SME manufacturers are upskilling 1,800 workers to create the teams of tomorrow

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The Made Smarter Adoption programme in the North West has worked with more than 1,200 businesses since 2019, supporting them to introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, and navigate the impact of Covid-19.

Among these, 160 businesses have secured matched funding to develop projects using technologies which enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are using 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

These manufacturers are upskilling 1,822 roles to meet the demands of these emerging technologies and ensure successful digital transformation.

But SME leaders are also navigating the cultural challenges of digitalisation: good digital leadership; bringing the team along on the journey; effective communication of the benefits of change; capturing the technical skills and know-how of older workers before they leave the industry; attracting new digital talent into the organisation; and plugging skills gaps.

Made Smarter is supporting manufacturers in a variety of ways to meet these challenges, including organisation and workforce development (OWD) advice to enhance business performance through people, and a leadership programme designed to equip managers and directors with the strategic view and the skills needed to pursue smarter manufacturing. Digital technology internships are helping embed digital natives with fresh perspectives into a business, while digital transformation workshops can identify the challenges associated with going digital and develop a bespoke roadmap for technology implementation.

Ruth Hailwood, Organisational and Workforce Development Specialist Adviser for Made Smarter, said: “Choosing and implementing the right technologies and solutions is only one part of digitalisation.

“Technologies are tools, but digitalisation is all about connecting systems and processes and sharing data to inform decisions made by people.”

“Empowering staff on the front line is vital to a successful digital transformation, so manufacturers need to have or work to create a culture that is open to change and looking to grow and innovate. This will ensure the buy-in and support of the team, which alongside the right skill sets, good digital leadership, and effective communication, will make sure everyone shares the same vision and people can reap the benefits of using these new tools effectively.

“Doing a skills audit is key to identifying where people need development with a view to future-proofing the organisation. This can also identify and unlock the hidden talent that already exists in the business or focus on capturing technical skills and know-how in a veteran employee.”

DM Engineering, based in Maryport, launched in 2019 as a start-up engineering firm offering precision machining, manufacturing, and site-fitting services to a wide range of customers in West Cumbria.

With an ambition of becoming a fully connected digital manufacturing facility, Made Smarter supported the business to invest in Solidworks (3D Modelling) software replacing time-consuming 2D methods.

Darren Martin, owner, said his team has embraced the opportunity to upskill to keep up with the digital manufacturing landscape.

“I have a small team of handpicked engineers with old school engineering values but a forward thinking approach to modern manufacturing methods,” he said.

“New technologies can be daunting for some engineers. But my team is onboard. They’ve seen the benefit of having the most up-to-date software, saving time and effort by reusing designs from previous, similar jobs, and having opportunities to do more challenging and highly technical work.”

Engineer John Mattinson, 55, admits he was uncertain about the new approach.

“Engineering has changed a lot over my career with new technologies coming in,” he said. “Admittedly, I was hesitant at first as I didn’t fully appreciate how it would work or how it would make things better. But with patient tutoring and plenty of practice it has become much easier and I am now comfortable using the CAD/CAM software and operating the CNC machines, and have picked up some new skills.

“Change can be unnerving, but once you see the outcomes it makes complete sense to pursue new ways of doing things.”

Arden Dies, a die and tooling manufacturer based in Stockport, has worked with Made Smarter to create a digital roadmap, taken onboard digital interns Ursula Ackah and Tom Brine who specialise in 3D printing, and enrolled Operations Manager Sarah Poynter on the leadership programme. The collective result is that 20 of its workforce have been upskilled.

Sarah said: “We have always invested in the best technology and machinery, but there are historic challenges that need our focus if we are to capitalise on the next stage of our growth.”

“We are a traditional manufacturer, so change can be scary. We are on the journey and starting to see the benefits of educating the whole team, top to bottom. We have also focused on improving leadership and project management skills to help drive our digital transformation and better communicate changes that are essential for organisation.

“We have developed in-house training on waste and lean manufacturing to change the culture and mindset across the shopfloor, encouraging the workforce to question if there is a better way to do things. And we have two Made Smarter interns with expertise in additive manufacturing to mentor and share their skills across the business to imbed that knowledge.”

Fabricon Design, a business which used advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs, based in Ashton-under-Lyne, has also used Made Smarter’s digital internship programme to drive the upskilling process.

Luke Hickson, a master’s postgraduate studying Industrial Digitalisation at Manchester Metropolitan University, has supported the implementation of technology projects and training the workforce.

Rebecca Lee-Panton, Compliance Manager, said: “The success of adopting new technology into Fabricon Design was developing new skills to make the most of the investment. Luke has supported that process, first as an intern and then as a full-time member of the team. He has been an amazing asset, training operators in our new data collection system and the use of tablets and handheld scanners, which is now trickling down to other operatives.”

Brainboxes, an electronics manufacturer based in Liverpool, was supported by Made Smarter in the adoption of robotics.

Luke Walsh, Managing Director, said: “There was scepticism among our production staff about what a robot would do to their livelihoods, but the Made Smarter team were extremely good at helping us understand what the benefit was and communicate that to our workforce.

“Now my production staff aren’t saying to me ‘the robot has taken my job’ but suggesting where the technology could also be adopted. Taking the right approach has converted digitalisation sceptics into champions in our business.”

Nutree Life, a food manufacturer based in Burscough, Lancashire, was supported by Made Smarter to invest in state-of-the-art automation and control technologies which enabled high volume, high speed and accurate production and laid the foundations for a network which captures data for further analysis.

The digitalisation has resulted in 25 workers being upskilled into technical operators, team leaders, and new management roles.

Patrick Mroczak, Co-Founder and CEO, said: “Digitalisation is a journey. Once you take that first step your mind is opened and you want to delve deeper.

“Our entire workforce has gone to another level of working since the arrival of these new technologies. Now, because they run these processes, they are coming up with ideas to take it further.

“With the increased productivity and greater efficiency, I have been able to create dozens of new jobs, adding brain power to a broader team, and upskill a significant number of them. This process has created a much more profitable business and much happier staff.”

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