SME manufacturers in Cumbria, supported by Made Smarter in their drive to digitalise, are upskilling more than 120 workers to create the teams of tomorrow.

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. They include 20 Cumbrian businesses upskilling 123 jobs.

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.

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."

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.”