Smarter responses to Covid-19

Posted by Jim on May 14, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

12 May 2020
Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandford

Made Smarter SMEs in the North West are using robotics, automation and 3D printing to cope with staff shortages and meet increased demand.
SME manufacturers supported by Made Smarter are using emerging technologies to navigate the impact on business from the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses signed up to the North West pilot to support the Industry 4.0 revolution have adapted in a variety of ways, including switching production to make medical scrubs, ventilator parts and PPE to help the front-line fight against the disease.
Others have harnessed new capabilities to ramp up production to meet increasing demand and continue operating while staff self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While Made Smarter has shut its offices to do its bit to combat COVID-19, its team of expert business and technology advisers have continued to offer support and advice virtually.
Alain Dilworth, Made Smarter Programme Manager, said: “The COVID-19 outbreak has widespread repercussions for the economy, which will have most likely led to uncertainty in terms of the way businesses operate.
“It has been impressive how manufacturers have reacted and adapted to the different circumstances they find their businesses facing.
“Made Smarter has been able to continue offering help and advice over Skype and telephone.
“Our advice is fully funded, meaning you can understand the digital tools available to help boost processes and grow your enterprise without the financial barrier. On top of this, you can apply for up to 50% match-funding for technology implementation and access a digital technology intern to support you with the research, development and implementation of emerging technologies.”
Technology being put to good use
Fabricon Design uses advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs for a range of sectors. It has responded to the UK’s need for vital equipment by making headbands for facial masks used by NHS staff and designed and manufactured a respiratory port for a hospital’s CPAP machine.
The business, based in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, is using a new 3D printer, adopted using Made Smarter support, which made the switch between materials quicker.
Mark Bushdyhan, Director of Fabricon Design, said: “We wanted to use our internal expertise and technology to help with the call for vital equipment. We already utilise 3D printers within our operations. They are incredibly effective at prototyping designs quickly. It’s fantastic that we have been able to utilise them to print headbands which will support the protection of NHS staff. We are also looking at other options such as using our injection moulding machines which can produce over 7,000 of these components a week.”
Textiles manufacturer Tibard, based in Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, was forced to close its operations producing work wear and uniforms but reopened to start making PPE equipment and scrubs for hospitals.
With help from Made Smarter the business replaced its two-decade-old CAM cutting machine with a modern IoT-connected machine. It now has access to advanced features which minimise downtime and guarantee predictive maintenance which helps meet demand.
Ian Mitchell, Managing Director of Tibard, said: “Given the current impact on our customers, we have changed our production to focus on responding to the vital needs of the NHS and carers for protective clothing during these difficult times. It is rewarding to see our business responding to help to support our medical professionals and key workers whilst they are working tirelessly to support people across the UK.”
Beverston Engineering specialise in prototyping and the manufacture of engineering components for aviation, aerospace, oil, gas and pharmaceuticals industries.
As a supplier to Rolls-Royce, part of VentilatorChallengeUK, a consortium of 14 firms including Airbus, Ford and Siemens, Beverston has been making parts for the ventilators for the NHS.
The SME, based in Knowsley, Liverpool City Region, has been working with Made Smarter to create a solid productivity infrastructure and lay down the foundations for the smart factory connectivity that is capable to rapidly scale up in the future.
Rod Wah, Managing Director of Beverston Engineering, said: “We have needed to be agile to enable us to respond to the UK’s vital needs. Our employees have worked hard machining parts that they have never made before, very quickly.”
Storth, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery for slurry management, worked with Made Smarter to introduce a robotic welding system into its production line to reduce delivery times and maintain quality. The technology also allowed the Lancashire-based business to continue operating when welding staff were self-isolating.
Julian Lopez, Export Manager at Storth said: “Our adoption of a robot welder, through support from Made Smarter has been a success from day one. We were experiencing bottlenecks within our welding process which was causing delays in schedules. The robot has helped us overcome the delays but also helped us to continue operations at a time when some of our welders have been self-isolating, which has caused staff shortages.”
Storth, based in Carnforth, is now looking at introducing automation to operate unsupervised cutting and feeding machining.
While many businesses have experienced a downturn, Nutree Life, manufacturers of plant-based nutrition products, has seen a substantial surge in orders and has had to hire extra staff to fulfil the demand.
The Lancashire-based business completed the first phase of a project with Made Smarter to boost its capacity using automation technology shortly before the lockdown began. It is now looking to fast-track the second stage due to the benefits it has seen from implementing technology, and how it has supported them with increased demand.
Patrick Mroczak, CEO of Nutree Life, based in Preston, said: “With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us. Orders from all areas of the business have increased, which means we are producing more. There is no doubt that without investing when we did, in the way that we did, with the help from Made Smarter, we would not be able to cope with this unprecedented increase in demand. The technologies we have adopted have enabled us to develop new products quicker and we are now taking pre-orders for the first time, such is the demand.”
Some SMEs are using new technologies to continue manufacturing operations remotely.
Alphabond Technologies Ltd, an adhesives manufacturer based in Northwich, Cheshire, has achieved continuity after Made Smarter supported the business to adopt a new ERP system which enables them to connect systems for increased data visibility and automated reporting, resulting in a boost to their efficiency and allowing for real-time decision-making.
Dylan Shaw, Managing Director of Alphabond Technologies Ltd, said: “Not only has the new technology reduced manual and duplicative processes, it has also increased our response rates to customers. An added benefit we have seen through these challenging times is our ability to adapt and work remotely. Remote working wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Despite temporary closure or reduced operations due to lockdown other Made Smarter businesses are using the time to plan for the future.
DA Techs, an alloy wheel refurbishment specialist based in Chorley, Lancashire, used support and advice from Made Smarter to invest in digital technologies which proved key in them winning a three-year contract and scaling growth plans. It has now secured support for the second phase of its digital strategy.
Jamie Baxter, Director of DA Techs, said: “During this time, we are building on the technology adoption we have already introduced into the business. The next phase will enhance the systems architecture to enable data-driven decisions and forecast future demand. Now more than ever I think investment in smart working and greater efficiency is going to be vital, and we are delighted to be working once again with Made Smarter.”
While many industries have been forced to pause their activity to play their part in helping the country defeat coronavirus, the government has acknowledged that it is important manufacturers maintain their operations to keep supply chains moving.
ATEC Engineering Solutions, a Salford-based business which designs, manufactures and repairs complex electronic and electro-mechanical equipment, is still running its production as a vital part of the defence supply chain.
Andrea Hough, Managing Director of ATEC and member of the Made Smarter National Commission and North West Pilot steering group, said: “I am so proud of my team at ATEC. They have responded to the current climate with dedication, energy and compassion. In addition to maintaining the smooth running of our existing operations, the team have adopted remote-working tools such as Zoom to enable social distancing. We have also utilised our 3D printers to produce protective visors for local care homes and care home trusts.”
Made Smarter has also produced an essential guide about how a manufacturing SME can try and maintain continuity and future-proof the business. The PDF can be downloaded from here.

Plastics Industry Level 4 Apprenticeship Standard Launched

Posted by Jim on May 14, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

May 11, 2020 / Jessica Clarke Plastik Media

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has led the development of a level 4 apprenticeship standard for the plastics industry. The standard is now live and students can enrol onto the course from September.

Surveys and insights from the BPF’s Education and Skills Committee had previously highlighted knowledge gaps within the plastics industry and made clear the importance of developing polymer-related modules for particular apprenticeships.
This information inspired the BPF to form a ‘trailblazer’ group tasked with creating a level 4 apprenticeship standard for the plastics industry. The group comprised many members of the BPF, representing a wide range of subsectors.
The apprenticeship, titled ‘Engineering Manufacturing Technician’, is now approved for delivery. It has a typical duration of 42 months (excluding the EPA period) and maximum funding of £21,000.
BPF Education and Skills Committee Chair, Gillian Doughty states: “The level 4 apprenticeship standard helps address a gap in our industry that has been identified as key to the upskilling of employees. The standard is employer-driven and provides a development pathway for engineers and technicians that encompasses a focus on materials and processing in the polymer sector.”
BPF Director-General, Philip Law, adds: “Addressing this skills gap is an important milestone in the BPF’s mission to encourage the flow of excellent personnel into the plastics industry. I’m proud that the BPF, together with our colleagues throughout the industry, helped bring this new apprenticeship standard to fruition.”
The BPF continues to work closely with its members to promote the plastics industry to the next generation, which includes a section of its website devoted to careers in the plastics industry. For more information about this and other activities, visit
To find out more about the Engineering Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship visit:


Reshoring benefits in focus

Posted by Jim on May 07, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Reshoring 06 May 2020
Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandfordng benefits in focus

The 22 trade associations behind the Reshoring UK say the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the weakness of many complex supply chains and underlined the benefits of working with UK suppliers.
Julia Moore, CEO of the GTMA, which led the initiative, says: “Ever since manufacturers began outsourcing production to more competitively priced overseas economies there has been a race to the bottom based on price,” states CEO Julia Moore. “However, there is an intrinsic value attached to making things here in the UK, not least being the opportunities to innovate. Reshoring UK highlights the skills and resources of the UK supply chains and aids manufacturers when considering domestic production for new projects or for the relocation ‘onshore’ of existing work programmes.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the frailties of many of the UK supply chains, underlining in stark detail just how reliant many have become on the overseas supply of critical items, there should be more impetus put on re-establishing UK production of these parts and protect SME manufacturing.
The Reshoring UK initiative has been developed to assist manufacturers locate and understand the breadth of skills vested in the SME engineering companies capable of delivering UK-based products and services
The website portal has been created to help re-establish the capability required to meet manufacturers demands and those businesses that have used it in this current crisis have realised just how much capability and competence is available within the UK.
Even before the global threat from COVID-19 there was a paradigm shift from OEMs looking at the benefits of reshoring. Research by Lloyds Bank, a sponsor of the Reshoring UK facility, showed that over a third of firms were planning to move manufacturing processes back to the UK from areas such as Asia and eastern Europe – with quality one of the main drivers.
Pam Murrell, CEO of the Cast Metals Federation, which was one of the first trade associations to support Reshoring UK, says: “I would like to believe that there are some significant opportunities for more local sourcing and an increase in the amount of manufacturing carried out here in the UK.
“We have seen the challenges that long supply chains can cause and how easily they can be fractured. At the same time, we have a manufacturing supply chain in the UK that is dominated by SMEs who battle on against sometimes impossible odds.
“The UK rightly insists upon good H&S conditions for workers, as well as encouraging a focus on resource and energy efficiency, so just continuing to export our carbon footprint is not ethical. It looks like we shall need lots of new jobs to support the UK economy in the short and medium term – the wider value to the UK economy offered by the skilled and high value jobs in manufacturing, in terms of skills, local taxes and apprenticeships, should be factored in, certainly to any national procurement and infrastructure projects, with fiscal stimuli aimed at supporting investment and improving productivity.”

Online coronavirus platform to help firms collaborate launches

Posted by Jim on April 22, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Companies aiming to help healthcare responses to the Covid-19 crisis can now collaborate via a new online platform.
Spearheaded by InterTradeIreland and TechIreland, the cross-border platform allows businesses to see quickly, in and beyond their region, who they can work with to combat the many supply chain and manufacturing challenges generated by the pandemic and meet pressing public need.
Presented as an interactive map, it will initially focus on healthcare innovation supports – but will soon expand to include broader economic and societal responses to coronavirus. It will also contain links to public tenders.
Already more than 100 businesses and supports are featured on the map. It highlights more than 10 key categories including PPE, contact tracing, ventilators, among others.
Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland Designated Officer, said:
“Time is of the essence in the response to Covid-19, which is why we have worked swiftly with our partners TechIreland to develop this one-stop-shop for buyers and sellers. It gives firms involved in developing healthcare responses the ability, at a glance, to find other companies they can work with in terms of securing expertise or supply chain input.”
At the moment the map reflects ten different groups developing contact tracing apps, eight companies innovating infection control solutions, 20 firms and groups producing PPE and over 23 other financial and wider supports. This is merely the beginning, as the database grows there will be many more.
Highlighting these companies and groups will enable them to move faster by allowing them to collaborate, learn from each other and avail of the financial and wider supports coming from economic and industrial development agencies.
TechIreland, Chief Executive, John O’Dea, said:
“One of the positive responses which will help see us through this crisis will be the solutions that come from products and innovations that are being developed by the business community.
“As a result of the avalanche of information around Covid-19, and because of social distancing, it’s difficult for firms to know what other companies are doing, how they are innovating and if there are opportunities to co-operate. In a fast-moving crisis, finding a potential partner or a customer, or identifying grants and funds can be time-consuming – but critical. This platform has been developed to address those challenges.”
TechIreland has contacted its partner organisations and up to 400 health-tech companies on its database to source information on solutions being built to fight the pandemic. The platform will be constantly revised and updated with new information.
To be featured on the Covid-19 Innovation Reponses Map, or if you are aware of projects that should be included, email

Nurturing Ideas Growing Success

Posted by Jim on April 16, 2020  /   Posted in Blog


What is Co-Innovate?
In an ever-changing and increasingly competitive marketplace, innovation is vital for business growth and success.
Co-Innovate is here to offer project funding and capability development to help give your innovation wings. Learn more about the benefits of innovation and how to implement it right across your business, find partners who can support your plans, identify opportunities for growth, and create a vision to make it happen.
Supported by €16.6 million from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, Co-Innovate will help you harness innovation to:
Create beneficial ideas
Work smarter
Add value to your business
Find partners for collaboration
Stand out from the competition

Why Now is the Right Time to Reshore Your Plastic Moulding Supply Chain March 23, 2020 / Richard Stamps

Posted by Jim on March 26, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Many UK companies that currently import components into the UK believe that they should be looking at a reshoring programme. The right incentives are definitely in place, so what exactly is stopping them?

UK plastic processors can easily demonstrate equal or superior technical competence to their overseas counterparts; the challenge is conveying to potential customers the many real benefits that reshoring can bring, despite the initial pain of the transition period.
This blog is designed to identify the pain points that are regularly used to justify leaving things well alone, then counter these arguments using knowledge gained from real-life scenarios.
Reason one – Lack of knowledge of the UK supply chain
This one might be hard to own up to, but the reality is that a lot of buyers have grown up with the idea of sourcing plastic components from lower-cost economies. They will have very few established lines of communication with potential UK suppliers, so will find it challenging to get suitable quotes.
Visiting exhibitions that focus on sub-contractors looking for new customers is one solution to this dilemma. The only negative is that relatively few such exhibitions take place, and exhibitors come from very varied backgrounds; usually, only a handful specialise in plastics.
Directories are a good starting point, but there can almost be too much choice! You will also need to match your requirements with the particular capabilities of the suppliers listed, which can involve a lot of trial and error.

ou are, however reading this blog on the PlastikCity site. PlastikCity is a procurement site explicitly designed to meet the needs of the UK’s plastics sector and companies looking to get stuff made in plastic. Within the primary Source a Moulder section, companies are listed by speciality, and their profiles provide details of their capabilities. More importantly, these companies have been pre-vetted to make sure they are financially secure, operate to the relevant quality standards and have the interest and skillsets to work with you. Our categories are limited to a number of selected, high-quality companies, and our team can also help you to narrow down your choice before you use the automated system to submit enquiries to your shortlist.
Reason two – Item cost price
Labour costs are significantly lower in some parts of the world, so UK companies won’t be competitive!
In reality, unless there is a great deal of labour-intensive assembly work involved, then by factoring in the true, real-life costs of importing goods over great distances, it is easy to counter this argument:
UK processors are leaner than ever, using the most energy-efficient production equipment and automating part handling, wherever practical to do so.
Transportation costs and the associated environmental impact are significantly reduced. You are also less susceptible to uncontrollable events such as political uprisings or severe weather at sea!
There is no requirement to ship full loads to minimise transportation costs, which leads to much lower stocking levels and reduced exposure to quality issues.
There is an option to use RTP rather than cardboard packaging, reducing long-term costs and your carbon footprint even further.
No concerns over import tariffs or a poor or fluctuating exchange rate.

Reason three – Ownership of production tooling
Ownership is a common issue. The ‘helpful’ overseas supplier offered to assist with the design of your product, then absorbed the cost of the production tooling. At the time, this seemed like a perfect solution and a lot less stressful! In reality, you now feel irreversibly tied to your current supplier, as you don’t even have the part drawings to allow the production of new tooling!
Technology can come to the rescue with this one! By using either CNC measuring or 3D scanning equipment, a current sample can be digitised and used to manufacture a new production tool. OK, so there is a cost to having new tooling manufactured, but there are ways to recover this cost:
A good UK toolmaker (even when managing overseas tooling production) can produce a tool that will produce superior components at a higher production rate. This lowers labour costs (no re-working needed), reduces scrap production, and lowers piece price at the same time as increasing the product’s appeal.
Product design changes and upgrades can be incorporated, helping to refresh your product range. Going forward, it will be much easier to make modifications, without having to worry about planning for long term disruptions to your supply chain.
The size of the tool can be optimised, allowing a smaller production machine with a lower hourly rate to be used.
Your new tooling can be put into full production when you are ready to make the switch. There is no need to worry about having to build up a buffer of stock using your probably disgruntled overseas supplier.
If you are involved with the procurement of any type of plastic product, then come and visit the PlastikCity Source a Moulder section. Here you will find over 30 of the best UK plastic processing companies, profiled by their capabilities and specialities. All these companies have invested heavily in machinery, automation and people over the last two years.
You may be surprised how competitive these companies can be, especially when the cost of logistics, cash flow, stock control, response times and resolution of quality issues are taken into account. When you also factor in the carbon footprint and the ‘Feel Good Factor’ associated with ‘Made in Britain’ on the label, you may be very pleasantly surprised.

+44 (0) 1455 209270


Manufacturing and engineering sector to be showcased throughout the month of March

Posted by Jim on February 03, 2020  /   Posted in Blog


Manufacturing and engineering sector to be showcased throughout the month of March

Economy Minister Diane Dodds with Manufacturing NI chief executive, Stephen Kelly

THE north’s manufacturing and engineering sector will be showcased for an entire month through a new Stormont-backed initiative.
‘Manufacturing Month’, led by Manufacturing NI, will run throughout March, with a series of events, business breakfasts, seminars and workplace tours organised throughout the north during the four weeks.
The months will also include the annual ‘Anchor High’ leadership summit and see delegations visit major engineering centres in England.
Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, said the month will be used to highlight local manufacturing success stories, address major challenges as we enter the new decade, and inspire the next generation of manufacturers and engineers.
“The manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland is the foundation of our regional economy. manufacturing month is a celebration of the great people, in great local companies, making great products used at home and around the world.

“From food processing and pharmaceuticals to aeronautical technology and new, emerging tech like AI and machine learning, Northern Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to producing world-class products and services.”
“This new initiative not only celebrates the people who make our manufacturing sector the world leader that it is,” said Mr Kelly. “But will create a legacy and a pathway for the next generation of sector leaders. A key feature of Manufacturing Month NI will be a major outreach and engagement programme with schools and regional colleges, focused on promoting the sector to young people, developing the crucial skills they need as they enter the industry.”
New Economy Minister Diane Dodds has given the Manufacturing NI initiative her seal of approval.
“I commend Manufacturing NI for this new initiative which celebrates one of Northern Ireland’s most vital sectors. Northern Ireland has a long and proud history of manufacturing and engineering brilliance. Manufacturing Month NI will highlight the immense talent of the local sector.

“By supporting innovative initiatives like Manufacturing Month NI, we are showcasing the best and brightest in one of our most important industries.”
Calling on firms to back the month, Stephen Kelly said: “We hope to see as many companies as possible across the length and breadth of Northern Ireland get involved with Manufacturing Month NI.
“We are keen to highlight new products, new initiatives, workplace tours, business expansion, and everything else in between to showcase the strength and quality of our local manufacturing sector.”
Manufacturing month has also been backed by KPMG, Siemens, Willis Towers Watson, Barclays, and Invest NI.

Irish News Ryan McAleer
28 January, 2020 01:00

Go-2-Tender Workshop – Dundalk

Posted by Jim on January 22, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Event Details Title: Go-2-Tender Workshop – Dundalk
Date(s): 11th February & 25th February, 9.00am – 5.00pm
Venue: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk
Price: £85/€100 per person

About the Event: Go-2-Tender is an InterTradeIreland programme which has been developed to give SMEs the confidence, knowledge and practical skills to tender successfully for public sector contracts in their own jurisdiction and on a cross-border basis.
The programme is geared towards SMEs who are new to tendering or who want to improve their basic tendering skills. In addition to the training there are up to 2 days of mentoring available to companies who can demonstrate a need. All mentoring is delivered by an experienced consultant to assist with tender development.
This is a two-day workshop which will take place on 11th February & 25th February 2020. The workshops will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk.
Find out more course details below:
Day One
How to source above and below threshold contract opportunities
The bid/no bid decision
How the Public Sector buys (North and South)
How to assess opportunities using live examples
Electronic tender platforms (e.g. eTendersNI &
Success strategies for SMEs
Day Two
How to become more competitive
Improving your document writing skills
Checklist of tender content and how it should be presented
Debriefing following tender competitions
Action planning for successful tendering
Registration begins at 9.00 and the programme wraps up at 17.00 on both days.
Go-2-Tender provides excellent value for money and includes training, materials, catering and mentoring.
The cost is £85 or €100 per person


Download the Go-2-Tender Workshop – Dundalk application form.
Send completed registration form to


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