Made Smarter’s trailblazing technology adoption programme in the North West has marked its third anniversary by helping its 200th business drive growth and decarbonise through digitalisation.

SME manufacturers have secured £4.6M matched funding for 241 projects, worth £16M after private sector investment.

Technologies that integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes, are being used to drive efficiencies and reduce waste. Meanwhile, 3D-printing, automation, and robotics are being used to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

These investments are forecasting the creation of 1,177 new jobs and 2,205 upskilled roles, and are forecast to deliver an additional £192.9M in gross value added (GVA) for the North West economy over the next three years.

Among the latest wave of manufacturers starting their journey to use technology to benefit their business, their bottom line and the environment are:

Derek Rose, a textile manufacturer in Congleton; Protea, a manufacturer of emissions monitoring systems in Middlewich; G.B. Engineering, a parts and tooling manufacturer in Nantwich; Qualkem, a manufacturer of eco-friendly domestic cleaning products in Crewe; Ennerdale Brewery, a craft beer maker in Rowrah; Stramongate Press in Kendal; David Holliday Kitchens, a furniture maker in Carlisle; English Lakes Ice Cream in Kendal; Arden Dies, a die and tooling manufacturer in Stockport; Dean Group International, metal casting specialists in Irlam; Belle Design and Print, a manufacturer of printed materials in Salford; Firstplay Dietary Foods, a promin low protein product maker in Stockport; Arrow Engineering Components, a manufacturer of precision-machined components in Salford; Private White VC, a luxury clothing manufacturer in Manchester; Star Cutouts, a manufacturer of lifesize cardboard cut-outs in Ashton-under-Lyne; Business Insight 3, a security technology business in Preston; Northern Diver (International), a manufacturer of divewear and scuba diving equipment in Appley Bridge; Stirling Moulded Composites, a plastics manufacturer in Burnley; Fitzpatrick Bourne Flexible, a manufacturer of filter materials for pyramid tea bags in Rossendale; Lantex, a textile manufacturer in Accrington; Linx Paper, a toilet paper manufacturer in Preston; Kavia Tooling, a manufacturer of precision injection mould tools in Burnley; Morrow Brothers, a brewery container repair and refurbishment specialist in Chorley; Mantle Packaging Machinery, a food packaging machinery manufacturer in Clitheroe; CoolKit, a specialist manufacturer of temperature controlled vehicles in Burnley; SolidTek, manufacturers of environmentally- friendly chemical systems in Knowsley; and ULEMCo, specialists in hydrogen solutions in Aintree.

Meanwhile, several manufacturers who have already experienced the benefits of Made Smarter support, are taking the next step in their digitalisation journey, including:

Art Graphics UK, a manufacturer of bespoke art presentations in Bollington; Blease Engineering, a manufacturer of precision machine components, sub-assemblies and fabrications in Warrington; ESL Fuels, a fuel producer and supplier in Chester; Hudson Swan, an engineering and fabrication business in Workington; MSM aerospace fabricators, an advanced engineering company in Middleton; Astropol, a colour masterbatch and additive specialist in Wigan; Dan Hurtley Installs, a furniture manufacturer in Lancaster; Fairbrother & Grimshaw Engineering in Blackburn; Pendle Doors in Darwen; and The Protein Lab (UK), a manufacturer of protein powders and supplements in Blackpool.

Qualkem, based in Crewe, is investing in a new automated production line that is forecast to increase turnover by 25% over the next three years, creating two new jobs, and drive sustainability in its market.

Ivan Anketell-Clifford, Director, said: “Introducing the automatic tube labelling and filling machinery will see the start of our commitment to digitalisation. Not only will it allow us to offer another packaging regime to our existing customer base, but it will also allow us to actively market to new sectors, for example the cosmetics sector. Moreover, this digitalisation project will allow us, and our customers, to do our bit for society and the environment, and place more sustainably packaged products on the marketplace.”
ULEMCo, based in Aintree, adopted new 3D scanning technology to increase the productivity of its design process and mitigate against manufacturing waste to develop a more sustainable product.

Jordon Cullen, Engineering Design Manager, said: “The 3D scanning equipment has now become an essential technological tool that is utilised in the early stages of the design process, where accuracy is the most fundamental factor in the success of the final manufactured component. It has reduced a previously manual measuring process from 24 to eight hours and increased accuracy. There has been a significant advancement in the productivity of the design process, allowing us to get to the final product quicker and more efficiently. Meanwhile, we have been able to create a job role for a new graduate design engineer to join ULEMCo’s team.”

Juergen Maier CBE, Co-Chair of Made Smarter, said: “We launched Made Smarter in the North West three years ago with the ambitious aim to kick start an adoption programme for digital technologies among small and medium-sized enterprises, strengthened by leadership training and harnessing talent within universities.

“It is fantastic to see the tremendous impact that the programme continues to have on individuals, businesses, the UK economy, and the environment.

“It is clear from the unequivocal success we are seeing in the North West, and the positive effect adoption programmes in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, and the North East, are having that we are starting to grasp the multitude of opportunities that innovation and digital technologies offer. It is clear that for the UK manufacturing sector to thrive and become a world leader, we now need to roll out Made Smarter nationwide and with a stronger ambition.”

Since launching in 2018, Made Smarter has engaged with 1,381 businesses from every corner of the region to help them introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, navigate Covid-19, and tackle climate change.

670 have reaped the rewards of intensive support including expert, impartial technology advice, 248 have used digital transformation workshops to help take their first steps to transform their business, and 56 business leaders have developed the vision and the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing through the Made Smarter Leadership programme, developed in partnership with Lancaster University. Meanwhile, manufacturers have benefited from funded digital technology internships which offer students and graduates paid placements to work on live technology projects.

Over 80% of SMEs working with Made Smarter to adopt cutting-edge technologies have seen a boost in productivity, while others have benefited from increase in revenue and exports, job creation and providing new skills to workforces, as well as improved visibility and enhanced integration with supply chains. More than 25% reduced their carbon emissions, while others cut energy bills, reduced waste, and became more environmentally sustainable.

Donna Edwards, Director of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, said:
“Over the last three years we have worked extremely hard to drive digital technology usage among makers across the North West. We have engaged with 1,381 SMEs in the region to help them start their digital journey by providing them with specialist advice to help them select the right approach, level of investment and tools for their business.

“We have seen huge success with Made Smarter-supported businesses reporting growth, productivity and efficiency gains, as well as upskilling their workforce and creating new high-value jobs. We’re also playing a crucial role in helping the UK grow sustainably and reach its ambitious aim of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

“Digitalisation enables businesses to find the sustainability sweet spot between these economic, social, and environmental goals. We look forward to continuing our drive to enable hundreds more manufacturers in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and Liverpool City Region to learn how digital transformation can help them recover, grow, and create resilience.”