Three very different North West manufacturers on the road to digital transformation

Steven Barr and Ravi Gidoomal celebrate three pathfinders with a strategic approach to adopting digital technologies.

Back in July, we set out a progressive, collaborative approach for companies in the manufacturing value chain to maximise ROI from digital technologies.

Since then, we’ve worked with companies engaged with Made Smarter in North West England, using the EDGE Digital Breakthrough method.

These are the stories of three very different companies, now making great strides in scoping, prioritising and engaging their people and partners in making smarter use of digital.


1. Fuse Contract Furniture

Managing digital adoption risk using their talent for innovation

You will have seen the products of Fuse Contract Furniture in many fine hotels and venues. This Blackburn company employs 40 skilled people in designing, making, assembling and hand-finishing high-quality pieces.

Fuse Contract Furniture is set to upgrade their production scheduling system from order to fulfilment.

CNC machining ensures accuracy and capacity for large orders of identical bespoke pieces. Fuse moved to a new factory earlier this year, improving layout and giving them room for expansion and storage of finished products.

That major investment is just the beginning, because they know that to keep on top they must continue to improve productivity, and delivery/installation operations, using digital technologies.

New investment has to come mainly from cash flow, and so managing digital adoption risk is a key requirement. Fuse is making the most of the spirit of innovation in its workforce and working with small and responsive suppliers of key technologies.

By collaborating with people who know the business and its markets, Fuse aims to make sure what they do is fully integrated and sustainable.

The Digital Breakthrough approach is helping Fuse to prioritise and plan the rollout of the right digital technologies for them, starting with enabling projects and learning as they move forward and achieve returns in progressive phases.

This article first appeared in the November issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe

Fuse’s first step is to upgrade their production scheduling system from order to fulfilment. Team leaders are configuring a new all-in-one CRM/ERP/MES system with support from supplier Decent Group, benefitting from the experience of one of their own planners who used the software with a previous employer.

Collaboration, internal and external, is the key to progressive development of capability in hugely important areas of customer relationship management, stock control, shop-floor scheduling and delivery logistics.

Digital roadmapping has also helped to structure Fuse’s ambitions for further automation of their production line. Data integration and centralised programming of CNC and other machines could boost productivity by minimising downtime.

Again, Fuse is drawing on its own people who understand the business to make this work for them, giving one of their CAD/ CAM specialists time to investigate what can be achieved through day-release at the University of Central Lancashire.

Although the digital technologies Fuse wants to adopt are diverse, Digital Breakthrough is helping them manage their risks effectively through employee and partner engagement, and they are learning how to integrate new tech with their existing operations for greater efficiency.


2. Bindatex 

Collaborating with digital experts for mutual benefit

Bindatex of Bolton are the experts in slitting difficult-to-handle materials into tapes used in carbon fibre wheels and other high-performance components used throughout the aerospace, marine, healthcare, energy and automotive industries.

Advanced cutting techniques have been developed over many years as the business has grown from supplying materials to the bookbinding industry to handling composite carbon and glass-fibre pre-preg materials.

Moving into new premises in 2018 and investing in new machines has enabled Bindatex to double turnover. However, customer demand continues to grow and the business is looking to digital technologies to increase capacity and productivity, and get more from existing people and machines.

The Digital Breakthrough approach is helping Bindatex to identify short and long-term digital projects to help the business grow, including an immediate opportunity to capture production data and track processes, which will deliver a return on investment within six months.

High-performance materials processor Bindatex has undertaken an extensive trial with low-cost barcode scanners

Bindatex currently uses sensors on cutting machines that enables them to gather real-time information and slit composites to narrower width and with greater quality assurance than others. They are keen to capture more data on production processes, quality and machine efficiency.

Investing in new systems can be a complex and challenging process, especially alongside day-to-day customer demands.

Bindatex has undertaken an extensive trial with low-cost barcode scanners in partnership with technology provider Total Control Pro using Activate, their cloud-based tracking system.

More importantthan the cost saving is the investment of time from experienced professionals to understand the longer-term requirements and design a system that will serve the business for many years to come.

Moving forward, Bindatex is benefitting from the Digital Breakthrough approach to build on their foundations of collaboration and innovation in the next phases of adoption of appropriate digital technologies for this growing business.


3. Darwen Terracotta

Adopting game-changing technologies for market-leading craftsman productivity

Darwen Terracotta and Faience has established itself as among the best makers of architectural terracotta for new build and restoration, and for beautiful pieces of art. They also make Belfast sinks, much sought-after by high-end kitchen designers, but that’s another story. As you might expect, quality of design and finish are paramount.

Darwen Terracotta see great opportunities for automation to speed up mould construction and other high-accuracy operations.Darwen Terracotta’s production processes rely on highly skilled individuals, from clay preparation to colour matching to model making to casting to finishing to glazing to firing to quality control.

They see great opportunities for automation to speedup mould construction and other high-accuracy operations.

But the company’s main concern is the-rarity of people with the necessary artistic skills in modelling the intricate shapes and features required.

There’s a bottleneck in model-making capacity that could restrict growth just as Darwen Terracotta’s reputation is climbing rapidly.

Digital Breakthrough is helping to align potential digital projects for maximum impact. Starting with additive manufacturing, the company is now able to scan complex components and create moulds in resin using 3D printing. This frees up the time of the company’s highly skilled sculptor to focus on more creative and value-adding activities.

This experience with 3D printing has opened eyes to other digital technologies with the potential to alleviate the modelmaking bottleneck. Virtual modelling, that is the creation of a digital model of an architectural piece, could enable intricate designs to be amended and signed off much more quickly with the architect of a renovation or new build.

Capabilities with 3D printing and virtual modelling could be optimised with 3D scanning technology that works for small detailed pieces and entire buildings.

Digital Breakthrough is helping Darwen Terracotta to explore their options and to work out how to integrate and progressively adopt specific technologies. Support requirements are also being identified, including Made Smarter and external experts in research and commercial partners.

Bringing all this together will create game-changing digital capability in this traditional high-craft industry.

Next steps

Click here to learn more about how Made Smarter is helping manufacturers in the North West of England.

You can register for EDGE Digital Manufacturing’s new fully funded programme for manufacturers that want to be digital pathfinders in the South East at: www.edge-digital.co.uk/collaboration

EDGE Digital Manufacturing is the advisory services partner of The Manufacturer and an accredited solution provider of the Digital Readiness Level Tool.

We can help you make sense of the digital landscape and find the right way forward for your business.

Why not take the free Digital Readiness Level Tool benchmark assessment and book a complimentary 1-2-1 call at info@edge-digital.co.uk to discuss the findings with us?

Follow us on LinkedIn to learn more about how we are helping suppliers, makers and their customers to make their digital breakthrough.


Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert at turning manufacturing business strategy into tangible results. He is managing director of the not-for-profit community interest company DRL-Tool.org

Ravi Gidoomal is an experienced banker and management consultant who is focused on implementing growth strategies.