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Collaboration key to powering forward digital manufacturing

18 March 2021

COLLABORATION IS the key to powering forward the post-pandemic recovery and capitalising on the opportunity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, industry leaders told the Made Smarter: journey to digital manufacturing conference.

More than 300 delegates from all over the country joined the virtual event which celebrated the success of the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme and debated the major challenges facing the industry and how technology can be leveraged to solve them.

Billed as an event by manufacturers for manufacturers, the conference featured an impressive line-up of industry heavyweights including Juergen Maier, Chair of the Digital Catapult and co-Chair of the Made Smarter Commission, Stephen Phipson, the Chief Executive of Make UK, and Andrea Hough, MD of Atec Solutions and member of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group and Made Smarter Commission.

Meanwhile, dozens of SME manufacturers shared their inspirational stories working with the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme, which has engaged with 1200 businesses in the region so far and is aiming to help hundreds more as part of a £8M government rollout.

But the golden thread that connected much of the insight and analysis was that collaboration, from the factory floor to government, was essential for UK manufacturing to fast-track its recovery, build resilience, and power forward ambitions for growth.

Introducing the opening panel session, ‘How Made Smarter is powering the fourth industrial revolution’, moderator Nick Peters from ZenootTV said Made Smarter represented “a significant milestone” on the UK’s journey to roll out digital technology across the manufacturing sector, and praised the
“real partnership between government and industry to raise productivity for all and our economy”.

Donna Edwards, director of the Made Smarter North West Adoption Programme, said it is vital for businesses to engage with the workforce before adopting technology.

“Technology is a tool, but this is all about people and where we contribute,” she said. “You need to take your team with you.”

Edwards said much of the success of the programme in supporting 550 manufacturers in their digital transformation was working closely with the business at a pace that would “keep them moving forward”.

Glyn Jones, service delivery director at BAE Systems and Chair of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group, said collaboration between big business and SMEs was also vital to embracing the opportunities of digital manufacturing.

"The key word is collaboration. Big companies like ours do not have all the answers and we are collaborating more and more to meet the challenges we are facing.

"We are extracting best practice where it lies and if you can bring together different organisations looking at challenges from a different perspective, you can end up with a fantastic outcome."

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK said fostering cooperation among SMEs was an important aspect of capitalising on the increased awareness of Made Smarter.

“One thing the pandemic did do was accelerate digital collaboration,” he said. “We have not only got the message out there to manufacturers but to the government. We need to pull all our resources together and really accelerate the programme. We have the awareness and understanding from the government, now is the time to power forward.”

In the spirit of collaboration, Juergen Maier vowed to work with the government on its ‘Plan for Growth’, which will replace the current Industrial Strategy, by ensuring it includes a “strong industrial and tech focus” and keeps Made Smarter “fairly and squarely within it”.

Opening the conference, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng underlined the importance of manufacturing through the pandemic and the UK’s drive towards recovery, growth and net zero.

“Made Smarter has a critically important part to play in all of these targets,” he said. “Industry leaders have made clear that digital technology is vital to recovery and to the growth of UK manufacturing and they are all backing Made Smarter to achieve this.”

Delegates also logged in to panel sessions featuring a mixture of experts and SME manufacturers discussing key topics such as skills, sustainable manufacturing, and how technology can boost business resilience, as well as an interactive workshop on how to start a digital transformation.