North West Spotlight: Manufacturing in Liverpool – CNC Robotics

Posted on 9 Sep 2020 by Jonny Williamson

You’d struggle to find a city so ingrained in manufacturing as Liverpool. The sector is a vital asset to the Liverpool City Region, supporting nearly 50,000 jobs in 3,000 companies and directly contributing £3.2bn to the wider economy.

With four leading universities on its doorstep, not to mention several beaches offering spectacular sunrises and scenic vistas, the region is home to household names including Jaguar Land Rover, Unilever, Pilkington and AstraZeneca, as well as a flourishing mix of and start-ups and innovative SMEs.

One such company is CNC Robotics, a pioneering manufacturer and integrator that uses robots and associated technology to provide innovative and cost-effective solutions to manufacturing problems.

The Manufacturer caught up with Co-Owner and Director, Madina Barker, to learn what makes the Liverpool City Region such a dynamic and vibrant hotbed of industry.

The Manufacturer Front Cover - September 2020This article first appeared in the September issue of The Manufacturer.

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Madina Barker: When Jason [Barker] established CNC Robotics in 2010 we explored what support was available for such a new business, and Liverpool City Region had it all.

The city has experienced such rapid, deep changes in recent years. Being the European Capital of Culture for 2008 [announced in June 2003] significantly raised the profile of the city, and throughout all these changes, the Liverpudlian mindset of ‘we will make it work’ has remained.

People from Liverpool have an inherent passion and determination that you just won’t find anywhere else in the world.

The support provided from the Liverpool City Region (LCR) and its Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is second to none. Initiatives like LCR 4.0, Making It and the Local Growth Hub offer businesses unrivalled access to expertise, technology and collaboration, all geared towards boosting productivity and driving innovation.

LCR is so keen to support businesses like ours, to help them grow and really push them to succeed.

Image courtesy of CNC Robotics

We are fortunate to have so many passionate advocates who want you to succeed, people like Simon Reid [Head of Advanced Manufacturing at LCR Growth Platform] who is an invaluable champion for manufacturing in Liverpool, and Phil Anders [Manufacturing Advisor at Business Growth Hub].

In 2018, we were coming out of a very challenging 24-month period for the business, and I was struggling to uncover what it was that we were missing. It turned out to be a network, a community of like-minded business owners all facing similar challenges and wanting to succeed.

The LCR is very proactive at helping to create those connections, understanding your business needs, as well as offering support and funding for particular projects to enable your business to expand and develop.

That’s invaluable. As a small business owner, if you don’t push yourself to make those connections, to make that network and build that community of people fighting your corner, you’d struggle to find out about these opportunities.

I appreciate other regions have got Growth Hubs, LEPs and combined authorities, but Liverpool’s are particularly well connected, creating a vibrancy that has kept me here for so long.

Image courtesy of CNC Robotics

Who are the key local players in your network?

I currently sit on the LCR LEP Advanced Manufacturing Making It Board, an opportunity that came out of networking and wanting to expand our business community.

The Making It Board brings together businesses, policymakers and delivery partners to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to make our sector globally competitive.

I also sit on the board at The Engineering College, a business that over 20 years has developed from a centre for heavy industrial engineering training to a college working across nine sectors of industry, including medical engineering, composites and advanced manufacturing.

The college is now the most wide-ranging supplier of engineering apprentices in the region and works with more than 100 local businesses on Merseyside.

Terry Weston, Chief Executive of The Engineering College, is such an inspirational leader because the college has to function as both an education facility and a small business.

Image courtesy of CNC Robotics

The business is also undergoing its own digital transformation thanks to funding secured from the Liverpool City Region by Terry and his team; developing ‘design to manufacture’ learning suites that will be used to deliver digital programmes which encompass robotic systems, rapid prototyping and sensor technology.

Terry also sits with me on the Making It Board and does such valuable work in terms of creating a strong pipeline of industry-ready apprentices for the region.

Liverpool City Region also has four universities [University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool Hope and the School of Tropic Medicine] along with numerous other Higher Education colleges.

It’s great that some of those institutions often reach out to CNC Robotics to understand exactly what it is we are looking for from graduates and what modules we would like to see on their programmes.

It’s so important for both industry and businesses like ours to have those conversations with educational institutions.

It’s not uncommon for a business to spend six months to a year training a graduate just on the basics of what they need to know. If we can have a more direct involvement in shaping curricula and preparing those graduates for a life in manufacturing, the better.

More information

*All images courtesy of CNC Robotics; header image: CNC Robotics senior team: Jason Barker,  Bart Simpson, Philippa Glover, Madina Barker