Made Smarter helps SME manufacturers prepare for digital future challenges with leadership programme

Posted on 19 Aug 2021 by James Devonshire

Made Smarter's innovative Leadership Programme has helped create 60 digital leaders, all of who have the vision and skills needed to pursue smarter manufacturing.

The Made Smarter Leadership Programme, which is delivered through the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), the University of Liverpool (UoL) and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), has now helped five cohorts of managers and directors at SME manufacturing companies prepare for the challenges of a digital future.

The programme encourages current and future leaders to develop a new way of looking at their businesses and create a clear strategy to enable the adoption of digital technology, including how that can contribute to the UK’s net-zero agenda.

It uses a blend of workshops delivered by academics and experts in digital and leadership, site visits to SME manufacturers who are already on the journey of adopting digital technology, facilitated-learning sessions, and special project ‘sprints’ to test new ideas. These sprints allow delegates to test their ideas with other business leaders to build engagement and learn from each other.

The programme also uses peer-to-peer coaching to create a trusted network of leaders, many of who have remained in close contact.

With 60 SME leaders now empowered to transform their businesses, manufacturers across the North West are now being encouraged to register their interest for the next two cohort intakes, starting on October 7 and November 10 at Lancaster University.

Delegrates of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme during a visit to Veka. Image courtesy of Made Smarter

Delegates of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme during a visit to Veka. Image courtesy of Made Smarter

Reflecting on the success of the programme, Donna Edwards, Director of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, said: “I am delighted that the Leadership Programme has helped create 60 new digital leaders by giving them time out of their business to reflect on the bigger picture and share ideas and experiences alongside their peers in manufacturing, and then return to their own business and develop a digital strategy to create growth and efficiencies.

“They are among hundreds of manufacturers in the region grasping the opportunities offered by Made Smarter which include expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help take that first step to transform a business, funded digital technology internships, and support with technology adoption projects.

“I would encourage SME manufacturers to make contact with Made Smarter to find out how we can help with leadership development, skills, and how to adopt technology the right way.”

Andrea Williams, Operations Director at Norcott Technologies, an electronics manufacturer, based in Widnes, described the sprint sessions as her ‘lightbulb moment’.

“Theory is valuable and arms you with ideas, concepts and tools you can use,” she said. “Each element of the programme was an important piece in the jigsaw, and every session I returned to work energised with new ideas, purpose and strategy. But hearing how it had been successfully applied to another business and seeing the proof was the breakthrough moment. That was when I saw the full picture. Everything then fell into place. 

“While much of my focus is navigating the impact of Covid, the programme has given me confidence that I am moving in the right direction.”

As part of the site visits element of the programme, delegates spent time at Runcorn-based Hosokawa Micron Ltd, a manufacturer and supplier of powder processing systems and equipment that has transformed production performance through digital technologies, and Veka Plc, a Burnley-based manufacturer of PVCu window systems.

Peter Addison, Business Systems Manager at Connect2CleanRooms, a manufacturer of in critical environments, based in Lancaster, was inspired by the insights.

“The Hosokawa journey was an enlightening presentation and allowed me to consolidate my thinking,” he said. “Although the business is different to ours, their digital challenges were the same. 

“It has helped me to consider the role of digitalisation in our business and how this will connect back to things like staff development, wellbeing, our brand and the benefits pursuing and prioritising our digital strategy.” 

Peter also benefited from the Learning Forums.

“My initial thought of having to be part of a group discussing business issues was not something I particularly looked forward to doing. However, six months on they have been so useful and a great opportunity to connect and learn from others. Even after the programme ended, we still meet up weekly, and throw into the discussion issues we are facing and you can always be assured of honest, unbiased, constructive feedback. It has been brilliant,” he said.

Sarah Poynter, Operations Manager at Arden Dies, a die and tooling manufacturer based in Stockport, said the programme was hugely influential in prioritising and kick-starting digital projects.

“Through the programme I was able to identify several clear opportunities to make some significant changes which would bring benefit to the business. Furthermore, I was able to use the sprint approach to accelerate making those ideas a reality,” she said.

“One sprint was all about addressing a number of significant production issues relating to an existing product line which demanded very short turnaround times, high volumes and quality specifications. By automating large parts of the process we were able to accelerate the end to end process.

“While some of the sprints are still in play, they have been game-changing through reduced wastage, increased agility, quality and improved delivery performance.”

Registration for the next Leadership Programme is now open. For more information or to apply for your place visit