Made Smarter, the government-backed £20m business support programme aimed at North West SME manufacturers who want to embrace more digital technologies, made a big impression in Lancashire this week with a special event.
Taking place at County Hall in Preston on Tuesday, the Manufacturing Made Smarter In Lancashire introductory morning gave the region’s business community a chance to find out first-hand all about the Made Smarter programme.
Over 100 delegates attended the half-day session, drawn from across Lancashire’s manufacturing, technology, engineering, skills, professional services and business support sectors.
The event, which was a co-production between Made Smarter and Lancashire’s Boost business support service, was introduced by Maya Dibley, Lancashire County Council’s lead officer for industrial innovation and digital technology.
Following an overview of the aims of the Made Smarter initiative, Maya introduced Councillor Michael Green, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Environment & Planning for Lancashire County Council.
Councillor Green outlined why the Made Smarter programme was a key element in Lancashire’s wider economic growth strategy before inviting Alain Dilworth, Made Smarter’s programme manager, to share more details of how the programme worked, and why it was vital to the region’s economy.
The floor was then given over to SME manufacturers based in the county who had already seen the benefits of introducing more digital technologies into their production processes.
One of these was Paul Kennington, Head of Technical for Burnley-based window frame business Veka UK.
Paul described how demands from clients to offer them something original to differentiate themselves from competitors – combined with the commercial risks associated with developing new tooling – had led them to adopting advanced 3D-printing systems and additive manufacturing methods.
He then explained how Veka’s investments in new technology were just a fraction of the cost of more traditional prototyping, and yet the impact had been genuinely transformational to the way they did business. Paul then ended with a great bit of ‘theatre’ to really illustrate the Made Smarter message. He showed the audience a fully functioning large window frame which looked like it had just come off Veka’s regular production line, before revealing that it had actually been made on a 3D-printer.
Another Burnley company, additive manufacturer FDM Digital Solutions, echoed Paul’s words about how the power of digital processes can massively improve efficiencies.
Graeme Bond, FDM’s CEO and Technical Director, talked about how the firm had been able to become more competitive within the aerospace and automotive sectors through the application of digital technologies. He concluded by saying that a support programme like Made Smarter was a ‘no-brainer’ for any manufacturing firm.
Michael Gibson, from Lancaster-based consultancy and software development firm Miralis Data, also made a presentation. He focussed on how working with data can solve business challenges, and how machine learning and AI can drive operational improvements.
One example he gave was a toy manufacturer who saved half a million pounds a year by running a spatial algorithm on their data which changed how they physically boxed, stacked and transported their products.
Other speakers included Iain Crosley, Managing Director of Hosokawa Micron, Peter Walker from Burnley’s JP74, and Melissa Conlon and Dr James Hughes from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) North West.
Councillor Michael Green said of the event: “The promotion and acceleration of digital adoption is key to retaining the Lancashire’s strength within its manufacturing and technology sectors.
“Further, within priority sectors such as aerospace, automotive and advanced manufacturing, it is critical that smaller businesses follow the lead of our larger employers and respond to increasingly competitive supply chains.
“We also need to facilitate the process by which these sectors are motivated to understand the business advantages that digitisation can confer.
“We are therefore delighted to be working with Made Smarter team, helping to highlight how Lancashire firms can be amongst the first in the country to benefit from this major government-backed business support programme.”
Alain Dilworth from Made Smarter said: “This was a great way to introduce the aims and objectives of the Made Smarter programme to Lancashire, and I would like to thank all of the partners and businesses from across the county who came together to support the event.
“However, I especially want to thank the Lancashire firms who presented to the delegates. Their stories of how they had boosted productivity, won new orders, gained a competitive edge and had grown their companies by embracing more digital technology is at the heart of what Made Smarter is all about.”