The UK is improving productivity through new technologies and industrial digital transformation

  • In 2018, the UK government launched the Made Smarter Adoption pilot program to provide manufacturing SMEs in the North-West of England with impartial expert advice, training, and financial support.
  • Following its success, the program has been extended to an additional four English regions with the aim of helping the UK recapture its industrial spirit.
  • In FY2025/26, the UK government has committed to spending up to £16 million to extend the scheme to the whole of England.

In 2017, an independent review board led by Jurgen Maier, then CEO of Siemens UK, made a startling proposal: If UK businesses adopted digital technology at a faster rate, the country’s industrial productivity could increase by a remarkable 25%. What’s more, digital adoption could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5% over the next decade.

The Made Smarter review took place to address the country’s ‘productivity puzzle,’ and support businesses to create well-paid jobs and reduce their environmental footprint.

Adopting digital technologies — such as artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, and additive manufacturing — has helped early adopter businesses to transform their productivity, and the Made Smarter review illustrated what UK’s manufacturing sectors could gain from following their lead, such as:

Its report called for the UK to recapture its industrial spirit as a nation of ‘creators and makers,’ focusing on small-to-medium enterprises, the lifeblood of the country’s economy. In response, the UK government launched the Made Smarter Adoption pilot program in 2018, providing manufacturing SMEs in the North-West of England with impartial expert advice, match-funded grants, leadership and skills training, and digital interns. By 2022, four additional English regions had been added to the program following the success of the pilot.

Unprecedented demand drives adoption 

Using funding from Made Smarter, protein bar manufacturer Nutree Life invested in state-of-the-art automation technologies to respond to the growing popularity of vegan and plant-based products. 

Automation enabled Nutree Life’s production to be high volume, high speed, and accurate. Crucially, the increased productivity and manufacturing capacity enabled Nutree Life to cope with the upsurge in demand. 

The business, which is co-owned by Patrick Mroczak and his son-in-law Adam Hodgkinson, is now on target to almost quadruple its revenue, from £1.2m to £4m, and has doubled its workforce since the start of the year.

“When we approached Made Smarter for help with upgrading our production process, I never imagined that we’d achieve so much so fast,” Patrick said. “It has given us the platform and the confidence to take that next step to secure business growth.” 

Investment can fund expansion into new markets 

As one of only two cycle clothing companies that manufacture their products in the UK, Lusso is replacing manual production processes with an Auto CAD and CAM system.

“The financial support has made a transformational impact on the production side of the business,” said Jake Wright, Lusso’s managing director. “The CAD software has enabled us to refine our patterns, so they are more accurate and anatomical, resulting in a more efficient sewing stage of production and better fitting finished garments. We are also able to operate on a larger scale, accelerating the cutting process by up to 80% and increasing productivity by 400%.”  

Lusso has always proudly manufactured their products in the UK and Wright says this has been at the heart of the business since its inception in 1982.

“We strongly believe that sustainable production practices should be followed as standard, not just for marketing purposes. By manufacturing in-house, we have a very stable supply chain with a low carbon footprint,” Wright said. 

Transformative technology powers innovation 

Leading puppeteers Mackinnon & Saunders collaborated with top Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro to manufacture the miniature stars of the Oscar-winning film “Pinocchio.” Using match-funding from Made Smarter, they developed a world first: a puppet made using 3D-printed stainless steel. This meant transitioning from the traditionally engineered methods to more technically advanced techniques to develop the fragile Pinocchio puppet. Metal printing technologies enabled the company to maintain the strength of the original puppet parts, and the funding paid for 25 stainless steel puppets used for the duration of filming, speeding up the stop-motion process. 

The Mackinnon & Saunders puppet for Pinocchio was developed with the help of funding from Made Smarter.

Netflix / Mackinnon & Saunders

“Without this backing, we would not have had the resources to conduct research and development, which is key to keeping us at the forefront of this industry,” said cofounder Peter Saunders. “The financial support was critical to both the growth and survival of the company.” 

The 3D printing enabled by the funding has been a game changer for his company. “We’ve adopted this printing technique throughout the business, and we anticipate this technology will be widely adopted within the animation industry,” Saunders said. 

Extending Made Smarter to other areas of the UK 

“Over 4,000 manufacturing SMEs have registered on Made Smarter to date, and over 600 industrial digital technologies projects have received grant funding,” said Michael Clark, Deputy Director of Advanced Manufacturing at the UK’s Department for Business and Trade. “Long term, our objective is to boost UK growth and productivity, through increasing innovation and adoption of industrial digital technologies across the whole of manufacturing.”

Over the financial year 2025-26, the UK government has committed to spending up to £16 million to offer the scheme to all regions in England, before working with the devolved administrations to explore expanding the programme further from 2026-27, as part of the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Plan to seize the opportunities of the twin transitions of net zero and digitalization. “Our ambition is for the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a manufacturing business,” Clark said. 

Learn more about how the UK can support your manufacturing business.

This post was created by Insider Studios with the UK Department for Business and Trade.

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