TEN East Lancashire manufacturers are putting data and systems integration at the heart of their productivity and growth plans.

Allspeeds Limited, Accrington; Panaz, Burnley; Basically Trade, Padiham; Graham Engineering, Nelson; Pendle Polymer Engineering, Colne; T & R Precision Engineering, Foulridge; Inscape Interiors, NIS and DA Techs , both Chorley; and Hope Technology, Barnoldswick; are among 24 Lancashire businesses that used funding through the Made Smarter North West Industry 4.0 adoption pilot.

As a result they have embraced industrial digital technologies, which connect their disparate systems and unify data from different sources.

Integrating a variety of systems and consolidating data sources allows businesses to spot trends in production and labour, correct maintenance and quality issues, and minimise safety, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production.

One such firm is T&R Precision, the engineering company operating in the aerospace sector from its base on Lowther Lane, which invested in a bespoke solution to fully automate a machining system by applying new software and hardware solutions to a five-axis CNC machine.

It is integrated with the quality control department, provides real time oversight to the management team and allows every order to be tracked and integrated into the supply chain.

The solution reduces the manufacturing process from 90 hours to 18, increases productivity levels and is forecast to increase revenue by 33 per cent over the next three years.

Tim Maddison, the company’s managing director, said: “A unique, ‘future state’ manufacturing method will provide us with a significant competitive advantage over our principal customer’s in-house manufacturing processes. It will reduce the number of operations, machines and man-power required to manufacture the components, providing a step change in our productivity and efficiencies.

"The investment and support of Made Smarter will create stability for the company and workforce and give us the confidence to invest in the future.”

As well as data and systems integration, SMEs from various manufacturing sectors have invested in other advanced technologies to solve their business challenges.

Almost 25 per cent of manufacturers are adopting Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) using sensors to collect critical production data to gain valuable insights about the efficiency of operations.

More than 20 per cent of SMEs are adopting robotics and process control automation and 15 per cent are focussed on big data and analytics technologies. Meanwhile, other businesses are investing in 3D printing, artificial intelligence , augmented and virtual reality, and cyber security.

Donna Edwards, programme director for the Made Smarter North West, said: “Data and analytics are central to the 4th Industrial Revolution, so I am extremely pleased that so many SME manufacturers are putting data at the heart of their own digitalisation journeys.

“Capturing the data from across their processes and bringing it all together in one place is a vital first step for many manufacturers looking to solve problems and recognise opportunities. Simultaneously, many of these SMEs are also deploying sensors in their factories to collect valuable data.

“The next step, one which some forward-thinking SMEs are already taking, is to analyse the data using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“It is encouraging that so many of this region’s makers are recognising that using these tools can empower them to grow their business and increase efficiency.”