More digitalisation funding needed
10 July 2020
It’s great news that Made Smarter, North West technology adoption pilot, has reached a major milestone, having funded more than 100 businesses. The scheme works with small and medium-sized manufacturers to help them introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, and more recently, to help navigate the impact of Covid-19.
Since it’s launch 18 month ago Made Smarter has provided support, specialised advice and £2.5M of funding to almost 950 SME manufacturers. 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.
As of now, 104 of the businesses have 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.
On many levels this represents a huge success story both for the SMEs involved and the dedicated team headed up by Donna Edwards, who is Programme Director for the Made Smarter North West pilot. However, I can’t help but feel that the UK, and by the UK I really mean the Government, should be doing an awful lot more to drive digitalisation in the manufacturing sector.
With the £100m GVA boost to the local economy, the figures speak for themselves - return on investment seems guaranteed. Being in the privileged position to regularly speak to people with knowledge and experience from throughout industry, I know that the drive and enthusiasm is there to be harnessed.
And things do seem to be moving in the right direction. The potentially catastrophic effects of Covid-19 on the economy, coupled with the need for UK industry to adapt to Brexit have concentrated minds on the importance of manufacturing and being competitive in the world market. Implemented in the right way, a more digital, automated model can undoubtedly help keep people safe and industry rolling.
To be welcomed is the recent announcement of a new fund to develop digital innovation to 'revolutionise Britain’s manufacturing supply chains'. Again involving Made Smarter, this time in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (which brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England), two funding competitions have been established for innovative UK businesses to come together to develop world-leading digital technologies to boost supply chain productivity and resilience to 'turbo-charge' the Covid recovery. You can read more about the fund on the page 8.
While there are some positives to be had, there is no doubt that these are hugely turbulent times and while instinct might urge businesses to batten down the hatches and keep spending to a minimum, I'm sure that those which come out strongest will be those that make the investment in digitalisation - and that goes for countries too.