Case study

Developing new professions for new businesses: Middlesex University, Festo, Siemens and the factory of the future

20 Mar 2017

Middlesex University London’s newest addition to its north London campus is more than just an innovative and modern building with green credentials. The Ritterman Building – named after the university’s esteemed Chancellor, Dame Janet Ritterman – is also home to the UK’s first Cyber Factory training facility.

Installed by Festo, a leading international supplier of automation technology, the factory of the future offers Middlesex students a real-life cyber factory experience that will prepare them for designing, developing and maintaining the smart factories and smart cities of the future. Because this set-up is so new, students learn disciplines that don’t yet exist in the workplace, but will be commonplace in the future. While the factory installation at Middlesex designs and assembles mobile phones, the technology could be used in a wide range of contexts, such as in food processing and packaging or to manage driverless smart cars.   

Professor Mehmet Karamanoglu, Design Engineering and Mathematics Head of Department at Middlesex University London said: “Facilities such as this give students an insight into how they could be working in the future, and arm them with the skills that will be required to maintain the quality and diversity of our manufacturing base in the UK.”
Festo’s training facility also uses expertise from their partners, such as global engineering and technology giant, Siemens, whose wireless technologies help Middlesex students learn about cyber security in the context of smart technology.

The installation uses radio signalling to track components and goods within the factory setting, and features near field communication (or NFC) which enables any object equipped with a chip to exchange information directly without the need for a computer or communications network. Together with logistical elements that assemble and move goods from different platforms and energy efficiency at the centre of its operations, these communication features allow the factory to produce ‘one-offs’ in an economical way.

“Imagine you can build your own car using just your mobile phone,” said Professor Mehmet Karamanoglu. “Within a set of parameters you choose the components of your car and the factory can build it for you at a fraction of the costs of a traditional production line. This enables us to produce customised products and solutions usng mass production techniques.”

“Manufacturing in the future will give customers more choice, more flexibility, and we will need new types of skills to develop and maintain this technology, let alone the technologies needed to protect the factories against cyber-attacks. But we will also need new ways to protect our production lines and smart technology, as the security risks will be different.

“Partnerships such this are crucial to delivering the knowledge and experience our graduates will need to design, operate and protect the workplaces of the future.”

Babak Jahanbani, Head of Learning Systems at Festo Didactic (GB) said: “As a result of our long-term partnership, Middlesex University is one of the best equipped centres for Festo Didactic and runs very successful engineering degree courses. This new training facility is the first of its type in the UK and will provide students with real-life experience in a controlled environment.”

Festo and Middlesex University have collaborated on a number of other projects, including the Mechatronics Competition of World Skills – with Middlesex students among the UK teams who will be competing in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and in Russia in 2019.

Middlesex University has invested over £200 million into its London campus over the last 17 years, to deliver outstanding teaching facilities and to build on its reputation for providing the London, UK and global skills economy with work-ready and savvy students who understand tomorrow’s technology today.