University spin-out helps to streamline manufacturing


The small plastic tags developed by a University spin-out are helping make modern assembly lines up to ten per cent more efficient, by tracking hundreds of components in three dimensions and in real time.

Getting the maximum visibility over what’s happening in a plant allows for maximum improvements in quality and process speed.
- Andy Ward

Tracking technology developed by Cambridge company Ubisense can greatly improve the accuracy and reliability of manufacturing lines, while reducing assembly times by up to ten per cent, by determining the exact coordinates of an item within a given space.

Ubisense, which spun-out from the University’s Computer Laboratory in 2002 and went public in 2011, has developed a highly-sensitive real-time tracking system, which decreases losses and increases efficiency in the manufacturing sector. The company’s products are used by more than 500 companies in 50 countries worldwide, including major companies such as BMW and Airbus.

The assembly line which Henry Ford envisioned, where “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black,” is a world away from modern lines. Today, purchasing a car involves a head-spinning number of options, from paint colour to engine size to satnav. While this is a plus for the consumer, it has made assembly lines vastly more complicated, where each car on the line is different than the one ahead of it, meaning that tool settings must be manually changed for each car. Ubisense’s technology can improve accuracy while reducing assembly time by as much as ten per cent, automatically adjusting tool settings so that the correct settings are always used on the correct car.

The technology was developed by Andy Ward while he was a PhD student at the Computer Laboratory. Dr Ward, who is now Ubisense’s Chief Technology Officer, originally devised a system to track individuals as they moved around the Lab.

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Image: Airbus A380 Final Assembly Line
Credit: Pierre J via Flickr Creative Commons

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


Cambridge Enterprise exists to help University of Cambridge inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs make their ideas and concepts more commercially successful for the benefit of society, the UK economy, the inventors and the University.

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