Industrial digital technologies (IDT), including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT), that could revolutionise manufacturing processes are the focus of a new £20 million initiative to help the North-west’s manufacturing sector. 

Officially launched in Liverpool in November, and backed by government and some of the world’s biggest businesses, the Made Smarter North-west programme is set to engage with 3000 SME manufacturers based in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region to boost productivity. 

Companies that get involved in the project will get the chance to access match-funded support and advice regarding how these IDTs could revolutionise their manufacturing processes and reap the benefits of more efficient production.

Around 600 North-west manufacturing SMEs will also qualify for more intensive business support, gaining access to match-funded grants, bespoke consultancy, mentoring and other resources which will help them to accelerate commercial growth. 

It is anticipated that by becoming a test-bed for new types of technologies and advanced processes, the region’s manufacturing sector could generate a 25% increase in productivity and add £115m to the North-west economy. 

This follows an announcement in the recent Budget that up to £121m of additional Made Smarter programme funding would be made available across the country as part of the Government’s £1.1b Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

As well as through the Made Smarter commission, a partnership has been established between the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the private sector, to oversee delivery of Made Smarter. Co-chaired by Business Secretary Greg Clark, and CEO of Siemens Juergen Maier, the commission includes representatives from 17 leading UK manufacturers, technology companies and business representative bodies 

As well as Siemens, which employs 2000 people in the North-west, other members of the commission with a major presence in the North-west region include Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Airbus and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Juergen Maier said: “Made Smarter has the potential to kick-start a new industrial revolution for our manufacturing sector and be a catalyst for new investment in the latest digital technologies. At its core will be helping local businesses to innovate, creating new opportunities and technologies in the process. It’s a hugely exciting time for the North-west, and I believe this is truly a once-in-a-generational opportunity to boost productivity and create the high value, highly paid jobs of the future” 

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “From pharmaceuticals to aerospace, the North-west manufacturing sector has earned a global reputation for excellence and expertise, with manufacturing jobs accounting for one in 10 of the region’s total workforce. With Made Smarter North-west we are giving 3000 manufacturers across the region advice and grants to give them the tools and resources needed to transform the way they do business and pioneer technological innovation in manufacturing. 

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy, we are boosting opportunities for UK manufacturing to continue to grow, and the North-west can lead the way as the UK seizes the economic benefits of digital technology.”  

Made Smarter will be delivered across the North-west through the Growth Hubs. Its regional roll-out will be co-ordinated by Donna Edwards, managing director of Business Support and Business Finance at the Manchester-based Growth Company.

Donna Edwards says: “Growth Hub advisers across the region regularly engage with manufacturers who are interested in adopting new hi-tech processes but are unsure how to go about it. There are also worries about how much to invest and deciding which technologies will bring the greatest benefits.

“Made Smarter North-west has been developed specifically to address these needs, and through fully-funded advice, support and a programme of match-funded grants, it will offer thousands of local companies the chance to tackle existing challenges, explore new ideas and drive economic growth.”   

The Made Smarter North-west launch took place as part of Digital Manufacturing Week and the Manufacturers Leaders’ Summit. The summit is a national conference hosted at Liverpool Arena dedicated to the latest digital manufacturing technologies.  

At the event Juergen Maier and Donna Edwards were joined by Liverpool’s metro mayor Steve Rotheram, together with representatives from Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Lancashire and Liverpool City Region LEPs and local Growth Hubs. 

Also present were several North-west SMEs who already have developed or deployed IDT within their own processes. 

These included Rochdale’s Crystal Doors, a vinyl door manufacturer which uses robotics, 3D modelling and hi-tech dust extraction technology across all their operations.

Richard Hagan, Crystal Doors managing director, says: “When I tell people we make doors, many of them picture a sawdust-filled workshop, tins of wood stain and boxes of door handles. However, when they visit our facility and see the level of automation we utilise, and the precision technology which we apply to production, they are genuinely stunned.  

“The efficiencies such processes bring also impact massively on our bottom line, and I would encourage any manufacturer in the region, from any sector, to explore how an initiative like Made Smarter North-west could change the way they work through the adoption of highly advanced manufacturing techniques.”   

North-west manufacturers that would like to register an interest in taking part in Made Smarter North-west should contact their local business Growth Hub or visit  the Made Samrter website.