How emerging tech is helping manufacturers navigate Covid-19

Posted on 30 Apr 2020 by Jonny Williamson

SME manufacturers supported by Made Smarter are using technologies including robotics, 3D printing and software automation to overcome the impact on their businesses from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses signed up to the Made Smarter North West pilot to support digital manufacturing methods have adapted in a variety of ways, including switching production to make medical scrubs, ventilator parts and PPE to help the front-line fight against the disease.

Others have harnessed new capabilities to ramp up production to meet increasing demand and continue operating while staff self-isolate to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Here are eight examples of businesses putting technology to good use:

Fabricon Design uses advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs for a range of sectors.

The Greater Manchester firm has responded to the UK’s need for vital equipment by making headbands for facial masks used by NHS staff, and designed and manufactured a respiratory port for a hospital’s CPAP machine.

The business’ use of a new 3D printer has made the switch between materials quicker and its injection moulding machines which can produce over 7,000 of these components a week.

Fabricon - image courtesy of Made Smarter

Beverston Engineering specialise in prototyping and the manufacture of engineering components for aviation, aerospace, oil, gas and pharmaceuticals industries.

As a supplier to Rolls-Royce, part of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, has been making parts for the ventilators for the NHS.

The SME, based in Knowsley, Liverpool City Region, has been working with Made Smarter to create a solid productivity infrastructure and lay down the foundations for the smart factory connectivity that is capable to rapidly scale up in the future.

Textiles manufacturer Tibard, based in Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, was forced to close its operations producing work wear and uniforms but reopened to start making PPE equipment and scrubs for hospitals.

With help from Made Smarter the business replaced its two-decade-old CAM cutting machine with a modern IoT-connected machine. It now has access to advanced features which minimise downtime and guarantee predictive maintenance which helps meet demand.

Tibard staff producing medical scrubs for the NHS (2)

Storth, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery for slurry management, worked with Made Smarter to introduce a robotic welding system into its production line to reduce delivery times and maintain quality.

The technology also allowed the Lancashire-based business to continue operating when welding staff were self-isolating.

Julian Lopez, export manager at Storth said: “We were experiencing bottlenecks within our welding process which was causing delays in schedules. The robot has helped us overcome the delays but also helped us to continue operations at a time when some of our welders have been self-isolating, which has caused staff shortages.”

Storth, based in Carnforth, is now looking at introducing automation to operate unsupervised cutting and feeding machining.

While many businesses have experienced a downturn, Nutree Life, manufacturers of plant-based nutrition products, has seen a substantial surge in orders and has had to hire extra staff to fulfil the demand.

Nutree Life - image courtesy of Made SmarterThe Lancashire-based business completed the first phase of a project with Made Smarter to boost its capacity using automation technology shortly before the lockdown began.

It is now looking to fast-track the second stage due to the benefits it has seen from implementing technology, and how it has supported them with increased demand.

Patrick Mroczak, CEO of Nutree Life said: “With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us.

“Orders from all areas of the business have increased, which means we are producing more. There is no doubt that without investing when we did, in the way that we did, with the help from Made Smarter, we would not be able to cope with this unprecedented increase in demand.

“The technologies we have adopted have enabled us to develop new products quicker and we are now taking pre-orders for the first time, such is the demand.”

Some SMEs are using new technologies to continue manufacturing operations remotely.

Alphabond Technologies, an adhesives manufacturer based in Northwich, Cheshire, has achieved continuity after Made Smarter supported the business to adopt a new ERP system which enables them to connect systems for increased data visibility and automated reporting, resulting in a boost to their efficiency and allowing for real-time decision-making.

Dylan Shaw, managing director of Alphabond Technologiea, said: “Not only has the new technology reduced manual and duplicative processes, it has also increased our response rates to customers.

“An added benefit we have seen through these challenging times is our ability to adapt and work remotely. Remote working wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

Despite temporary closure or reduced operations due to lockdown other Made Smarter businesses are using the time to plan for the future.

DA Techs, an alloy wheel refurbishment specialist based in Chorley, Lancashire, used support and advice from Made Smarter to invest in digital technologies which proved key in the business winning a three-year contract and scaling growth plans.

It has now secured support for the second phase of its digital strategy, which aims to enhance the systems architecture to enable data-driven decisions and forecast future demand.

While many industries have been forced to pause their activity to play their part in helping the country defeat coronavirus, the government has acknowledged that it is important manufacturers maintain their operations to keep supply chains moving.

ATEC Engineering Solutions, a Salford-based business which designs, manufactures and repairs complex electronic and electro-mechanical equipment, is still running its production as a vital part of the defence supply chain.

Workers at the business have adopted remote-working tools to enable social distancing, and 3D printers have been utilised to produce protective visors for local care homes and care home trusts.

*All images courtesy of Made Smarter