlimited amount of data... which leads to possibly even a mindset shift. This is an opportunity for incumbents to be replaced and this then leads to disruption. Some of you might salivate at the idea of disruption – but it does have a flipside, which is trust. Often disruptors haven’t learned the lessons the hard way. And even if they have there’s a lot of malevolent actors out there – all of this can be weaponised. Great power means great responsibility.”

Ofcom CTO Mansoor Hanif announcing affordable spectrum licenses. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative
Ofcom CTO Mansoor Hanif announcing affordable spectrum licenses. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative

Ofcom CTO Mansoor Hanif used his appearance at the conference to announce that the UK regulator will offer affordable licences for 3.8-4.2GHz.

“Digitalisation is on everyone’s agenda but it has to be underpinned by connectivity,” he said. “Our proposal is to offer this up for local licensing at a price of around £80, which is an administrative fee."

So 10MHz chunks of 5G spectrum between 3.8 GHz and 4.2 GHz are set be sold at £80 a pop: this in a market where last year O2 paid almost £8million for its 3.4 spectrum in a 20-year deal. Exciting – especially for smaller organisations including hospitals or universities who want to set up their own 5G network.

“5G is a compelling way to interconnect,” said Mr Hanif. And now it’s even more compelling – though he adds that the final decision on the arrangement will take a few more weeks.

Next, Ian Simmons is VP of innovation development and R&D at Magna International, who went for the granular.

“Industry 4.0 has the potential to be so disruptive and we have to be prepared as a business to take advantage of that.”

In just one area – automobility – the shift is under way. Speakers at these events have to put their money where their mouth is and describe what the cultural effects of technological changes they are working on will be. It’s a small courtesy, so people – and business – can prepare for what lies ahead, and Mr Simmons was up to it.

“The general consensus is that the conventional car will disappear and the focus will be on services. The way we use vehicles will change, so it’ll be a multi-use vehicle which will drop off flowers to a customer, deliver a pizza, act a a taxi – all in one vehicle where that used to be five vehicles, and it’s all driven by customer acceptance... It won’t be the car you see on the road today, because it’ll all be about sharing.”

The CW International Conference 2019 is the 11th such event for the membership-driven technical minds organisation. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative
The CW International Conference 2019 is the 11th such event for the membership-driven technical minds organisation. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative

One recurring theme is 5G: if it feels like it needs an extra push to get it over the line the reason could be the public may not fully appreciate how 5G synchs up industrial IoT applications. Ben Timmons, senior director of business development at Qualcomm, told the packed auditorium that “for operators, vendors, infrastructure – and ourselves – we’re moving faster than any other technology transition”. The way industrial practice adapts to 5G is very significant because the technology - high reliability, low latency - is also bringing the dreaded era of robots, and no one really knows what’s going to happen, but Ben is optimistic.

“5G is incredibly applicable to the industrial environment,” he said, “but don’t think of it as something for the future, it’s something you can do now.”

Interestingly though, as someone from the audience pointed out during a panel Q&A, what you can’t do now is get a signal – any signal – at the Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre, even at a CW event. Too much of Britain V2019 is too busy uploading Industry 3.0 to worry about the implications of roboticised industrialisation further down the line... I wander over to the agritech session where three agri-tech startups – Breedr, LettUs Grow and 30MHz – were presenting their innovations for boosting farming productivity.

Ian Wheal, founder of precision livestock network Breedr, said the challenge of digitalisation is “to help build a sustainable life chain”. Odd the industry is only just getting round to this, but the industry is wise-ing up. Mr Wheal explained that “one of the biggest issues in the livestock sector in the UK is that it’s completely unprofitable – and that Brexit could destroy the land industry”. The goal for LettUs Grow, co-founder and CTO Ben Crowther told the session, is “to improve the supply chain for a more sustainable future”. When things go wrong, they get very messy for growers and consumers.

Ian Wheal, BREEDR co-founder and CEO, speaking at the Agri-tech session of the 2019 CW International Conference. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative
Ian Wheal, BREEDR co-founder and CEO, speaking at the Agri-tech session of the 2019 CW International Conference. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative

“Last year when we had a lettuce crisis,” Ben said, “we imported 30,000 lettuces into the UK from California, which meant a 200-times increase in carbon transport than if they came from the usual suppliers in Spain or Holland - and 1,000 times more carbon involved than if we grew them in the UK.” LettUs Grow – which incidentally is improving supply arrangements for 40 types of crops other than lettuce - is a fan of airoponics, the process of growing plants in the air. Food for thought.

Last of the agritech speakers was Steve Archer, business development manager for Dutch company 30MHz, which delivers data-driven agriculture so “farmers can monitor their environment in real time”. The key is using sensors in the fields: the digitalisation process needs farmers and growers to feel comfortable that the sensors will last a long time in the fields, year in, year out, without maintenance and working with 100 per cent accuracy in all conditions.

The CW International Conference offers an unusual platform for engineers and colleagues – they get to look up at the stars, and get down and dirty in the mud of creativity, and it has to be said that it works rather well. Around 400 attended this 11th annual conference, including 49 different speakers and 36 exhibitors. Summing up the occasion, CW CEO Simon Mead said: “The retail track featuring ghd, IBM and innovative start-up Metail was a true highlight of the day.

The Francis Crick Auditorium at the 2019 CW International Conference was a busy place. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative
The Francis Crick Auditorium at the 2019 CW International Conference was a busy place. Picture: Sean Brkovic/Kovic Creative

“It emphasised the industry’s focus on making retail ever more personalised, sustainable and accessible; the ability of technology to identify, place, price and promote precisely what consumers might like is clearly now unbelievably advanced. The speakers agreed that the high street experience would soon resurge and be transformed into engaging in-store experiences that are more like media centres than the shops we know today.

“There was a real buzz around the venue from beginning to end. This was my first of CW’s major conferences as CEO and I was blown away by the standard to which the team and committee delivered, by the insights that emerged from the sessions and the openness of all delegates to sharing ideas, both in the panel discussions and in the networking periods.

“CW’s thanks go to everyone who helped make the day a success and in particular the speakers, exhibitors and our generous sponsors.”



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