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A new £20 million initiative, designed to embed advanced digital technology across the North West’s manufacturing sector to boost productivity, was officially launched today.

Backed by national government and some of the world’s biggest businesses, the Made Smarter North West programme is set to engage with 3,000 SME manufacturers based in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

Lancashire companies which get involved in the project will get the chance to access match funded support and advice regarding how industrial digital technologies (IDT), including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT), could revolutionise their manufacturing processes.

A number of Lancashire firms 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.

Embracing the principles of Made Smarter could also help to open up new markets, increase exports and create hundreds of additional high-skilled, high-value jobs across Lancashire.

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

As well providing significant funding to underpin the Made Smarter concept, government has also worked closely with industry to drive the programme.

A formal partnership between the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the private sector, the programme is overseen by the Made Smarter Commission.

Co-Chaired by Business Secretary Greg Clarke, and CEO of Siemens Juergen Maier, the Commission includes representatives from 17 leading companies and organisations directly linked to manufacturing.

As well as Siemens, who employ 2,000 people in the North West, other members of the Commission with a major presence in the region include Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover and Lancashire-based employers Rolls Royce, BAE Systems.

Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens, 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 growth and technology opportunities in the process.

“It’s a hugely exciting time for Lancashire, 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.”

Made Smarter will be delivered across the county by Boost, Lancashire’s business Growth Hub.

Andy Walker from Boost said: “With new facilities such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Samlesbury, the Health Innovation Campus at Lancaster, the Energy HQ in Blackpool and UCLan’s Engineering Innovation Centre in Preston, Lancashire is developing a truly world class technology-led innovation infrastructure.  

“However, the Made Smarter North West programme means that any Lancashire firms unsure about how to maximise these assets, or simply want to better understand the incredible commercial opportunities offered by the latest industrial digital technologies, will now have the chance to get advice, support and grants specifically linked to advanced manufacturing.

“I would therefore encourage Lancashire SMEs to take full advantage of this exciting government-backed initiative.”

Today’s 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. Present at the launch were several North West SMEs who already have developed or deployed IDT within their processes.

These include Valuechain, an SME with facilities in Burnley which has developed a series of innovative digital technology solutions including production control software and a system for digitally connecting complex supply chains. Valuechain has also created a ‘Virtual Smart Factory’ which enables visitors to try the latest software in a realistic, immersive environment.

Tom Dawes, Valuechain’s CEO, said: “Through the application of advanced technologies, we’ve implemented robust business processes that enable us to deliver projects for global businesses such as Airbus, Bentley Motors and Rolls-Royce. We have further led on major R&D projects in the North, working closely with University and Industry in the region to innovate digital solutions to industry challenges.

“The Made Smarter initiative will offer manufacturing firms in the Lancashire and the North West the chance to explore the opportunities offered by the adoption of hi-tech processes, such as the ones we have developed, which could help to transform their entire business.”

Lancashire manufacturers who would like to register an interest in taking part in Made Smarter North West should visit www.boostbusinesslancashire.co.uk

For more information on the Made Smarter programme visit www.madesmarter.uk