As Edwards explains in the first of a series of podcasts on this topic, Made Smarter began as a pilot in the north west of England in 2018 and launched to food processors in January 2019. It has now been expanded to the West Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber and the North East. The hope is that the Government will keep supporting it with further funding from April 2022 onwards and that it can be rolled out across the whole of England.
The scheme's aim is to provide support and advice to businesses across every industry on how technology in the form of automation, digitalisation or industry 4.0 - depending on the terms companies use - can help them grow. It also acts to identify sources of funding to help invest in hardware and software.
"We have been surprised by the level of interest from the food and drink sector," Edwards says. "We thought we would have more interest more quickly from automotive, aerospace and chemicals, but the food and drink sector has been really positive and found us quickly. We think some of the reasons for that were that the sector does not have specific programmes targeted at it, whereas other sectors do and have done for a number of years."
Companies that have seen the benefits
Food Manufacture has covered companies that have seen the benefits in previous articles. They include potato producer Fylde Fresh and Fabulous; chocolate manufacturer Ye Olde Friars; puddings maker Classic Desserts; protein bar manufacturer Nutree Life; Flavourfresh Salads and the Bury Black Pudding Company.
Bacon supplier Hall & Roberts (Provisions); Simply Doughnuts; Riverbank Catering; Shed 1 Distillery; Bells of Lazonby; Blends Holdings; Lancashire Farm Dairies and Len Wright Salads are other companies that have reaped rewards.
NuteeLife on Made Smarter
"With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us. Orders from all areas of the business have increased, which means we are producing more. There is no doubt that without investing when we did, in the way that we did, with the help from Made Smarter, we would not be able to cope with this unprecedented increase in demand."
Patrick Mroczak, co-founder and chief executive officer of NutreeLife
"The pilot trials a number of things," says Edwards. "We have a leadership and management programme in partnership with Lancaster University Business School to help leaders get that knowledge and understanding to give them the confidence to start to look at how they could apply technology in their business.
"We also have an internship programme, where we are using graduates who are undertaking technology-related subjects. That could be robotics, data, IT and how we place them in SMEs to work with them to identify areas where they could adopt technology, but also to work with the workforce to upskill them to be able to use that technology once it's in place."
Listen to this podcast for more from Edwards on how Made Smarter can help your business.