A programme which helps manufacturers modernise by adopting digital technologies has been extended, with a number of businesses in Greater Manchester already benefitting from the scheme.

The Made Smarter North West pilot was launched in 2018 to provide small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with funding and specialist advice on how to increase their productivity and competitiveness by embracing digital tools and learning new skills.

The success of the programme led the government to announce last month the Adoption programme would continue in the North West and expand into the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the West Midlands.

Since its launch, Made Smarter has engaged with over 350 businesses in Greater Manchester. Companies can access a range of bespoke support, from intensive specialist assistance and mentoring, grants to support equipment purchase, to student placements and leadership and management training.

Greater Manchester’s ambition, guided by the Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) and led by the Graphene, Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Alliance (GAMMA), is to create a world class Made Smarter ecosystem.

Overall, businesses in Greater Manchester have secured £885,000 in matched funding for 47 projects, generating £2.2M of private sector investment. The projects are forecast to deliver an additional £33M in gross value added (GVA) for the city-region’s economy over the next three years, creating 198 new jobs.
Mackinnon and Saunders, one of the world’s leading puppet-makers, is one of these businesses.

The Altrincham-based puppet-maker has brought to life some of children’s most beloved TV characters including Bob the Builder, Postman Pat and the new Clangers, and collaborated with Hollywood directors Tim Burton on Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride, and Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox.

In recent years, the company has been increasing its use of computer-aided design and 3D printing technology. It now wants to embrace the latest developments in additive manufacturing and innovative software solutions to help design and create its models.

These new processes will increase the quality and accuracy of the company’s products, boost efficiency and increase export sales opportunities.
Director Peter Saunders said that exploiting the potential of these new developments will help the company maintain its position as a world leader in its sector.

“Recent improvements in CAD, virtual sculpting and, in particular, some incredible ground-breaking developments in 3D printing, are creating new opportunities for us to utilise digital technology alongside the traditional craft skills associated with puppet-making.

“Working closely with some of the most innovative digital companies in the world will put the company in the best position to capitalise on new products and markets and give us a technological advantage over our international rivals.”

Clothing manufacturer Creative Apparel is another business that is harnessing new technology by building a fully digitised factory one mile away from its current base in Stockport.

Made Smarter is supporting the company with two projects. The first is a project to automate its process from receiving orders through to production management and dispatch; the second is the development of a software programme which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to respond quicker and more effectively to fast fashion trends.

Creative Apparel’s ambition is to quadruple its production capacity, increase productivity by 30 per cent, and reduce waste by 20 per cent. Managing Director Phil Millar believes technology will help increase the company’s turnover fourfold within five years, creating 50 new jobs.

He said: “By introducing digital technology and tools that reduce waste and consume less energy we want to prove that you can help save the planet and can save money.

“This isn’t just about buying new machinery, it’s about getting the best out of this technology, and understanding how to optimise the flow of garments through the factory during the manufacturing process. It’s an exciting time for Creative Apparel and we are grateful to Made Smarter for supporting the journey.”

Lou Cordwell, Chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP), said: “The Made Smarter pilot programme has been a clear success in Greater Manchester and it’s fantastic to see it extended in the North West and expanded to other regions.

“Mackinnon and Saunders and Creative Apparel are two outstanding Greater Manchester manufacturers. This programme has helped them improve their productivity, become greener, increase revenues and create new jobs.

“Beyond the pandemic, we will look to these kinds of businesses to play a central role in the city-region’s long-term economic recovery, so it’s vital we do what we can to help them adapt and modernise. Innovation is a central part of our Economic Vision, and will be crucial if we are to realise our ambition for a world-leading manufacturing sector in Greater Manchester.”

Juergen Maier, Co-Chair of Made Smarter UK and GM LEP board member, said: “The benefits of adopting industrial digital technologies are exponential, but SMEs don’t always have the means to access these tools. It is therefore welcome news that Made Smarter can continue its crucial work helping Greater Manchester manufacturers become more productive.

“Made Smarter is a key part of a broader strategy to build on Greater Manchester’s heritage and put the city-region at the cutting edge of advanced materials and manufacturing.”

Over the next 12 months Made Smarter will be building on its success by supporting a further tranche of GM manufacturing companies to embark on their own digital transformation journey. If your company would like to participate in the programme and benefit from the advice and support available, visit the Made Smarter website to learn more.