Made Smarter, the movement helping SMEs join the Industry 4.0 revolution, has reached a major milestone having now funded more than 100 businesses.

The North West technology adoption pilot is working with small and medium-sized manufacturers to help them introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, as well as navigate the impact of Covid-19.

Almost 950 SME manufacturers have secured support, including specialised advice and £2.5M of funding, since the launch of Made Smarter 18 months ago.

This support includes expert, impartial technology advice, digital roadmapping workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps to transform their business, leadership development programme developed in partnership with Lancaster University, and funded digital technology internships.

104 of the businesses have now secured matched funding for 115 projects and are forecast to deliver an additional £100M in gross value added (GVA) for the North West economy over the next three years.

Some manufacturers are developing projects using technologies which enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are using 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

By adopting cutting-edge technologies, these businesses benefit from improved productivity and revenue, increased exports and job creation, an upskilled workforce, lower energy bills, and a reduced carbon footprint.

SMEs starting their digital transformation journey with Made Smarter include Storth, an agricultural machine manufacturer based in Carnforth, who have adopted a robot welder which is twice as fast as its human counterparts and means welding staff can move to higher value, more rewarding and technically challenging roles.

Julian Lopez, Export Manager at Storth, said: “Made Smarter’s digital roadmapping workshop exposed our inefficiencies and our old-fashioned ways of working and kick-started a cultural shift in our company. Coupled with matched funding for a robot welder, we were able to continue operations during COVID-19 and overcome historical production delays moving forward.”

Parity Medical, a Wirral-based manufacturer of mobile wireless computer carts and specialist clinical computing devices for the NHS and private healthcare sector, is introducing a software package to be able to sell to customers via a virtual showroom. The innovative solution integrates with the company’s administrative, sales and production systems and will reduce travel time and costs, significantly accelerate the sales process, and cut its carbon emissions by 11%.

Steve Wood, Managing Director, said: “The technology will transform our sales process, removing delays and errors, allowing us to get it right the first time – which will make us significantly more efficient. This will increase productivity and accelerate the business’s growth.

“The reduced travel translates into lower carbon emissions at a time when sustainability is increasingly important to the industry.”

Meanwhile, several manufacturers who have experienced the benefits of Made Smarter support, are taking the next step in their digitalisation journey.

Nutree Life, a food manufacturer based in Preston, was able to cope with unprecedented demand for its products during the coronavirus crisis after adopting state-of-the-art automation and control technologies. After doubling its workforce and forecasting to almost quadruple its turnover, the business has secured match funding to upgrade a second production line with the same advanced technology and linking the entire system to harness more data to improve performance.

Patrick Mroczak, co-owner, 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.”

Donna Edwards, Programme Director for the Made Smarter North West pilot, said: “Reaching 104 business and 115 funded projects is a fantastic achievement – and there is much more to come.

“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.

“I am thrilled that so many firms of all sizes have tapped into our expertise to help them select the right approach for their business, how much to invest and which technologies will bring the greatest benefits.

“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.

“While there is uncertainty, what is clear is that Made Smarter is needed more than ever to help SMEs maintain their competitive edge using technology to come back smarter and navigate the future.”