Why data is at the heart of SME manufacturing growth plans

Three-quarters of manufacturing businesses in the Made Smarter North West Pilot scheme are turning to technology to improve their data collection and analysis. Michael Willis says the positive uptake of data-driven technologies is bearing out the original promise of the Made Smarter concept.

In the wake of the Made Smarter Review, led by Juergen Maier, the then-CEO of Siemens UK, the Made Smarter North West Pilot was established to boost the region’s manufacturing sector through the adoption of industrial digital technologies, enabling makers with facilities or operations in Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region to grow through adoption of new technologies.

Up to 50% matched funding is available for manufacturers with less than 250 employees and a turnover of less than £44m, or a balance sheet total of less than £38.5m.

The latest figures show that 75% of the SME manufacturers supported by the scheme are putting data and systems integration at the heart of their productivity and growth plans.


On the line at Playdale Playgrounds (Cumbria) - image courtesy of Made Smarter

On the line at Playdale Playgrounds (Cumbria) – image courtesy of Made Smarter


Data-driven growth

Of the 84 businesses that have received funding through the North West Industry 4.0 adoption pilot, 61 have embraced industrial digital technologies which connect their disparate systems and unify data residing in different sources.

Integrating a variety of systems and consolidating data sources allows business leaders to spot trends in production and labour, correct maintenance and quality issues, and minimise safety, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production.

The benefits of these can be seen in the entire supply chain ecosystem.

SMEs from various manufacturing sectors have invested in other advanced technologies to solve their business challenges. Almost 25% of manufacturers are adopting Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) using sensors to collect critical production data to gain valuable insights about the efficiency of operations.

More than 20% of SMEs are adopting robotics and process control automation and 15% are focused on big data and analytics technologies. Meanwhile, other businesses are investing in 3D printing, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and cyber security.


Tim Maddison, managing director, T&R Precision - image courtesy of Made Smarter

Tim Maddison, MD, T&R Precision (Lancashire) – image courtesy of Made Smarter


Among those 61 businesses using data and systems integration technologies to achieve digital transformation and gain a competitive edge include Playdale Playgrounds (Cumbria), Plastic Card Services (Cheshire), and T&R Precision (Lancashire).

Reduced maintenance costs

Playdale, a play equipment manufacturer based in Ulverston, is fixing sensors to a traditional drill to capture real-time performance and predictive maintenance data which will be analysed to understand the savings from improved efficiencies, reduced down-time, tooling-spend and maintenance costs.

It will then be replicated across other legacy equipment such as saws and presses.

Paul Mallinson, technical and operations director, said: “This project will pave the way for the integration of the remainder of our work production cells, in addition to the creation of totally digital workflow from initial enquiries through to delivery, installation, customer acceptance and on-going support. It’s an exciting time for Playdale.”

Increased productivity, revenues

Plastic Card Services (PCS), based in Macclesfield, invested in a bespoke solution that can read a card, check against a data file in real time, and then encode it, while a new software solution interrogates its customer’s database for the personalised data for the card and organise print jobs for the day.

The investment resulted in a new contract worth £500,000 each year for the next three years and an 8% increase in turnover, as well as additional enquiries for similar contracts.


Jayce McEvoy of Plastic Card Services - image courtesy of Made Smarter

Jayce McEvoy of Plastic Card Services (Cheshire) – image courtesy of Made Smarter


“Quite simply, without the new equipment, PCS would not have been able to win the contract. The increase in turnover is huge for us. It’s a game-changer for our company,” revealed Adam Unsworth, managing director, PCS.

Real time operational visibility

T&R Precision, an engineering company operating in the aerospace sector based in Foulridge, invested in a bespoke solution to fully automate a machining system by applying new software and hardware solutions to a five-axis CNC machine.

It is integrated with the quality control department, provides real time oversight to the management team and allows every order to be tracked and integrated into the supply chain.

The solution reduces the manufacturing process from 90 hours to 18, increases productivity levels and is forecast to increase revenue by 33% over the next three years.

Tim Maddison, managing director of T&R Precision, explained: “A unique, ‘future state’ manufacturing method will provide us with a significant competitive advantage over our principal customer’s in-house manufacturing processes.

“It will reduce the number of operations, machines and manpower required to manufacture the components, providing a step change in our productivity and efficiencies.

The investment and support of Made Smarter will create stability for the company and workforce and give us the confidence to invest in the future.”

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

From first steps to next steps

“Data and analytics are central to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so I am extremely pleased that so many SME manufacturers are putting data at the heart of their own digitalisation journeys,” said Donna Edwards, programme director for Made Smarter North West.

“Capturing the data from across their processes and bringing it all together in one place is a vital first step for many manufacturers looking to solve problems and recognise opportunities. Simultaneously, many of these SMEs are also deploying sensors in their factories to collect valuable data,” she continued.

“The next step, one which some forward-thinking SMEs are already taking, is to analyse the data using artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Edwards added.

“It is encouraging that so many of this region’s makers are recognising that using these tools can empower them to grow their business and increase efficiency.”

The Made Smarter team is continuing to advise SMEs on the adoption of digital technologies despite the lockdown via the North West Pilot.

More details at www.madesmarter.uk