Last week a more welcome display of modernity found form in roughly the same part of the West Midlands, with industrial robotics giant FANUC opening its new UK headquarters.
At a cost of £19m, the 10,000 square metre facility at Ansty Park provides the firm ample scope to expand its activities - bringing its robotics, machine tools and factory automation businesses together in a purpose-built space four times larger than its former plant.
Science and innovation feature heavily in the manifestos of the major parties ahead of the election, with the Conservatives pledging to spend more on research and development, funding at least one new institute of technology, while Labour promise a new ‘digital ambassador.’
As the exacting demands of the new information age intensify, FANUC and companies like it, are increasingly capturing the imagination of investors.
From its parent firm’s inception in Japan in 1956, the firm has played a key role in driving forward the worldwide manufacturing revolution - its distinctive yellow robots lining the factory floors of Toyota and other blue chip companies.
Notably it was successful in stealing a march on its competitors last autumn, launching the FANUC Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (FIELD) system.
To start with, FANUC delivered robots to customers, only receiving feedback when they malfunctioned. Subsequently it launched the Zero Downtime initiative which kept tabs on the health of robots by collecting data from individual machines and analysing via the cloud - a type of internet-based computing which provides shared computer processing resources.
This allowed the company to anticipate robot failure and dispatch spare parts and technicians pre-emptively, minimising downtime (which according to its estimates, costs manufacturers significant sums.)
The new FIELD system applies fog computing - an extension of cloud computing which facilitates the operation of storage and networking services between end devices and cloud computing data centres - to connect a manufacturer’s robots via a local, factory based network in addition to the cloud. While the original Zero Downtime system linked robots to the cloud individually, FIELD connects disparate robots (drills, conveyor belts and mechanical arms) to the local network and to each other via a common language.
This allows the system to analyse the factory as a whole, optimising productivity and energy efficiency.
Another benefit to FIELD is that it is more secure (because sensitive data stays in-house) and it boosts processing speeds.
There is also the fact that it allows for endless customisation. FANUC invites customers to write applications which apply FIELD-generated data in novel ways, much as Apple and Google invite developers to write apps for their iOS and Android operating systems.
Connected manufacturing is only one aspect of the broader Internet of Things revolution - from smart cars and lighting to connected wind turbines and oil field seismometers. The challenge for investors is accessing the theme in an effective way and FANUC has so far proven a popular means of playing this important theme among managers. Select 50 funds with exposure to this company (according to most recent data) include the Baillie Gifford Japan Fund, the Aberdeen Japan Equity Fund and the BNY Mellon Long Term Global Equity Fund.
Claire Dwyer is a senior manager in Fidelity’s Personal Investing business. Prior to this she worked at Cambridge Associates and Mondrian Investment Partners. She is a chartered alternative investment analyst.
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