Manufacturers from Greater Manchester have urged others to follow in their footsteps by adopting technology and digital tools to survive and thrive.

Businesses from across the region shared their insights at the Made Smarter: journey to digital manufacturing conference.

They included MacKinnon and Saunders, a world’s leading puppet-maker for TV and Film based in Altrincham, Fabricon Design, a specialist in advanced manufacturing methods based in Ashton-under-Lyne, DRM Industrial Fabrics, a textile manufacturer based in Bury; Atec Solutions based in Salford; Arden Dies, a Stockport-based die and tooling manufacturer; Bindatex, a manufacturer of advanced materials based in Bolton; Crystal Doors, a manufacturer of bespoke vinyl wrapped furniture components based in Rochdale; Creative Apparel, a clothing manufacturer based in Stockport; and Starlight Bedrooms, a furniture manufacturer based in Bolton.

The SME manufacturers are among 1,200 businesses that have engaged with the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme over the last two years.

Now after securing additional funding from the government, Made Smarter is looking to engage with hundreds more manufacturers in the city region, offering matched funded grants towards technology projects; expert, impartial technology advice; digital transformation workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps to transform their business; a leadership programme; and funded digital technology internships.

Peter Saunders, from MacKinnon and Saunders based in Altrincham, spoke of the benefits of adopting technology. 

He said: “We have built up a reputation for high quality work over 28 years, but with new guns on our tails it was a question of exploring new tech to achieve added benefit, and adopt sophisticated, new capabilities to stay ahead of the curve. The technology has achieved this.

“Working with Made Smarter opened our eyes to new tech we weren’t aware of. It was a breath of fresh air compared to previous experiences getting support.”

Chris Lever of Bindatex in Bolton, shared his experiences of how technology had helped his business navigate the pandemic.

He said: “Made Smarter helped us diversify at a time when 80% of our business was with aerospace. The technology has helped us do things more efficiently throughout the business from the shopfloor to the back office.

“Our first project was data capture, and we’re also using a digital intern to explore adding sensors to the machines, as well as digitalising a cutting process which we hope will open up more markets.

“It is just the beginning. We are certainly hungry for more.

“Speaking to Made Smarter has been very helpful. My advice is to start that conversation and don’t hold back.”

Another session focussed on upskilling workforces featured Sarah Poynter of Arden Dies in Stockport, who has enrolled on the Made Smarter Leadership Programme, developed in partnership with Lancaster University Management School, and Rebecca Lee-Panton of Fabricon Design in Ashton-under-Lyne who has benefited from accessing Made Smarter’s digital technology internship programme.

Opening the conference Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester praised the role of the Made Smarter North West Adoption Programme in supporting economic growth plans for the region.

Mr Burnham was among 44 experts and panellists sharing their insights and experiences at the Made Smarter: journey to digital manufacturing conference.

Addressing 300 delegates at the virtual event, Mr Burnham said: “Greater Manchester led the first industrial revolution and there’s no reason why we cannot lead the fourth, that will increase our productivity, clean up our air and our environment and meet our climate targets.

“The next industrial revolution will look to digitalisation and decarbonisation as twin forces that will shape industry for the rest of this century. Being a leader in both those areas will make this city region a leader globally.

“Made Smarter brings all these things together and looks at how we would support our traditional manufacturing base to become zero-carbon and fully digital and realise the productivity benefits that will come from that, but also the savings that will come from being more efficient and smarter in the way we operate.”

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng underlined the importance of manufacturing through the pandemic and the UK’s drive towards recovery, growth and net zero.

“Made Smarter has a critically important part to play in all of these targets,” he said. “Industry leaders have made clear that digital technology is vital to recovery and to the growth of UK manufacturing and they are all backing Made Smarter to achieve this.”

The theme of collaboration was prevalent throughout the conference.

A panel discussion featuring industry leaders Juergen Maier, Chair of the Digital Catapult and co-Chair of the Made Smarter Commission, Stephen Phipson, the Chief Executive of Make UK, Andrea Hough, MD of Salford-based Atec Solutions and member of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group and Made Smarter Commission, and Glyn Jones, Service Delivery Director at Lancashire-based BAE Systems and Chair of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group, Donna Edwards, Managing Director of the Growth Company and Made Smarter North West Adoption Programme Director, and Matt Ellis, Assistant Director of Made Smarter for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), concluded that collaboration from the factory to floor all the way up to government was key to powering forward the post-pandemic recovery and capitalising on the opportunity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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