Home / Manufacturing

In conversation with Toby Bridges, Executive Chair, The NBT Group and Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP, about the importance of digital adoption in driving operational efficiency

How has the pace of digital adoption in the manufacturing sector impacted the work you do?

I chair The NBT Group, a supply chain management company that works closely with manufacturing businesses across the region and beyond. We’ve been working with our clients on automation for at least the last five years.

We’ve created and built a range of new technology that helps businesses become more operationally efficient, which in turn makes them more cost effective.

We’re aiming to move our clients, and suppliers, away from traditionally manual tasks, so they can focus on creating better jobs, which fits with the North East Strategic Economic Plan.

We enable our customers to do more with less, so they can take that saving and reinvest it into growing their business.

Why is investing in new digital tools and technology so important for the North East’s manufacturing sector?

For me, the goal is to drive operational efficiency. We need to position the North East as the most efficient location in the country to do business. That’s part of the reason why businesses continue to invest here.

Productivity is so important to the health of our economy. There are lots of places in the world where wages are cheaper, but they’re not as efficient and productive as the workforce in the North East. That has to continue, and automation will help us achieve that.

We need to encourage more companies to think about how they become 21st century, industry 4.0 businesses; otherwise they risk being left behind. That’s why the North East LEP has launched the Made Smarter Adoption North East programme, which aims to help manufacturing SMEs in the region adopt new digital technology, innovation and skills; helping drive growth in UK manufacturing.

Will the automation of manufacturing lead to job losses in the sector?

Whilst we will lose some jobs as manual tasks are replaced by technology, we will create far more ‘better’ jobs. It’s not easy to move from a traditional working model to a new, leaner way of doing things. To do that, businesses need to bring in new skills and talent.

The most important thing for the North East is to be ahead of the change that’s coming. We need to make sure we have the talent and expertise in the region to support businesses on this journey.

Understandably, many people focus on the importance of digital skills, but I think we need to invest in creative subjects too, like art and design. We need people that think outside the box. We can teach people how to code, but we shouldn’t underplay the power of the arts in helping manage change and encouraging new thinking.

What does the future hold for manufacturing? What will the sector look like in five or ten years time because of the move to advanced manufacturing?

I think basic manual tasks will become automated, but because of that, we’ll create a new skilled workforce to manage those systems.

It’s important to remember there are cultural challenges around automation too. It’s a difficult conversation to have sometimes but we can’t bury our heads in the ground – it’s coming.

That’s why the region’s focus on retraining and reskilling is so important, that two-way conversation between the educational establishments and industry on what is needed over the next 10-20 years. We need to support businesses and employees to invest in life-long learning so we continue to be prepared for and adapt to the changes digital technology will bring about in all our lives.

We need to create a positive message around digitisation and the benefits it will bring to jobs and the economy.

Toby Bridges is Executive Chair at The NBT Group and a Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP.

The NBT Group is part of a collaborative research project with Northumbria University and Senseye to evaluate new and emerging ‘smart’ technologies, helping to digitalise and transform manufacturing supply chains (read more here). The award of over £250k is part of the £18 million of funding granted through the Digital Supply Chain competition, which forms part of UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Made Smarter innovation challenge. The Digital Supply Chain competition supports the development of innovations designed to help manufacturing supply chains become more productive and sustainable.

Home / Manufacturing

New government-backed business support programme aims to increase digital technology adoption in North East manufacturing sector

A new business support programme aimed at helping manufacturing SMEs in the North East increase digital technology adoption, innovation and skills has launched in the region.

Made Smarter Adoption North East connects manufacturing businesses to digital tools that can transform the way they work. The programme, which is backed by government, aims to drive growth in UK manufacturing by improving the development and adoption of emerging technologies across the sector.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The coronavirus pandemic saw an unprecedented pace of digital adoption across many areas of industry, which ultimately helped many businesses survive.

“Made Smarter Adoption North East is about supporting businesses in our manufacturing sector to embrace new technologies that help them become more efficient, more productive and more competitive. It connects companies with expert talent that can remove the barriers to digital adoption and ultimately make businesses more successful.

“The adoption of new digital solutions within manufacturing is completely transforming the sector and if businesses don’t adapt they risk being left behind. Made Smarter Adoption North East is the opportunity for manufacturing businesses in our region to access the help and support they need to embrace industry 4.0 and help lead economic growth in the North East.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East provides SMEs with fully-funded advice from specialist technology experts on the adoption of new digital technologies, innovations and skills. The three-stage process includes an initial one-to-one digital health check, helping businesses identify where improvements can be made. More intensive workshops look at the solutions available and how the technology works in practice. The final stage sees businesses work with an industrial digital technologies (IDT) specialist to move towards the implementation phase. Participating businesses will also be given support in identifying possible grant funding to help with the purchase of new technology and equipment.

Additional funding is provided through the programme for student and graduate placements so businesses can create digital interns to help integrate the new technology into the business. Employees are also invited to take part in digital upskilling and leadership development through Made Smarter Adoption North East’s leadership training programme, which is delivered by North East universities.

The wider Made Smarter programme was created following an industry-led review of how UK manufacturing industries can prosper through digital tools and innovation. This independent review was commissioned by UK Government and led by Professor Juergen Maier CBE, Co-Chair of Made Smarter UK.

Juergen Maier CBE said: “Made Smarter will be helping local manufacturing businesses to create new opportunities and innovate in the process.

“It’s a hugely exciting time and I believe this is truly a once in a generational opportunity to boost productivity and create the high value, highly paid jobs of the future.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East is open to all manufacturing SMEs in the North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas.

Businesses in the North East LEP area (Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk.

Businesses in the Tees Valley Combined Authority area (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Cleveland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.teesvalleybusiness.com/MadeSmarter.

Home / Manufacturing

New Science and Innovation Audit identifies ways the North East can prepare for Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution.

The integration of digital technologies into manufacturing is a major opportunity for businesses in the North East according to the findings of a new Science and Innovation audit.

Through a new audit of the region’s advanced manufacturing and digital sectors, the North East LEP and partners have identified opportunities for businesses in the automotive, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors to build links with the North East digital sector, increasing the region’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

James Davies, North East LEP Innovation Programme Manager, said: “In the North East we have a reputation for making things and making them well and our goods and products remain the source of the majority of our exports. However, the way we make these goods is continually changing and the region must prepare for this next great shift. We see the potential for links between the digital and advanced manufacturing sectors leading to new types of products and services.

“Our Applied Digital Technologies Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) was carried out in partnership with organisations across the North East and Tees Valley, with the aim of understanding more about how Industry 4.0 will impact on some of the North East’s biggest businesses.”

Based on a proposition set out by the German Government, Industry 4.0 refers to the next stage in manufacturing that uses new, digital and real-time approaches to production to meet demand for more complex, individualised and digitally enabled products.

The North East LEP worked with Tees Valley Combined Authority, local business and sector organisations, universities and the national Catapult Centres for Digital (North East and Tees Valley) and High Value Manufacturing (CPI) to carry out the SIA, gathering information on the opportunities and challenges facing three of the North East’s biggest manufacturing sectors: automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The audit also looked into how the region’s digital sector can provide solutions, for example by using digital technologies to drive efficiency and competitiveness within the manufacturing process.

James Davies added: “We knew there was already work being done in the North East to use digital technologies to make our manufacturing more productive and competitive and the audit has helped to show what can be done to support more of this type of integration. We found opportunities to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies within advanced manufacturing businesses in the region, including actions that will help overcome the barriers to uptake.

“The digitisation of manufacturing is a major opportunity for us here in the North East and we will now be working with partners to roll out delivery of the recommendations from the audit.”

A summary of the Applied Digital Technologies in Advanced Manufacturing Science and Innovation Audit can be read here, while the full report can be downloaded here.


Home / Manufacturing

£5 million industrial units development given the green light

Planning permission has been granted for three new large industrial units in Hebburn. The units, which will be built on the Monkton Business Park, are expected to create over 100 jobs.

Washington-based Hellens Group, which is leading the project to create 55,000 square feet (5,110 square metres) of new industrial space, has received £1.27m from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP’s) Local Growth Fund that is helping a range of industrial and commercial infrastructure projects across the North East LEP area along with loan funding of £1.7M from the North East Investment Fund (NEIF), an evergreen loan fund also administered by the North East LEP

Gavin Cordwell-Smith, chief executive at Hellens Group, said: “The development is fantastic news for South Tyneside and the wider region. These new units will offer growing businesses modern manufacturing space with 6-8m eaves height, and good power availability. We will work with prospective tenants to develop the internal layout of the units and offer cost-competitive rates on long term leases. We are tremendously appreciative of the support for the project that we’ve had from both South Tyneside Council and the North East LEP.”

Work will commence on site in September with a target completion date of September 2018. There will be one large unit of 30,000 square feet and two smaller units of 15,000 and 10,000 square feet although there is the option for prospective businesses to combine the two smaller units into a 35,000 square foot facility. The units will come with their own service yards and parking facilities.

Monkton Business Park has rapidly developed into a key business location in South Tyneside. The 16ha site provides a range of office and industrial facilities on the edge of town, on a landscaped setting which forms part of the Great North Forest. The southern part of the site provides a major new office campus, with more than 18,000m2 of speculatively built new office space, while a range of manufacturing accommodation is provided to the north.

The site is located close to the A184 – between the A19 and A1- in close proximity to Newcastle and Sunderland. The location gives excellent access to the regional road network and is well placed to serve manufacturers with supply chains north and south of the River Tyne. Importantly, it is less than 15 minutes away from the planned International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) and Nissan’s Sunderland car plant.

The site is already home to a number of companies including Siemens, Hitachi Construction Machinery Ltd, Variable Message Signs (VMS) Ltd, Ford Component Manufacturing, Clugston Construction and Kier North along with many others.

Leader of South Tyneside Council, Councillor Iain Malcolm, said: “This is excellent news for South Tyneside, with regional funds from the LEP being used in a targeted way to grow the borough’s business prospects. I’m delighted that funding from LEP’s North East Investment Fund and the Local Growth Fund will enable construction of these much-needed units to get underway this year.”

The £270.4m Local Growth Fund, secured as part of the North East Growth Deal, supports the North East LEP’s delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to create 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024. The North East Investment Fund was established as an evergreen loan funding to support capital projects that will lead to job creation.

David Land, Chair of the North East LEP’s Investment Panel, said: “Businesses in our region, particularly growing SMEs, are looking for new, state of-the-art facilities. Hellens Group has a strong track record in delivering projects and this scheme ticks many of the boxes in the LEP’s priorities and objectives, including supporting enterprise and private sector business growth; and strengthening transport, connectivity and infrastructure in the region.

By investing and developing in new infrastructure we can help create more and better jobs for the North East.”

Once built, the three units will be retained by Hellens Group and available to let by way of FRI leases.

Over the past five years Hellens Group has invested in excess of £10 million on a programme of new developments across the North East.

The company has already received a number of speculative enquiries from prospective tenants, from a range of manufacturing companies including both SME’s and larger businesses. Businesses wanting further information on the Monkton Business Park units should contact GVA or HTA Real Estate who are acting as joint agents for the development.

Notes to editors:

About Hellens Group

The Hellens Group based in Washington, Tyne and Wear, includes property, construction and manufacturing businesses with interests throughout the North East and Yorkshire.

The original business (John Hellens (Contracts) Ltd) was founded in 1973 in the North East of England. Focusing at that time on the regeneration of brownfield sites, the company became leading experts in this field throughout the North of England.  Over the years the company has adapted to changing market conditions and has moved into sports and recreation facility construction, land and property development and investment as well as manufacturing of hard landscaping products for the building industry.

Home / Manufacturing

Specialist scheme creates over £12m new business for North East manufacturers

Businesses participating in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP’s) Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) are achieving impressive results, with businesses involved so far reporting a forecasted increase in turnover of over £12.7m, achieving over 20% growth per annum on average.

Designed to help senior managers within manufacturing companies to assess and identify barriers to growth, the pilot programme has worked intensively with 15 North East manufacturers to date on improving their business performance and increasing sales, with 20 more currently going through the programme. The North East LEP is urging other companies to participate, based on the successes reported so far.

One company to have benefitted from this specialist support is Jesmond-based leisurewear firm AIM Athleisure. AIM is now looking to reshore production of its clothing back to the North East, thanks to the support that owner Amy Fettis received from the MGP via its experienced consultant Graham Sleep of Improvement Architecture.

Amy commented:  “Graham got to work immediately, by sitting down with me, understanding the business and the areas that needed focus. We identified areas of weakness, but also outlined the strengths and achievements that have gotten us to where we are now.

“Graham gave us encouragement – we know we have created a good business, and as well as planning for the future we can appreciate where we came from.”

Over 90% of businesses involved in the programme so far report an improvement in their learning as a result of the support received, with over 69 new jobs expected to be created in those organisations.

Cramlington-based print and design specialists Printed.com found the programme’s hands-on approach refreshing. HR manager Catherine Boland said: “Graham was a pleasure to work with and extremely approachable. He doesn’t overcomplicate the process with unnecessary jargon and very quickly identified the areas we most needed support.

“The senior team in the business were comfortable to discuss their own pain points and he very quickly built an environment of trust enabling open and honest discussions to flow. Graham’s report has identified a number of areas where we can make changes to improve both our manufacturing and people processes. It’s up to us now to implement these to benefit from his knowledge and insight.”

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP said:

“The pilot programme is turning scale up potential into scale up performance, any manufacturing business looking for significant growth should take full advantage and make sure that they are not missing out.”

Offering four fully funded sessions with a dedicated and highly experienced business improvement specialist, the Manufacturing Growth Programme pilot will run until July 2017 and aims to work with businesses across the North East LEP area.

The programme forms part of the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan to foster growth within key sectors of the economy to create more and better jobs.

If you are a manufacturing business looking to grow in Tyne & Wear, County Durham or Northumberland, find out more about how to take advantage of this fully funded support at www.ne-mgp.co.uk.

Home / Manufacturing

North East manufacturing scheme helping businesses to achieve multi-million pound growth

North East LEP scheme helps manufacturing businesses identify barriers to growth

A programme to help manufacturing businesses grow, launched in the summer of last year by the North East LEP has already provided growth support to a range of manufacturing SMEs, from a multi-million pound turnover printing business to a small new leisure wear business with high-growth potential.

The Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) is aimed at helping manufacturers in the North East who want to grow their business. Experienced manufacturing business advisers work with senior management teams, using a holistic approach to business diagnostic and improvement, to identify how to improve performance across all areas of their operations.

DSM Fabrications, a £2m turnover business specialising in metal fabrication services, based in South Shields, participated in the programme. Working with experienced manufacturing business advisers, senior management were able to create a new plan for growth, identifying three key areas for the business to develop; sales and marketing, succession planning, and market positioning.

The MGP business adviser created a detailed plan for each of the areas of improvement. The plan included succession of the original owner from the business from the day-to-day running, recruitment of a business development manager and types of reward mechanisms, sales and marketing strategy to open up new markets and a list of ‘top ten’ potential clients.

David Gracie, Managing Director at DSM Fabrications said: “The experienced and specialist adviser we worked with from the Manufacturing Growth Programme provided us with the framework and time to step back and think what was required from a strategic point of view.
“The consultancy provided gave us clear advice on where we needed to target our attention as we look to grow the business further.”
The MGP pilot programme will run for another five months and aims to work with more than 80 businesses to create 160 new manufacturing jobs.

It forms part of the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan to foster growth within key sectors of the economy in order to create more and better jobs. The programme could be extended if the pilot proves successful.
The programme is delivered by business support firm BE Group and Improvement Architecture, a specialist business improvement consultancy.

Graham Sleep, founder and MD of Improvement Architecture, said: “Having worked with small and medium sized manufacturing businesses over many years our team has developed a good understanding of the common challenges they face, which can prevent them from reaching their true potential revenues and profit levels.
“We have been using a unique model to highlight relative strengths of the businesses we’re supporting, so they can become more competitive, productive and profitable.”
John Barnett, a member of the LEP’s Business Growth Board, said, “The programme is designed to stimulate the growth of manufacturing businesses across the North East through in-depth one-to-one guidance from manufacturing growth experts.
“I’d encourage any small and mid-sized North East manufacturing businesses with growth ambitions to get involved with this free programme to unlock their potential.
“Manufacturing capability lies at the heart of this region’s future economic prosperity and I am particularly pleased the LEP is investing in its development.”
If you are a North East manufacturer and want help to grow, visit www.ne-mgp.co.uk, to access this expert support.

Home / Manufacturing

Government boosts North East’s Local Growth Fund allocation by further £49.7m

A £49.7 million allocation of Local Growth Funding from Government has taken the 2015-2021 total for the North East to £379.6 million.

The majority of the funding will be used as investment into the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) near Nissan, which will secure 5,200 jobs for the North East economy by 2027.

The IAMP is a 100-hectare site that bridges South Tyneside and Sunderland and aims to provide a world-class environment for high-tech industries and advanced manufacturing businesses on a site just north of Nissan’s existing manufacturing plant.
The IAMP will bring huge benefits for the North East Economy and will support and grow the established supply chain in the area.

The Park will significantly strengthen the region’s reputation as the UK’s automotive sector national hub and show case the smart specialisations skills of the North East and help increase the offer to inward investors.

Andrew Hodgson, North East Local Enterprise Partnership Chair, said: ‘This latest growth deal allows the North East LEP to invest and drive forward the delivery of the International Advanced Manufacturing Park. We will work with our local authority partners, North East Automotive Alliance and the private sector to deliver this vitally important scheme, which is of strategic importance not only for the North East, but for the UKs industrial strategy.’

“The Government has chosen not to back our full Local Growth Fund bid which is deeply disappointing and potentially damaging to our Strategic Economic Plan to grow the North East economy.

“Our LGF allocation gives us no scope to fund a range of projects which would have driven new growth and provided real impetus to business development – as well as giving the North East the chance to contribute more fully to the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.”

There will also be a small allocation to fund a Business, Innovation and Skills Infrastructure programme which will support businesses seeking to grow and develop, and provide workers with the necessary facilities needed to improve their skills.

Home / Manufacturing

In conversation with David Land, North East LEP Board member, about the Manufacturing Growth Programme

David Land, North East LEP Board member, discusses the Manufacturing Growth Programme.

As a Board Member at the North East LEP I’m often asked how we can encourage and support growth in the North East economy.

If we want to achieve the LEP’s ambition to create 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024, what approach should we be taking?

I believe SMEs are part of the answer. It might come as a surprise to learn that small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2015 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized*. SMEs are the backbone of our economy and if we want to see it flourish and grow, we need to help these businesses scale up.

The Manufacturing Growth Programme – part of the North East Growth Hub – is one of the ways the North East LEP is supporting SMEs to grow. Aimed specifically at SMEs operating in the manufacturing sector, the Manufacturing Growth Programme is designed to help businesses identify barriers to growth and work with them to improve business performance and increase sales.

The year-long programme was launched in July 2016 and we already have three businesses enrolled in the scheme. What we’re looking to achieve is to provide companies with longevity; a path to long-term success by giving them access to the right resources, quickly and effectively.

The Manufacturing Growth Programme places experts within participating businesses to help senior managers prepare and plan for growth. We see it very much as a mentoring role, sharing knowledge, experience and identifying the areas organisations need support with.

The programme covers all areas of manufacturing, from automotive and oil and gas to pharmaceuticals and textiles. It’s also open to SMEs of all shapes and sizes. We need to help the small businesses become medium sized businesses and larger SMEs to become the big businesses of tomorrow.

We’re only weeks into the programme but we’re already seeing tangible results.

If you’d like to know more and explore opportunities for your business visit www.ne-mgp.co.uk to check eligibility or contact Tracey Watson at BE Group via [email protected] or call 0191 389 8434.

We look forward to working with you.

David Land
North East LEP Board member


Home / Manufacturing

North East LEP to provide consultancy support to boost the region’s manufacturing sector

A new pilot Manufacturing Growth Programme has been announced by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership ( North East LEP), aimed at manufacturing SMEs in Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. The scheme will help senior managers within manufacturing companies assess and identify barriers to growth, and work with them to improve business performance and increase sales.

John Barnett (pictured), member of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board and Operations Director and European Head of Manufacturing at Calsonic Kansei explains that the programme is designed to stimulate the growth of aspiring manufacturing businesses across the North East through in-depth one-to-one support from manufacturing growth experts.

“This initiative, designed as a sister project to the North East Growth Hub, will be an important and tangible part of our support to businesses in the region. As a member of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board I would like to see as many small and mid-sized manufacturing companies with growth ambitions get involved and work with our expert consultants to unlock their potential and drive their continued success. Manufacturing capability lies at the heart of this region’s future economic prosperity and I am particularly pleased the LEP is investing in its development.”

This new programme will run for an initial 12 month period. Working with over 80 growing businesses, the pilot programme is set to create 160 new manufacturing jobs. It forms part of the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan to foster growth within key sectors of the economy in order to create more and better jobs. The programme could be extended if this pilot phase proves successful.

The programme will be delivered by the BE Group – a North East based business services provider, and Improvement Architecture, a specialist business improvement consultancy.

Alastair MacColl, BE Group’s Chief Executive, says the programme will link to other government-led support for manufacturing and engineering businesses:

“We are really pleased to be delivering the North East LEP’s Manufacturing Growth Programme. In recent years we have seen great results from the ‘Let’s Grow’ Regional Growth Fund grant scheme, and we are sure that SME companies will also benefit significantly from the strategic level insight and advice delivered through this new programme. We are looking forward to linking this exciting programme with the fantastic advice and support already available through our regional sector clusters and the wider North East Growth Hub community of business support and finance organisations.”

Graham Sleep, Founder and MD of Improvement Architecture, commented:

“Having worked with small and medium sized manufacturing businesses over many years our team has developed a good understanding of the common challenges they face, which can prevent them from reaching their true potential revenues and profit levels. We will be using a unique model to highlight relative strengths of the companies we’re supporting, so they can become more competitive, productive and profitable.”

If you are a small manufacturing business with big growth ambitions, please contact Tracey Watson for more details on how to apply.

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0191 389 8434.
Or see www.ne-mgp.co.uk for programme details and to check eligibility.