SME manufacturers are being urged to start planning for next Christmas by exploring how technology can help with the seasonal surge.
While production is in full swing to meet demand for the festive season, makers across sectors are facing a multitude of challenges, including rising energy prices, supply chain disruption and labour shortages.
But changing consumer habits towards more sustainable products, online shopping and supporting small businesses instead of huge corporations are also creating opportunities for growth.
Made Smarter, a collaboration between the UK government and industry supporting the adoption of digital technologies, is calling on manufacturers to seize the moment to start planning for the future.
It has produced a free downloadable guide to help demystify digitalisation and drive technology adoption. The document includes topics such as how digital tools can help: plan production and capacity, oversee and manage the workforce, forecast demand, and inventory needs, manage stock levels and optimise picking, and automate the packaging process.
The guide also has case studies of Made Smarter-supported manufacturers who are reaping the benefits of investing in technology which is helping them cope with increasing demand during busy periods.
Seven Bro7hers Brewery, based in Salford, is investing to automate their packaging line which will increase productivity, capacity and enable staff to focus on value-added jobs. The technology will also give them a significant amount of data on production line performance, which will support their decision-making.
Ye Olde Friars, a chocolate maker in Cumbria, has also benefited from automation, replacing the manual, repetitive and incredibly time-consuming process of filling moulds with chocolate. As a result, they can produce 700% more chocolate and respond more swiftly to larger orders.
Other manufacturers have invested in software to enable efficient planning, effective inventory monitoring, and a view of the supply chain.
Fox Timber, who make timber products, based in Chorley, used digital tools to digitise their delivery service and improve workforce management.
Pearsons Glass, a glass maker, implemented stock management through software that integrates with their webshop and automatically generates a pick list for the operator. It also tells them where the products are kept in the stockroom, along with the most efficient route to collect them.
Donna Edwards, Programme Director for Made Smarter’s North West adoption programme, said: “The festive period is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for many manufacturers who will also be experiencing tough conditions amid increased energy and materials prices, and supply chain and labour challenges.
“Thankfully, there are numerous technologies you can employ to prepare yourself for the seasonal surge, remain competitive, and set yourself up for success all year round.
“For manufacturers the Christmas rush will highlight bottlenecks and other issues with their processes. The Made Smarter team can work with them to identify potential solutions to these challenges and support them to develop an implementation plan to ensure success in 2023.”
Since it was launched in 2018 the adoption programme in the North West has supported 2,500 manufacturers to start their digital journey by providing them with specialist advice and a digital roadmap to help them select the right approach, level of investment and tools for their business.
More than 275 of them, supported by matched funding, have invested in new technology, ranging from software and sensors to robotics and extended reality, to become more efficient, build resilience, increase their productivity and grow sustainably.
As a result, these manufacturers are set to create 1,250 new jobs, upskill almost 2,300 existing roles, deliver an additional £176 million in gross value added to the region, and help the UK meet its net zero target by 2050.