Publications

The research project team regularly publishes academic and conference papers. The Shoestring community of researchers and partners will be contributing to a growing range of whitepapers, case studies, webinars and industry reports and publications.  

Industry news & reports

>> University of Cambridge: Digital Manufacturing. How a ‘Shoestring’ approach helps small manufacturers. Interview with Shoestring founder, Professor Duncan McFarlane. February 2022

>> The Manufacturer: How manufacturers can tap into the benefits of digitalisation. Interview with Greg Hawkridge at Digital Manufacturing Week. January 2022

>> IfM Insights: Helping SMEs towards digitalisation

>> Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring: Spring 2021 update 

Whitepapers

Recent studies show that small and medium sized manufacturers are slow to adopt digital solutions within their organisations. Cost is one of the key barriers to adoption. These whitepapers demonstrate how low-cost digital solutions can meet the needs of SME manufacturers.

Produced by the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring programme’s research team, the latest two papers define and rank the business needs of manufacturers, following workshops with over 300 companies working in and with the industry – A catalogue of digital solution areas and Priority solutions areas. The first white paper – Low cost digital solutions for SMEs – sets out the challenges associated with integrating low-cost technologies into industrial solutions and the style of IT architectures best suited for integrating these solutions into industrial environments.

>> A catalogue of digital solution areas (2021)

>> Priority solution areas (2021)

>> Low cost digital solutions for SMEs (2019)

Presentations

Play Video

Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring: Project Overview (August 2021)

Professor Duncan McFarlane provides an an introduction to the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project

Play Video

Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring: the next steps (February 2021)

Hear about the latest updates on the project and explore key questions such as:

  • How can digital transformation be achieved at low cost
  • What type of low cost digital solution do small manufacturers want?
  • How is a community for SME digital solutions users being developed?
Play Video

Low cost digital solutions on a shoestring (December 2020)

Watch the Digital Manufacturing week webinar presentation from Professor Duncan McFarlane and Dr Greg Hawkridge

Journals & conference papers

Authors: Terrazas, G., Hawkridge, G., Mike, M., McFarlane, D., Ling, Z., Lau, J.
Publication date: 2022-10-17
Journal title: Journal of Computer Information Systems
Publisher: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08874417.2022.2128935
Abstract
Digital developments undertaken as part of the academic research projects can be slow to be trialed and adopted industrially. These delays may be the result of lack of suitable early prototypes or insufficient industrial workforce engagement among other challenges. Here, these challenges are considered in the context of a research project that develops procedures for the deployment of simple, low-cost digital solutions by small manufacturers. This paper proposes a methodology that comprises the use of hackathons, laboratory demonstrators, and industrial pilot activities as a means of accelerating the use of solutions developed. In particular, it introduces hackathons as a means to quickly create cost-efficient digital solutions for manufacturing and argues how, in addition to speeding adoption, these could be seen as additional option to help prepare the future workforce.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Kaiser, J., Ling, Z., Yilmaz, G., McFarlane, D., Hawkridge, G.
Conference name: IEEE 27th International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation (ETFA)
Conference date: 2022-09-06
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/ETFA52439.2022.9921538
Abstract
The creation of digital manufacturing solutions at low cost is characterised by a successive development and a combination of disparate hardware and software elements. Modular building blocks address these limitations. This paper proposes and evaluates an explicit two-stage approach to develop configurable digital manufacturing solutions from bespoke solution specifications by using modular hardware and software building blocks. In the first stage, the solution specification is being made configurable through decomposition, while the second stage creates building blocks from resulting solution elements. For demonstration, the approach is applied to two tailor-made solutions. Resulting building blocks are then reused to create a new solution. We provide further insights by discussing challenges when applying our approach, and justifying its usage by qualitatively evaluating to what extent solution configurability can be achieved at low cost, which characterises the main objective of this study.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Yilmaz, G., Mukherjee, A., Macias Aguayo, J., McFarlane, D.
Conference name: CIB W78 Information Technology for Construction 39th Conference
Conference date: 2022-06-27
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.84049
Abstract
Adopting low-cost (shoestring) digital solutions in organisations should be followed by assessing the business and digitalisation impact. Evaluating the impact of low-cost (shoestring) digital solutions on improving business and digitisation benefits becomes essential for small organisations. This paper introduces an impact assessment model for digital shoestring solutions developed through the digital shoestring program. The proposed model assesses the impact of the low-cost digital solutions on 1) the business and 2) the digitalisation benefits after their installation. The model’s suitability is tested through a single exploratory case study performed with a small construction supplier. The case study highlighted that some of the digital solutions in the digital shoestring solutions catalogue affect only a part of the business benefits. The case study results also showed that the digitalisation benefits are not comprehensive enough to assess the digitalisation level achieved. Motivated from the case study results and inputs from literature, we propose an updated and novel impact assessment model that can be used uniformly across industries and adheres to multiple commonly accepted IoT reference architectures. This model will output the levels of digitalisation achieved and provides a comparative score of the achieved business impact for the digital solutions deployed at the small organisations.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Macias-Aguayo, J., McFarlane, D., Schönfuß, B., Salter, L.
Conference name: 10th IFAC Conference on Manufacturing Modelling, Management and Control
Conference date: 2022-06-22
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ifacol.2022.09.664 
Abstract
Digitalisation is transforming the way industries operate worldwide, and the logistics sector is no exception; however, multiple barriers prevent logistics companies, especially those that are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), from taking advantage of digital technologies. This article focuses on the barrier corresponding to the lack of technological awareness in logistics SMEs. In particular, we discuss an approach used in the context of manufacturing, with the potential to facilitate the identification of affordable digitalisation opportunities in logistics companies. This paper adapts that approach and uses it to identify a set of digital solution areas that could be deployed at low cost in logistics SMEs.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Hawkridge, G., McFarlane, D., Kaiser, J., de Silva, L., Terrazas, G.
Conference name: SOHOMA 2021: Service Oriented, Holonic and Multi-agent Manufacturing Systems for Industry of the Future
Conference date: 2022-06-03
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99108-1_18

Abstract
This paper examines the design of low-cost digital solutions for manufacturing. A set of criteria are established that consider the limited designer experience and limited time budget that accompany a low-cost project. Alternatives are assessed and a design approach is proposed that addresses these criteria using a set of identified features. Development of the proposed approach is not yet complete; however, it already provides a simple, accessible, and streamlined method for implementing low-cost digital solutions.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Martinez-Arellano, G., McNally, M., Chaplin, J., Ling, Z., McFarlane, D., Ratchev, S.
Conference name: SOHOMA 2021: Service Oriented, Holonic and Multi-agent Manufacturing Systems for Industry of the Future
Conference date: 2022-06-03
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99108-1_20
Abstract
The rate of adoption of digital solutions in manufacturing environments remains low despite the benefits these can bring. This is particularly acute among industrial small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who typically do not have the confidence to adopt new technologies and for which cost and a lack of skills remain key barriers. Most digital solutions require some type of visualisation component, being a vital way to the interpret and use effectively the data. Data visualisation on its own provides an opportunity to bridge the gap of digitalisation in SMEs by providing them invaluable process insights in an efficient manner without requiring high levels of training or expertise. However, as with other digital technologies, software components such as data analytics and visualisation are commonly developed, deployed, and maintained by a third party, and SMEs lack the expertise to understand how to implement or change visualisations and how they can be applied in the manufacturing domain. The Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring approach proposes using off-the-shelf components, both hardware and software, to develop low-cost digital solutions with minimal expert knowledge. The underlying Shoestring architecture enables the incremental connectivity of different solution components using a service-oriented approach. This paper introduces the implementation of visualisation-as-a-service, where the visual components of a digital solution is dynamically created by a set of reusable, configurable and modular elements. We also introduce the use of templates for the no-code creation of visual solutions, taking advantage of the re-usability of visual components across different digital solutions.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Ling, Z., de Silva, L., Hawkridge, G., McFarlane, D., Martinez-Arellano, G., Schönfuß, B., Thorne, A.
Conference name: SOHOMA 2021: Service Oriented, Holonic and Multi-agent Manufacturing Systems for Industry of the Future
Conference date: 2022-06-03
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99108-1_19
Abstract
Digital solutions have the potential to drastically transform manufacturing operations, but smaller manufacturing businesses (SMEs) have been reluctant to adopt digital solutions due to perceived investment and upskilling costs. The Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project was thus established to facilitate the process of digital solution adoption in manufacturing SMEs. To this end, a solution development approach was proposed including a graphical environment to support the design of affordable digital solutions. This paper discusses the concepts and methods underlying this graphical design environment, including its early implementation. A preliminary evaluation is also presented involving industrial user studies with SMEs.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Kaiser, J., McFarlane, D., Hawkridge, G.
Conference name: SOHOMA 2021: Service Oriented, Holonic and Multi-agent Manufacturing Systems for Industry of the Future
Conference date: 2022-06-03
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99108-1_17
Abstract
For the next generation of production systems, companies require new architectures for designing highly connected systems to increase the efficiency and capabilities of their value chains. Reference architectures help to effectively derive systems architectures. Over the last decades, numerous reference architectures for digital manufacturing have been proposed. This paper presents a framework to classify reference architectures based on five main themes identified in the literature. It will identify gaps in existing reference architectures based on an analysis of the proposed framework and comparison to other classification approaches.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Terrazas, G., Hawkridge, G., McFarlane, D., Mike, M.
Publication date: 2021-12-17
Conference title: International Conference on Computational Science and Computational Intelligence
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.78734
Abstract
Academic research projects often face challenges when trying to deliver innovation in a fast and creative way. In particular, projects of multidisciplinary nature that look at cross domain aspects applied in industry may take longer to expect. This paper addresses such an issue in the area of low cost digital solution development and proposes an approach using student hackathons as a mean to enable rapid prototypes of low cost digital solutions for manufacturing SMEs. It highlights how these fast-paced activities could be seen as additional options to help students foster technical and soft skills ahead of working in industrial environments.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Kaiser, J., Terrazas Angulo, G., McFarlane, D., & De Silva, L.
Publication date: 2021-12-01
Journal title: AI & Society
ISSN: 0951-5666
Publisher: Springer
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.78692 
Abstract
Machine learning (ML) is increasingly used to enhance production systems and meet the requirements of a rapidly evolving manufacturing environment. Compared to larger companies, however, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack in terms of resources, available data and skills, which impedes the potential adoption of analytics solutions. This paper proposes a preliminary yet general approach to identify low cost analytics solutions for manu-facturing SMEs, with particular emphasis on ML. The initial studies seem to suggest that, contrarily to what is usually thought at first glance, SMEs seldom need digital solutions that use advanced ML algorithms which require extensive data preparation, laborious parameter tuning and a comprehensive understanding of the underlying problem. If an analytics solution does require learning capabilities, a ‘simple solution’, which we will characterise in this paper, should be sufficient.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/331247
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Schönfuß, B., McFarlane, D., Hawkridge, G., Salter, L., Athanassopoulou, N., de Silva, L.
Publication date: 2021-12-01
Journal title: Computers in Industry
ISSN: 0166-3615
Publisher: Elsevier
Volume: 133
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compind.2021.103532
Abstract
The digitalisation of the manufacturing industry is perceived to be critical for achieving future productivity gains. As a result, programmes such as Industry 4.0 (I4.0) have received a huge amount of attention. A series of authors have identified a gap in digitalisation research in the area of small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs). The majority of studies and developments are focussed on larger companies, disregarding SME-specific digitalisation challenges such as knowledge, resource, and technology-awareness limitations. Based on the literature, we believe that a major reason for the disconnect is the discussion of digitalisation from a technology-centric viewpoint. Instead, we propose a problem-centric view on digitalisation as a means of addressing operational challenges through digital technologies. The aim of this paper is to identify the solution areas associated with these challenges that are relevant to a majority of manufacturing SMEs. In this study, we collate a catalogue of digitalisation priorities, conducting workshops with manufacturing SMEs (n=128). The final catalogue comprises 59 items with a clear hierarchy. Out of all participants in the study, 86% ranked one of the top 5 items as a key priority for their business. This contribution can help focus research, systems development, and standardisation to increase accessibility to digitalisation for manufacturing SMEs.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/327630
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Hawkridge, G., Mukherjee, A., McFarlane, D., Tlegenov, Y., Parlikad, A. K., Reyner, N. J., Thorne, A.
Publication date: 2021-01-01
Journal title: Annual Reviews in Control
ISSN: 1367-5788
Publisher: Elsevier
Volume: 51
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arcontrol.2021.04.007
Abstract
Digital transformation can provide a competitive edge for many manufacturers, however many smaller companies may not have the capabilities needed to embrace this opportunity and may be left behind. This paper reports on an approach which is attempting to alleviate this by creating a low-cost pathway to help manufacturing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) engage with digitalisation. This paper focuses on industrial monitoring and explores the potential for developing simple monitoring systems that solve real operation challenges in SMEs using low-cost, off-the-shelf technologies. A blueprint for developing such systems is presented and then exemplified through a case study system. The paper concludes that low-cost monitoring can be feasible given the right application and operating environment.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/319612
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: McNally M. J., Chaplin J. C., Martínez-Arellano G., Ratchev S.
Conference name: International Precision Assembly Seminar – Smart Technologies for Precision Assembly
Conference date: 2020-12-15
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-72632-4_14
Abstract
The adoption of digital manufacturing in small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector in the UK is low, yet these technologies offer significant promise to boost productivity. Two major causes of this lack of uptake is the high upfront cost of digital technologies, and the skill gap preventing understanding and implementation. This paper describes a common approach to data capture and visualisation that is cheap and simple. Cheap through the utilisation of low cost and readily available consumer technologies, and simple through the pre-defined flexible approaches that require a minimum of configuration. This approach was implemented on three demonstrators to showcase the flexibility of the approach. These were a tool condition monitoring system, a job and machine status monitor, and a robotic process monitor. The development process resulted in a software architecture where processes were separated and communicated by message queues. We conclude that a service oriented architecture would be the best system for carrying forward the development process. This research was conducted as part of the wider EPSRC Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: McNally, M., Chaplin, J. C., Martinez-Arellano, G., Ratchev, S.
Conference name: 4th IFAC Workshop on Advanced Maintenance Engineering, Services and Technologies – AMEST 2020
Conference date: 2020-09-10
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ifacol.2020.11.065
Abstract
The adoption of digital manufacturing in small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector in the UK is low, yet these technologies offer significant promise to boost productivity. Two major causes of this lack of uptake is the high upfront cost of digital technologies, and the skill gap preventing understanding and implementation. This paper describes the development of software wrappers to facilitate the simple and robust use of a range of sensors and data sources. These form part of a common architecture for data acquisition in the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project. We explain the existing Shoestring demonstrator architecture, and discuss how a ‘crash-only’ microservices architecture would improve fault tolerance and adaptability of the system.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Tlegenov, Y., Hawkridge, G., McFarlane, D., Parlikad, A. K., Reyner, N. J., Thorne, A.
Conference name: 21st IFAC World Congress
Conference date: 2020-07-11
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ifacol.2020.12.2771
Abstract
Digital manufacturing is focussed on leveraging the availability of digital information to improve the effectiveness of manufacturing activities. One of the digitalisation pathways for manufacturing is monitoring, which can be challenging due to the high costs of industrial monitoring solutions and the difficulty in justifying their return on investment. This study examines whether the introduction of low cost technologies can address the monitoring needs of digital manufacturing. In particular, we consider the role non-industrial, “off-the-shelf” technologies can play. The main aim of this paper is to present blueprints for low cost monitoring of industrial operations and identify candidate low cost technologies which can contribute effectively to the implementation of these systems. Related work on low cost monitoring and commercially available technologies are analysed and evaluated. Low-cost monitoring blueprints and candidate technologies are proposed based on the results of the analysis. An example implementation of a presented blueprint indicates the potential of integrating non-industrial, off-the-shelf technologies into low cost monitoring solutions.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Hawkridge, G., Schönfuß, B., McFarlane, D., de Silva, L., Terrazas, G., Salter, L., and Thorne, A.
Conference name: 2020 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI)
Conference date: 2020-03-23
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3371382.3378205
Abstract
In the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project we focus on low-cost digital solution requirements for UK manufacturing SMEs. This paper shows that many of these fall in the HRI domain while presenting the use of low-cost and off-the-shelf technologies in two demonstrators based on voice assisted production.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/301833
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: de Silva, L., Hawkridge, G., Terrazas, G., Perez-Hernandez, M., Thorne, A., McFarlane, D., and Tlegenov, Y.
Conference name: 2020 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI)
Conference date: 2020-03-23
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3371382.3378204
Abstract
Digital Manufacturing (DM) broadly refers to applying digital information to enhance manufacturing processes, supply chains, products and services. In past work we proposed a low-cost DM architecture, supporting flexible integration of legacy robots. Here we discuss a demo of our architecture using an HRI scenario.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/301525
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Hawkridge, G., Perez Hernandez, M., De Silva, L., Terrazas, G., Tlegenov, Y., McFarlane, D., Thorne, A.
Conference name: IEEE International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation
Conference date: 2019-09-10
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.43036
Abstract
This paper concerns the development of low-cost solutions to address challenges in digital manufacturing (DM). Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs) are a promising approach for addressing the requirements of a low-cost DM architecture. Interaction between services in a SOA is facilitated by a connectivity technology, i.e., a framework for interoperable data exchange between heterogeneous participants. We review a variety of connectivity technologies according to their suitability for use in an SME manufacturer’s production environment, and we assess how they have been integrated into past architectures. We then provide insights into an incremental and modular architecture for manufacturing SMEs.
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: Schönfuß, B., McFarlane, D., Athanassopoulou, N., Salter, L., de Silva, L., Ratchev, S.
Publication date: 2019-08-03
Journal title: Studies in Computational Intelligence
ISSN: 1860-949X
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Volume: 853
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27477-1_22
Abstract
This paper establishes a reference set of those low cost digital solutions needed by small and medium sized manufacturers – SMEs – and proposes a method for determining development priorities using input from reference groups of SMEs. The paper describes the approach taken to identifying and classifying common digital solutions used in manufacturing and the results from a series of workshops in which company representatives prioritise different solution types to help guide developments.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/295986
Rights: All rights reserved

Authors: McFarlane, D., Ratchev, S., Thorne, A., Parlikad, A., de Silva, L., Schönfuß, B., Hawkridge, G., Terrazas, G., Tlegenov, Y.
Publication date: 2019-08-03
Journal title: Studies in Computational Intelligence
ISSN: 1860-949X
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Volume: 853
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27477-1_4
Abstract
One of the key findings in a number of recent studies has been that small and medium sized manufacturers (SMEs) have been slow in adopting digital solutions within their organisations. Cost is understood to be one of the key barriers to adoption. Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring is an approach to increasing the digital capabilities of SMEs via a series of low cost solutions. The programme proposes using off-the-shelf, (possibly non-industrial) components and software to address a company’s (digital) solution needs, adding capabilities one step at a time with minimal a priori infrastructure required. This paper will introduce the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring programme as a whole and demonstrate the way in which it addresses the need for low cost digital solutions for SME Manufacturers. It will discuss challenges associated with integrating low cost technologies into industrial solutions and the style of IT architectures best suited for integrating such solutions into industrial environments.
To request a copy: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/295987
Rights: All rights reserved