SME manufacturers, supported by Made Smarter, are tapping into digital talent to help put technology at the heart of their growth plans.
With many internships and placements being delayed or cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak1, Made Smarter – a national movement helping SME manufacturers in the North West to adopt digital technologies – is bucking the trend by offering undergraduates, master’s and PhD students, and graduates from UK universities a golden opportunity to gain valuable hands-on practical experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry.
Interns are working on live projects across the North West which are having a real effect on the business’s long-term success.
Projects range from implementing new hardware or software to developing a digital road map and strategy to support their digital transformation.
SME manufacturers are benefiting from the fresh insight of a digital native to help them adopt technological tools that result in a raft of benefits, including increased revenue growth, reduced production time, and produce the data and insight for new product and market development.
Meanwhile, interns are benefitting from paid work experience, valuable hands-on practical work experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry. A number have even secured permanent jobs.
Kendal Nutricare, based in Cumbria, a manufacturer of nutrition products including infant formulas and baby cereals, has been able to use the intern programme to prove the business case for employing a data analyst to harness the value of the data being produced in its factory, both in terms of the machinery, processes, and energy consumption.
Alex Taylor, a recent master’s graduate in Intelligence Systems, was able to apply his knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the role.
Grant Remington, Projects and Contracts Manager, said: "Over the years we have invested in leading edge machinery as part of our digitalisation journey. We knew there was a lot of valuable data coming out of our processes but didn't have the time or expertise to capture and analyse it.
"Made Smarter's digital technology intern programme offered us the opportunity to trial and test the benefits of introducing the new role of data analyst into the company.
"Alex has been a great asset to Kendal Nutricare, collating our onsite data, analysing and highlighting any data spikes we have accrued enabling the correct departments to rectify ongoing issue.
"His work has highlighted bottlenecks which are causing production downtime and resulted in immediate opportunities to reduce our energy bills.
"It has certainly proved a business case for a full-time analyst.”
Darwen Terracotta, based in Blackburn, is a manufacturer and supplier of replica architectural terracotta and faience for the restoration and repair of historic buildings.
It wanted to explore how 3D scanning and printing technologies could be adopted into its manufacturing processes and was linked to a student at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Steve Allen, director, said: "So many of our manufacturing processes are done by hand, but we are a forward-thinking business and want to explore how technology can help. We have invested in technologies before which didn't turn out as we'd hoped, so we wanted to take a more cautious approach.
"Having an intern who could look at our factory, how we make things, and research how 3D scanning and printing can help, has been highly beneficial. It meant we didn’t have to take the gamble of any capital investment, but instead allowed the intern to use his university's access to leading edge research to test various technologies first. It's certainly a win-win for him and us. He's getting that unique work experience, the opportunity to make a real difference in a business and expanding his skillset. We are getting the expertise who can share their knowledge and research and give us an independent view."
Fabricon Design, an Ashton-Under-Lyne-based business which uses advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs, was matched to Luke Hickson, a master's postgraduate studying Industrial Digitalisation at Manchester Metropolitan University.
After impressing on projects using CAD design and 3D printing, he secured a permanent job as design and development engineer.
Mark Bushdyhan, managing director of Fabricon Design, said: "Luke is an incredibly fast learner, who takes direction well and can act on his own initiative. His suggestions have proven invaluable and we are incredibly thankful for all his help as part of the Fabricon team. He is a great addition to our business."
Fusion Implants, a manufacturer of high-performance veterinary implants from titanium using 3D printing, also offered a job as Research and Development Engineer to James Sage, a recent graduate master’s student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Liverpool, after a successful three-month internship.
The business wanted to develop a pioneering implant to treat condylar fractures in French Bulldogs and needed help analysing hundreds of CT scans using leading-edge biomedical software.
Dr Dan Jones, managing director of Fusion Implants, said: “The Made Smarter internship provides an excellent opportunity for the student to embed themselves in the company for three months, develop skills and gain experience, whilst also providing the company with the opportunity to tackle a specific project and assess the suitability of the student as a potential fulltime employee.”
Lowlife Products, a Bollington-based manufacturer of aftermarket elevating roofs and furniture for leisure vehicles wanted help to adopt 3D laser scanning technology to develop new products.
It was matched to Brett Turner, a recent master’s postgraduate in Industrial Digitalisation at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
Andy Gosling, director of Lowlife Products, said: “Brett proved to be a valuable member of the team, offering his skills and support the delivery of a technology project to use of CAD systems and 3D-scanning systems to reverse-engineer components in order to create new parts.
“While we were able to teach him a lot about the real practices of manufacturing and engineering, he was able bring a fresh perspective and showed great initiative during a project to manufacture components from moulds by using his contacts at the university to produce vital parts at a significantly lower cost. From an SME’s perspective, those sort of contacts and savings are crucial to the business.”
Made Smarter, the industry-led, government-backed national movement, has a wealth of students and graduates ready to take up the 480-hour internships which can be carried out through full-time or part-time options.
Donna Edwards, programme director for Made Smarter, said: “It has been fantastic to see so many talented students and post-graduates helping to realise the technology ambitions of many of the region’s SME manufacturers.
“It’s a win-win for the interns and manufacturers. Students and graduates gain industry knowledge, transferable skills and real-life experience, while being paid the national living wage, and businesses can benefit from a fully funded digital native to help them to understand how new technology can transform production.
“Internships and work placements are a vital tool for students making that transition from university to employment.
“The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of opportunities, and a lot of uncertainty as to what will be available in the future.
“Made Smarter has been successful in linking digital technology interns to manufacturers all over the North West and I would encourage undergraduates in their second and third year, postgraduates at any stage of their course and recent graduates from any UK university to register their interest.”