Made Smarter Awards recognise SME manufacturers pursuing digital transformation

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The first ever recipients of the Made Smarter Awards, celebrating excellence in manufacturing, have been revealed.

The scheme has been launched to mark the fourth anniversary of the pioneering Made Smarter adoption programme, a government-funded and industry-led initiative helping SME manufacturers digitalise, decarbonise and drive growth.

158 businesses, representing every part of the North West and a diverse range of sectors, have been recognised for their committed approach to digital transformation.

There are three levels of certification - bronze, silver, and gold - depending on a recipient's engagement and advocacy of the programme.

Among the first 19 ‘gold’ award winners are:

  • Storth, an agricultural machine manufacturer, based in Holme 
  • Logs Direct, kiln-dried wood manufacturers based in Lancaster
  • Playdale Playgrounds, a playground equipment manufacturer based in Ulverston
  • Brainboxes, an electronics manufacturer based in Liverpool, 
  • Mackinnon and Saunders, a puppet-maker based in Altrincham
  • The Bury Black Pudding Company, a food manufacturer based in in Bury
  • Beverston Engineering, a precision component manufacturer, based in Knowsley
  • Crystal Doors, a manufacturer of bespoke vinyl wrapped furniture, based in Rochdale
  • MSM aerospace fabricators, manufacturers of aircraft components, based in Middleton
  • R.A.F Engineering, an engineering and fabrication business, based in Workington 
  • The Cumbria Clock Company, a clock repair and restoration specialist based in Penrith
  • Firstplay Dietary Foods, a specialist food manufacture, based in Stockport
  • CNC Robotics, a robotics integrator based in Liverpool
  • Derek Rose, lifestyle textile manufacturer based in Congleton
  • Visual Architects, a manufacturer of creative interiors, based in Tameside
  • Atec Engineering Solutions, manufacturer of electronic and electro-mechanical equipment, based in Salford
  • BEP Surface Technologies, manufacturers of chill rolls, based in Radcliffe
  • IOT Horizon, a manufacturer of Internet of Things solutions, based in Warrington
  • Arden Dies, a die and tooling manufacturer based in Stockport.

Silver awards have been given to 40 companies, and bronze awards to 158.

Commenting on the awards, Donna Edwards, director of Made Smarter’s North West adoption programme, said: “The Made Smarter adoption programme is a huge success story for UK manufacturing. It has inspired leadership and evoked change in hundreds of businesses through technology and new skills. 

“Digital transformation can be hard, particularly in the current climate and given the challenges the sector has faced in recent years, so it is right we recognise the hard work, dedication and forward-thinking nature of these businesses and their employees. They have embraced digitalisation to become a leading example of UK manufacturing excellence.  “We are delighted to launch our first Made Smarter Awards and hope that recipients will wear them like a badge of honour to inspire others around them.”

Logs Direct, a manufacturer of winter fuel products based in Lancaster, worked with Made Smarter to invest in a real-time kiln monitoring and heat-recovery system, which will improve productivity, efficiency and product quality. The solution is forecast to increase growth by 15%, create five new jobs, significantly reduce energy use and introduce new eco-friendly products.

Liz Foulds, Finance Director at Logs Direct, said: "We are truly honoured and surprised to receive our Made Smarter award. "Made Smarter has been instrumental in allowing us to move forward with a greener, more efficient and cost-effective drying process, and given us the confidence to look at the next steps of improvement."

Playdale Playgrounds invested in a state-of-the-art Smart CNC routing machine which links with CAD and nesting software, and their ERP system.The integration of the design and manufacture processes has allowed them to achieve significant improvements in efficiency, output, productivity, reduce material use, tooling and downtime, and improve quality. 

Paul Mallinson, Technical & Operations Director for Playdale Playgrounds, said: "We are extremely grateful to the Made Smarter programme. Adopting technology is an essential part of our digital strategy. Their expertise and support has accelerated our future state and ambitions to become an entirely digitally integrated factory. “In such a competitive market we need to be able to manufacture faster and more efficiently.”

Storth, who make agricultural machinery, transformed its production process using automation and robotics with the support of Made Smarter. These investments increased productivity, upskilling staff, unlocked R&D opportunities, and enabled the business to achieve lights-out manufacturing for the first time.

Julian Lopez, Export Manager, said: “We are delighted to receive a gold Made Smarter Award. It is the icing on the cake of a challenging but rewarding few years, which has kickstarted the digital transformation of our business.  “From the start, Made Smarter has encouraged us to explore the opportunities of digital technology and patiently supported us through the beginning of what is a significant cultural change. “We are proud to be advocates of this pioneering programme which is giving SMEs like us the know-how and backing to map out a digital future.”

To date, the North West programme has provided specialised support to over 2,500 businesses. Its advisors have imparted expert, impartial technology advice and digital transformation workshops to help create a digital roadmap, skills support and leadership training, and grants towards technology projects.

Some businesses have adopted technologies that enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others have adopted 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand. These investments have created 1,300 new manufacturing jobs, upskilled 2,400 existing roles and added over £209M in GVA for the North West economy. Businesses are also benefiting from improved productivity and revenue, increased exports and lower energy bills, and a reduced carbon footprint.

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