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Collaboration is the key to powering forward the post-pandemic recovery and capitalising on the opportunity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, industry leaders told the Made Smarter: journey to digital manufacturing conference. 

More than 300 delegates from all over the country joined the virtual event which celebrated the success of the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme and debated the major challenges facing the industry and how technology can be leveraged to solve them. 

Billed as an event by manufacturers for manufacturers, the conference featured an impressive line-up of industry heavyweights including Juergen Maier, Chair of the Digital Catapult and co-Chair of the Made Smarter Commission, Stephen Phipson, the Chief Executive of Make UK, and Andrea Hough, MD of Atec Solutions and member of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group and Made Smarter Commission. 

Meanwhile, dozens of SME manufacturers shared their inspirational stories working with the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme, which has engaged with 1,200 businesses in the region so far and is aiming to help hundreds more as part of a £8M government rollout. 

But the golden thread that connected much of the insight and analysis was that collaboration, from the factory floor to government, was essential for UK manufacturing to fast-track its recovery, build resilience, and power forward ambitions for growth. 

Introducing the opening panel session, ‘How Made Smarter is powering the fourth industrial revolution’, moderator Nick Peters from ZenootTV said Made Smarter represented “a significant milestone” on the UK’s journey to roll out digital technology across the manufacturing sector, and praised the  “real partnership between government and industry to raise productivity for all and our economy”. 

Glyn Jones, Service Delivery Director at BAE Systems and Chair of the Made Smarter Pilot Steering Group, said collaboration between big business and SMEs was also vital to embracing the opportunities of digital manufacturing. 

"The key word is collaboration. Big companies like ours do not have all the answers and we are collaborating more and more to meet the challenges we are facing. 

"We are extracting best practice where it lies and if you can bring together different organisations looking at challenges from a different perspective, you can end up with a fantastic outcome." 

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK said fostering cooperation among SMEs was an important aspect of capitalising on the increased awareness of Made Smarter. 

“One thing the pandemic did do was accelerate digital collaboration,” he said. “We have not only got the message out there to manufacturers but to the government. We need to pull all our resources together and really accelerate the programme. We have the awareness and understanding from the government, now is the time to power forward.” 

In the spirit of collaboration, Juergen Maier vowed to work with the government on its ‘Plan for Growth’, which will replace the current Industrial Strategy, by ensuring it includes a “strong industrial and tech focus” and keeps Made Smarter “fairly and squarely within it”. 

Delegates also logged in to panel sessions featuring a mixture of experts and SME manufacturers discussing key topics such as skills, sustainable manufacturing, and how technology can boost business resilience, as well as an interactive workshop on how to start a digital transformation. 

Keith Scobie-Youngs (Cumbria Clock Company), Peter Saunders, (MacKinnon and Saunders), Rod Wah (Beverston Engineering), and Luke Walsh (Brainboxes) spoke of the benefits of adopting technology, while Julian Lopez (Storth), Patrick Mroczak (Nutree Life), Louise Ray (Plastic Card Services), Chris Lever (Bindatex), and Fadi Jarad (Sandstone Wirral) shared their experiences of how technology had helped them navigate the pandemic. 

Luke Walsh, Managing Director of Brainboxes, an electronics manufacturer based in Liverpool, said: "Made Smarter gave us huge help understanding where we could apply technology to improve the business.  

"My advice to other manufacturers is that even in challenging times it's important to think about process improvement. Made Smarter does not preach, they show you options. Ultimately Made Smarter saves you money, improves your bottom line and gets you more customers." 

There was a session focussed on upskilling workforces with Sarah Poynter (Arden Dies), Rebecca Lee-Panton and Luke Hickson (Fabricon Design), Sarah Dhanda (Enginuity) and Joe Crolla (Greater Manchester Combined Authority), a sustainable manufacturing panel with Ben Horne (Crystal Doors); Phil Milar (Creative Apparel); Jamie Baxter, (DA Techs), and David Reardon (Bloom-in-Box), and a roundtable focussed on the importance of customer trust featuring Steve Wood (Parity Medical), Sean Parnaby (Contactless Check Solutions), Karen Callard (Starlight Bedrooms), and Noel Doyle (Organica UK). 

Made Smarter has a critically important part to play in all of these targets. Industry leaders have made clear that digital technology is vital to recovery and to the growth of UK manufacturing and they are all backing Made Smarter to achieve this.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng
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