The Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the increased use of digital technologies, has worked with dozens of SME chemical manufacturers to capitalise on the opportunities that digitisation offers.

Through impartial expert technology advice and match funding on technology projects, digital transformation workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development, it is helping businesses in the sector increase productivity, achieve sustainable growth, and create new high value jobs.

HMG Paints, an independent paint manufacturer producing more than three million litres each year from its factory in Manchester, worked with Made Smarter to digitalise a time-consuming, paper-based process which increased capacity and enabled it to cope with the surge in demand during the pandemic.

Rebecca Falder, Quality Systems Manager at the 90-year-old, fourth generation family business, said: “Made Smarter’s Digital Transformation Workshop process was fantastic. We were able to streamline our thoughts, categorise and prioritise, and create a digital roadmap. It helped us identify our biggest challenge in our dispatch process, and with the right technology investment saved 40% of the time and reduced errors significantly.”

Armed with a digital roadmap, manufacturers can grow progressively and sustainably, avoiding the wasted time, effort and money that comes from adopting technologies in a disparate way.

Organica UK, a manufacturer of environmentally friendly household cleaning products, based in Birkenhead, invested in two technology projects with the help of Made Smarter which increased productivity by 20%, reduced energy consumption by 10% and reduced waste by 20%. The business has now created eight new jobs and is expected to increase turnover from £5m to £8m.

Noel Doyle, Technical Director at Organica UK, said: “We have always been proactive and positive about the challenges and opportunities in digitalisation, but Made Smarter support has enabled us to really hone our vision. We have created a digital roadmap, brought in new skills, and fast-tracked our adoption of the right technologies we need to overcome our challenges and barriers to growth. We are now able to monitor and manage production on a scale that has so far not been possible.”

Other chemical manufacturers have benefited from the Made Smarter Leadership Programme, designed to equip SME managers and directors with the strategic view and the skills needed to successfully pursue smarter manufacturing.

Andrew Mooney, Managing Director of Actikem, a specialist in the manufacture of industrial chemicals such as pigments, surfactants, lubricants and biocides, based in Warrington, undertook the programme at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The programme helped me as a leader plan our digital roadmap and gave me examples and tools that I can introduce,” he said. “COVID-19 has also made me think more about what our strategy should be as we come out of this pandemic. It has cemented my thoughts of moving our IT infrastructure to a completely cloud-based solution. The benefits of home working deliver improvements in productivity, better utilisation of office space and value improvements to staff in time and money in the pocket. It also gives us challenges about hardware at home, IT security, mental health and communication and collaboration.”

These success stories illustrate the positive impact of that digitalisation can have on a sector worth £10 billion in the North West*.

Made Smarter is also forging a partnership with the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), the leading national trade association representing chemical and pharmaceutical companies, including key clusters in the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and Humber.

Commending the impact of the programme, Ian Cranshaw, Head of Regional Affairs for the CIA, said: "The success of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West has demonstrated the value of targeted support for SME manufacturers to help them take those first steps on their digitalisation journeys. The roll out of the innovative programme to the West Midlands, North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber regions, expands that support to other key UK chemical clusters.

“At the Chemical Industries Association we have been studying the impact and potential of digitisation for some time, having set out our latest thinking in our Digitisation in the Chemical Industry report. Investment in digital technologies for plants is increasing. However there are several key barriers preventing faster and more widespread adoption and in order to overcome these, we have urged the Government to implement the findings of the Made Smarter review.”

Made Smarter, which has supported businesses to deliver an additional £176 million in gross value added, is now keen to reach more chemical manufacturers and has produced a free guide to help demystify digitalisation and drive technology adoption.

The downloadable document includes topics such as how digital tools can help tackle key business challenges including: achieving consistent quality, complying with regulations, managing waste and pollution, identifying supply chain trends, and supporting production planning.

Donna Edwards, North West Adoption Programme Director at Made Smarter, said: “The North West is made up of hundreds of chemical makers who create a variety of products which impact virtually every aspect of our lives, such as soap, paint and fuel.

“The sector is adopting digital technologies at a faster rate than other sectors in a race to stay competitive, adapt to strict quality standards, compliance and reporting responsibilities, and reduce its environmental impact through waste and emissions.

“However, in highly regulated manufacturing, jumping feet first is very risky and upgrading to new technologies can seem like a complex and daunting task.

“To help demystify digitalisation and help SMEs to their first step, we have produced some crucial guidance as well as explained why implementing digital tools is such a priority in this sector.”

To download the free guide visit: https://www.madesmarter.uk/resources/guide-the-challenging-world-of-chemical-manufacturing/