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Fringe benefits

12 April 2024

Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week sets out to provide a ‘festival-style’ experience for the visitor to make the trip to the NEC as worthwhile and enjoyable as possible. Aside from the exhibitions themselves there is a multitude of events taking place ‘on the fringe’ that range from the serious to the fun and light-hearted! Controls, Drives and Automation looks at what’s happening away from the exhibition floor

A MAJOR focus for Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week is people (both young and older) and skills. The STEM programme encompasses support for the IMechE Apprentice Automation Challenge as well as their Formula Student Programme. Plus, taking place in Hall 5 as part of Drives & Controls are the FANUC Industrial Robots Qualifiers which will see teams of two 16–20-year-olds competing in dynamic challenges that will test their ability to gather and apply information, work effectively in teams, follow instructions, and create excellent robot programs. Visitors can also experience the excitement themselves with an interactive FANUC robot 'try it yourself' session.

Again, focused on people is the ‘Oscars’ of the manufacturing sector The Manufacturer Top 100. Held on the evening of 5th June, the Top 100 programme provides a platform and a showcase to celebrate the best of UK manufacturing – not the big businesses and the household company names – but the inspiring people who make the industry tick. The Manufacturer Top 100 scours the length and breadth of the nation to find the 100 most dynamic leaders and innovators in manufacturing, nominated by the industrial community and judged by a panel of industry leaders, academics and manufacturing associations.

As Grace Gilling, manufacturing portfolio Director of Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week 2024 outlines: “The Manufacturer Top 100 celebrates the heroes of UK manufacturing and recognises their contribution to Net Zero, Digital Transformation, Innovation and Leadership. We also shine a spotlight on the Unsung Heroes, Sector Activists and the Young Pioneers making an impact in the industry disproportionate to their years.”

On the key issue of skills (and also taking place on 5th June) is The Enginuity Skills Awards organised by Enginuity, the charity dedicated to supporting UK engineering and manufacturing employers by finding new ways to close skills gaps and open opportunities. The awards recognise apprentices, pioneers of skills development, and innovative engineers who are passionately and diligently tackling some of society's biggest challenges. Each year, leaders from the engineering and manufacturing industry across the UK gather at Enginuity's Skills Awards to celebrate the finest talent and commend the organisations dedicated to advancing skills development to ensure a bright future for these vital sectors in the UK economy. This year’s landmark 10th anniversary of the awards is no different, making SMEW an ideal backdrop for the celebration.   

The Skills Awards offers an array of categories catering to various areas, ranging from the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion award to distinctions such as the Large and SME Employer Skills Champion awards and Training Partner Skills Champion award. In addition, the awards encompass accolades tailored to individuals committed to enhancing their expertise in the field, such as the T Level Student award and multiple apprenticeship categories. Winners of both the T Level Student award and the apprenticeship categories stand to gain a £1,000 prize, with two deserving runners-up in each category receiving £500.  

Making the right connections

A new SM&E Week feature for 2024, taking place in Hall 5 as part of Drives & Controls, is the Connect+ Live Hosted Meetings Programme. This innovative feature is free of charge and is exclusively tailored to enhance a visitor’s experience and networking opportunities. It’s a concierge service that transcends conventional networking methods and prioritises the needs of the visitor. The programme is being run in partnership with Newbridge Events, specialists in business matchmaking, and enables time-pressured visitors to connect with several handpicked solution providers to ensure meaningful face-to-face meetings. Connect + Live allows the visitor to make personalised matches by aligning an exhibitor’s offering with their specific needs and schedules meetings in advance with the right person who can answer questions and is empowered to take business forward. 

The Connect+ Live Hosted Meetings Programme is only available to pre-registered visitors and interested visitors should register at drives-controls-2024.reg.buzz

More learning and networking

As well as the summits and educational theatre sessions there are other learning opportunities happening during the live events at the NEC on 5th and 6th June, for example The Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge Masterclasses. These interactive workshops are free to attend but places are limited and must be pre-booked. On the networking front several events for The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum will take place during the week. This network of senior manufacturers is now more than a decade old and members are drawn from across the industrial spectrum and share knowledge by attending targeted events and roundtable discussions.

Bring the noise... and the smoothies

One of the most popular ‘festival style’ attractions of SM&E Week returns in 2024, namely the Guitar Legends Competition. Entrants get the opportunity to play and record a piece of music (an intro, brilliant riff or a whole song) and entries are then judged by a professional musician. The winner on each day receives a 3D printed guitar.

On the theme of music and fun the Day 1 ‘after-show’ party will take place for visitors and exhibitors alike. This party gives everyone the chance to relax after a busy day and be entertained by the brilliant band The Shadow Monkeys, who play a mix of up-to-date dance floor hits and classic rock tunes. It’s a blast and helps prolong that festival vibe.

For more entertainment and continuing the theme of refreshment, for the more energetic visitors there is the chance to power the production of their own smoothie via a bike challenge and perhaps to consume it while drinking in the ‘Best of British’ showcase, a celebration of domestic manufacturing, featuring world-beating designs, innovative modes of manufacture, products that redefine categories, and export successes that plant the British flag in overseas markets.

Thinking about the future

With all the fun and worthwhile activities taking place on the fringe it’s important to know that this year, Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week will maintain its carbon-neutral status, having planted over 20,000 trees in the Nineteen Group Forest since 2022. Enginuity is also contributing to the fight against climate change by offsetting 59 Tonnes of carbon dioxide, achieving this by supporting a Global Portfolio of Verified Carbon Reduction Projects via Carbon Footprint. Plus, with an eye to the future the event’s charity partner is once again Engineers Without Borders UK. This brilliant organisation works with young people and students and those that work in industry to ensure that globally responsible engineering is embedded within the thinking of both engineers and the businesses they work for.

There’s so much to see and do at Smart Manufacturing & Engineering Week and registration for the live events, learning and education offerings, hosted meeting programme and fun competitions is available now through the website.