The School of Advanced Engineering Technology at SIT | Te Pūkenga hosted the inaugural Smart Factory Showcase recently, offering students and local industry insights into cutting-edge technologies and advancements within the industrial engineering landscape.
Carlo Gabriel, Programme Manager at SIT School of Advanced Engineering, said the showcase, held at Hansen Hall on November 2nd, was a significant event aimed at supporting regional development because it could encourage local manufacturers to embrace the latest technologies.
The event attracted around 40 attendees representing various industry sectors, including Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd., NES Ltd., Yunca, and other engineering and manufacturing businesses; Southland Chamber of Commerce, Southland-Otago Regional Engineering Collective (SOREC), as well as students and staff from the School of Advanced Engineering.
The showcase is a government-driven initiative designed to help demystify Industry 4.0 using a world-leading New Zealand business example, Nautech Electronics, who’ve introduced cobots (collaborative robots) along with an integrated information management system that tracks and controls workflows into their manufacturing process.
Industry 4.0 refers to the current fourth industrial revolution, which is centred around digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality, and advanced manufacturing technologies. Nautech Electronics design and manufacture emergency warning lights, LED light bars, power management, and vehicle integration products. Showcase participants got a taste of the future by exploring the Auckland-based company’s latest technological advancements.
Brendan Gray, Manager of the recently formed Southland Engineering and Manufacturing cluster, said he enjoyed the showcase’s extremely interactive and self-directed format. “Everyone had their own tablet and could take a virtual tour of the Nautech facility.” He described the content as relevant and the company’s use of cobots was “an eye-opener”. He could see them being incorporated into local
businesses in the future. Cobots and automation in general, could be broadly applicable to a wide range of industries. “A greater level of automation in the manufacturing space will become more prevalent in Southland as the potential uses and benefits become better understood,” he stated, adding it could enhance business performance by providing solutions for various issues, from staff shortages to productivity and quality control.
The showcase aligned well with SIT’s academic programmes, including those within Advanced Engineering and Engineering Trades, with a specific focus on Manufacturing Technology. “It enables our tutors and students to be exposed to, and become well-versed in the most advanced technologies,” said Mr Gabriel, making it more likely they will be incorporated into academic programmes and business models, ensuring the institute remains at the forefront of innovation.
For attending students, Mr Gabriel said “it bridged the gap between classroom learning and real-world application,” adding he hoped his students would also be inspired, encouraging them to excel in their academic and professional pursuits.
Nathan Beirowski, New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Mechanical) student said attending the Smart Factory Showcase was an eye-opening experience. “The live demonstrations and presentations from industry experts was incredibly informative and inspiring.” As well as gaining valuable insights into the practical application of the concepts he’s been learning in his programme, Mr Beirowski said the event reinforced his passion for engineering and has motivated him to further explore the technologies shaping the future of the sector. “It’s provided me a deeper understanding of the industry's needs and trends, and also given me a clearer vision of my career path,” he added.
Mr Gabriel believed taking a proactive approach helped to position SIT in serving regional business needs, by supporting the exchange of knowledge, promoting innovative technologies, and advancing Industry 4.0 practices. “The participation from local organisations such as Ballance Agri-Nutrients, NES and others, lent real-world relevance,” and he emphasised there was no alternative to the invaluable networking opportunities for SIT students as they sought out their place in advanced engineering and related fields.
Based on the success of the event, the organising committee intends to host the showcase next year. “There is potential for it to develop into an annual occurrence,” said Mr Gabriel.