Three pioneering companies in Lancashire are among the first in the country to benefit from a government-backed programme designed to boost UK manufacturing productivity and growth.
EnviroSystems, based in Preston, Graham Engineering Ltd (GEL), in Nelson, and T&R Precision Engineering, in Colne, are aiming totransform their businesses by adopting new digital technologies through the £20M Made Smarter Programme.
They are among a cohort of nine North West companies who have successfully applied for Made Smarter matched-funding, allowing them to explore and adopt leading-edge advanced manufacturing methods such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 3D-printing and robotics.
One business set to reap significant benefits from new tech is EnviroSystems, a small, family-owned company based in Barton Cross Park, Preston, which supplies farmers with innovative products from its base in Preston.
It wants to develop cutting-edge dosing systems to treat and improve the quality of slurry.
EnviroSystems estimates that by harnessing smart technologies including sensors, big data, analytics and machine learning the company could grow at a rate of 16% per year for the next three years.
The investment will create the demand for highly skilled jobs and to further adopt other digital technologies, such as robotics, to address increased productivity needs.
The new systems will significantly help farmers by radically improving the quality of slurry as a means of fertilisation. This will result in huge reductions in odorous gases, such as ammonia, in line with the UK government’s Clean Air strategy.
Henry Russell, Operations Manager at EnviroSystems, said: “EnviroSystems is a well-established business, but we are conscious that we need to make changes to grow.
“By investing in new digital technology, it will allow the company to ramp up growth, employ more highly skilled staff and adopt more digital technologies.
“The Made Smarter programme is the perfect opportunity for us to take that first step.”
Another company looking to the future is Graham Engineering Ltd (GEL), based on the Whitewalls Industrial Estate, Nelson, which specialises in the welding and fabrication of complex stainless steel solutions for the nuclear, aerospace, health and security sectors.
The family-owned firm intends to increase their market share in these sectors by becoming more competitive and increasing flexibility in its manufacturing methods, while maintaining the highest quality of product.
By investing in new digital technology to integrate the software to complement its high-tech equipment, GEL will further streamline their existing workflow through the factory, from order to shipping.
In addition, GEL have identified future investment for further digital technology such as machine vision and AI to improve the rigorous, highly-skilled but labour-intensive inspection processes.
Paul Ashworth, IT Manager at Graham Engineering Ltd, said: “As a forward-thinking business we will speed up the process of taking customers’ requirements through from design to manufacture and delivery by upgrading and integrating disparate technologies.
“This will generate a smoother flow of operations in-house, and with both our customers and our supply chain.
“Efficient and systematic working processes with reduced scrappage will lead to increased profitability enabling the company to remain competitive across their various market sectors and provide added leverage into new markets.
“The next generation of engineers expect and demand cutting-edge technologies in their workplace. This investment will help to embed the perception of our organisation as a high-tech, innovative company with a vision for growth through sustained quality and diversification.”
T&R Precision Engineering, based in Foulridge, Colne, is keen to embrace new technologies as a mean of securing its future.
The business produces parts for the aerospace sector and wants to use digital technology such as IIoT, automation, systems integration, data analytics and cloud, to apply its innovative ideas and intellectual property to current off-the-shelf machinery.
T&R believes the move will massively increase productivity and efficiency, upskill its workforce, and firm up its plans to expand its manufacturing space by 10,000 sq ft.
It predicts the investment will see a 33% revenue growth over the next three years, mostly from export sales to the USA.
A reduction in the number of machines required to manufacture specific components will cut power consumption and hence carbon footprint, as well as reduce scrappage rates.
Tim Maddison, Managing Director at T&R Precision Engineering, said: “This project will lead to a critical advancement in our machining capability.
“New machining methods and component handling along with the integration of IT software will push the boundaries of our current manufacturing thinking. The up-skilling of our engineering, operations and quality personnel will be essential to take advantage of the technology advancements we need to implement to secure future extended contracts.”
Donna Edwards, Director of the Made Smarter North West pilot, said: “I am delighted that the Made Smarter pilot has now supported the first successful SME applications, including EnviroSystems, Graham Engineering Ltd and T&R Precision Engineering.
“Working with business we have found that they are enthusiastic about the benefits of adopting new digital technology. Often, they need funding support, but also the specialist advice and insight to help them select the right approach for their business.
“This is exactly how Made Smarter can and is helping businesses across Lancashire.
“Made Smarter is also relevant for any North West SMEs who make, create, manufacture or engineer, and I urge local businesses not to miss this opportunity. Register today for a fully-funded audit of your operations and see how Made Smarter might be able to help you.”