Cheshire & Warrington SMEs set to benefit from new programme

SME manufacturers in Cheshire and Warrington can now access free hands-on support and local R&D expertise to help them make the most of industrial digital technologies, following the launch of a new initiative: CW4.0.

It is open to manufacturers at every stage of digital transformation, from those needing to understand how emerging technology can benefit their operations, through to businesses further along the adoption curve looking to trial and implement cutting-edge tech, such as sensor technology, advanced scanning, 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

Expressions of interest from SME manufacturers are now being invited, with the first cohort of businesses expected to be enrolled on the initiative within weeks.

The £5.6m CW4.0 initiative is the successor to the phenomenally successful LCR4.0, which ran for three years and supported more than 300 SMEs to harness emerging technologies in the Liverpool City Region. Hailed as an exemplar project in a Government review, LCR4.0 has left an enduring digital legacy for the city region; resulting in hundreds of new jobs, more than 50 new products to market and a long-term boost to GVA expected to be around £31m.

The strategy is set to deliver a similarly transformative impact for Cheshire and Warrington’s economy. It is being delivered by a consortium of North West organisations with decades of experience helping businesses transform digitally. It is led by the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Liverpool John Moore’s University, and the Northern Automotive Alliance. The initiative is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

CW4.0 has been tailored to support the specific requirements of manufacturers working in many of the region’s high growth sectors, including automotive, pharmaceutical, chemicals, and renewables. Some of the business cases expected to be supported include making factory floors smarter, safer and more productive; building resilience and predictability into supply chains; and developing better products.

Andrew Borland, CW4.0 lead and Head of Commercial for the VEC, said: “CW4.0 will demonstrate the value of digital technologies to SMEs in the region. By bringing together the facilities, skills and experience of leading universities and industry experts, we will address company’s individual challenges, helping them to increase productivity and de-risk innovation by developing smarter products, processes and supply chains.

“Many companies have been forced to adopt digital technologies at a breakneck pace during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the UK emerges from it, there is a massive opportunity to carry this momentum not just for companies that have started their digital journeys but also for those that have not. CW4.0 will ensure no SME is left behind in a world where the resilience, productivity and assurances afforded by digitised operations, become non-negotiable expectations of their customers.

“Based on the overwhelming success of our work in the Liverpool City Region, we know that even manufacturers with little prior understanding of industry 4.0 technologies can benefit greatly from the support and facilities on offer in this scheme. Almost a third of businesses in LCR which we worked with to demystify digital technologies, saw revenue growth and 86% of these businesses developed and commercialised new products.

“We have set ambitious targets to work with around 170 manufacturers over the next two years through CW4.0 and expect to on-board the first tranche of businesses within weeks. We are eager to hear from SMEs in the region who want to grasp the opportunities that new digital ways of working can bring to their businesses.”

Philip Cox, Chief Executive of Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Manufacturing is integral to Cheshire & Warrington’s economy, supporting 45,000 jobs and contributing £7.7bn to the sub region’s GVA.  Increasingly, digitalisation is the key to improving productivity and profitability and I’d encourage our SME manufacturing community to take advantage of this opportunity for fully-funded, expert support on their doorstep.”

Over the next two years, CW4.0 will provide intensive support to 170 SMEs, create 140 new R&D collaborations, bring at least 40 new products to market and accelerate the growth of twenty start-ups.

Anthony Walker, Strategic Manager at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “CW4.0 will help businesses working in high-growth manufacturing sectors – from automotive to pharmaceuticals, and everything in between – to harness digital technologies. In doing so, they can commercialise new products, drive revenue growth and futureproof their operations.”

Dr Angela Walsh, Business Development Manager at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said: “Our cohort of SMEs won’t only benefit from the expertise of three research organisations, they’ll also have access to some of the most advanced and comprehensive R&D facilities in the North West. We are excited to explore the art of the possible with SMEs across Cheshire and Warrington as they plan for the future.”

Paul Jones, Chief Executive of the Northern Automotive Alliance, said: “As manufacturing becomes an increasingly digital process, it’s essential that SME manufacturers and their supply chain partners continue to adapt their operations and adopt new technological approaches. CW4.0 offers fully-funded access to state of the art technology and dedicated expertise, to make digital adoption a seamless experience.”

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