The Made Smarter initiative, which is backed by businesses and the Government, has helped almost 950 SME manufacturers with specialised advice and £2.5m of funding since it launched 18 months ago.
Some manufacturers are developing projects using technologies that enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Meanwhile, others are using 3D-printing, automation and robotics.
The Bury Black Pudding Company, from Bury, and Flavourfresh Salads, from Southport, have begun working with the North West pilot on technology adoption, helping them to introduce digital tools to boost productivity and growth, as well as navigate the impact of COVID-19.
Lancashire Farm Dairies from Rochdale and Nutree Life in Preston have already experienced Made Smarter support.
Nutree Life, which makes plant-based and vegan, clean nutrition products, said adopting automation and control technologies had helped it cope with unprecedented demand for its products during the coronavirus crisis.
The company doubled its workforce and forecast that its business would quadruple in turnover. It was able to secure match-funding to upgrade a second production line with the technology and link the entire system to harness more data to improve performance.
Patrick Mroczak, co-owner of Nutree Life, said: “I never imagined that we’d achieve so much so fast. Made Smarter made us think bigger and smarter, encouraging us to capture manufacturing data as a way of improving the accuracy and consistency of the product. It has given us the platform and the confidence to take that next step.”
Lancashire Farm Dairies is adopting a robotic palletiser for its yoghurt filling line. It follows the dairy firm’s investment in a new filling machine, which doubled production speed and capacity, and prompted the need to automate end-of-line packaging.
Azhar Zouq, managing director, said: “As a business we are always looking for new ways to improve our processes and solve business challenges. Thanks to Made Smarter support and advice, we will be able to overcome a bottleneck in our production capacity and help drive forward our growth plans. This installation and investment is integral towards our ongoing strategic goal of driving efficiency and scale through the business.”
The project has already funded 115 projects in the region.
Donna Edwards, programme director for the Made Smarter North West pilot, said: “Over the last 18 months the Made Smarter team has engaged with hundreds of makers from every corner of the region offering specialist advice about the benefits to adopting new digital technology.
“The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on manufacturing and resulted in widespread repercussions for the economy. Manufacturers have reacted and adapted to the different circumstances they find their businesses facing – and technology has been at the heart of that response.”