Helping to demystify industrial
digitalisation in UK manufacturing

New digital skills grow North West manufacturing

27 January, 2020

North West business leaders are now armed with the vision and the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing after completing Made Smarter’s leadership programme.

The 10 leaders of SME manufacturers based in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region, are the first to graduate an innovate programme run in collaboration with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) and Made Smarter, the industry and government partnership driving manufacturing productivity and growth through digital technology.

The 8-month programme involved a mixture of workshops, site-visits to other manufacturers, including Veka, Hosokawa Micron and Senator, who are already on the journey of adopting digital technology, and special project sprints - delivered by SiemensDigital Industries - to test new ideas.

Delegates unanimously agreed that the programme had given them the impetus to take vital time away from the business to develop the strategic view to support the adoption of hi-tech and digitally-based manufacturing techniques into their own production processes and taught them how to successfully bring employees and other stakeholders along on their digital transformation journey.

Peter Phillips, Managing Director for Abbey England, a Knutsford-based manufacturer of leather and brassware for the equestrian and leather goods market, used the programme to aid structural changes in the company and identify new methods of 3D scanning and 3D printing which could half the company’s manufacturing lead time.

He said: “The leadership programme has been an inspirational experience.

“It isn’t often you get the time to step away from the business to think about how you are running it. SMEs tend to operate in an isolated bubble. It was a valuable experience to meet other leaders from different types of businesses and seeing how they do things and feeling reassured that even much larger organisations have the same challenges.

“For any other SMEs wondering where to start with digitalisation, I absolutely recommend this programme. Not only does it arm you with the basics about the technologies that could help you, but it gives you the tools to bring them into your business.”

Anthony McMullin, head of operations at Milexa Group, a business designing and manufacturing wallpaper and flooring products, based in Liverpool, has seen the company’s GDP increase by two per cent over the year by applying what he learned on the programme, it includes introducing digital technology to automate, standardise and reduce waste. The increase in automation and use of data has also freed up staff to take up more high value work.

He said: “I feel like I understand much better what constitutes good leadership, in terms of the personal characteristics this involves, but also in how we can focus our energy to inspire a transformational culture that thrives in a changing world.

"You cannot start this journey too soon. The potential is truly limitless depending on your ambitions. The process can also be done in a very scalable and iterative way by making small changes in certain areas which yield huge benefits. This only then further enables and justifies more positive change further down the line."

The programme kicked off with a two-day residential to enable the cohort to get to know each another and introduced the principles behind responsible leadership and what this means to their business. Over the course of the eight months delegates attended six workshops led by both academics delivering leading edge thinking and business practitioners demonstrating adoption in real business settings. The workshops topics included: setting the strategic context; stakeholder engagement; audit processes; performance management; scoping and leading change; and implementing change.

During the programme, delegates attended three site visits and workshops with manufacturers who have already adopted new technologies. Through the programme delegates would also embark on 'sprints' where they would test their ideas with another delegates' business to build engagement and learning from each other.

Donna Edwards, director of the North West Made Smarter pilot, said: “I’m delighted that the Made Smarter Leadership programme has made such a positive impact on the first cohort of business leaders in the North West.

“It has given leaders crucial time out of their business to reflect on the bigger picture and share ideas and experiences alongside their peers in manufacturing. They have been taught about the wide-ranging digital tools available to them and the potential impact they can have on their business’s growth and competitiveness.

“This pioneering group of leaders have been able to create a digitalisation strategy to explore how technology can improve business performance, as well as develop the leadership skills needed to manage operational change and employee expectations.”

Professor Angus Laing, Dean of Lancaster University Management School, said: “The feedback from the first cohort of the Made Smarter leadership programme has been incredibly positive, re-enforcing Lancaster’s outstanding reputation for devising and delivering world-class business leadership development.

“Via a mixture of workshops delivered by academics and experts in the digitalisation and leadership, and site visits to companies, including Veka, Hosokawa Micron and Senator, where delegates were able to see advanced technology in practice, participants have been empowered to transform their individual businesses.”

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