Five food firms are among the UK businesses to sign up to the Made Smarter initiative, which aids companies to invest in digital technologies under what has been dubbed the fourth manufacturing revolution, or Industry 4.0.

The 11 companies in the north-west of England are seeking to introduce advanced manufacturing into their businesses and will work with the GBP20m (US$24.1m) Made Smarter Programme, which aims to help them expand through investment in new digital technologies. They join nine small- and medium-sized enterprises that were part of the debut project in the region.

Investment through the programme is expected to boost productivity and revenues for the participants, increase exports and jobs, bring better integration with supply chains and reduce their environmental impact.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK government minister for business and industry, said in a statement: “The Made Smarter Programme is enabling manufacturers across the north west to access advanced digital technologies with the aim of driving growth and increasing productivity while reducing costs – all part of our ambition to make the UK a global leader in shaping how the modern world does business.
“The 11 new companies announced today will not only reap the benefits themselves, the investment will support a multi-million pound boost to the local economy, keeping the region at the forefront of the latest innovations. They join 24 businesses who have received project funding to date and I would urge others to follow in their footsteps.”

Examples of advanced technologies were listed as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and 3D-printing and robotics.

The new firms taking part are located in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington, Lancashire, and Cumbria and Liverpool. As well as food and beverages, they operate in the engineering, healthcare and agriculture sectors.

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Bell Mount Farming, based in Penrith, Cumbria, and which produces eggs for the Lakes Free Range Eggs brand, is one of the food producers. The other four are: Blends Holdings (flavours and colourings), Lancashire Farm Dairies (yogurt), Bells of Lazonby (bakery), and Len Wright Salads (fresh vegetables).

For the 11 new incumbents, the Made Smarter programme could “deliver an additional GBP13m in gross value added (GVA) for the North West economy over the next three years”, according to the statement.

Additionally, up to 600 firms in the north west will also qualify for more in-depth support. That will include: “mentoring from senior industry figures, a leadership and management programme specifically designed to support leaders to implement digital change, and match-funded grants towards the cost of new software or hardware.”

The statement continued: “Made Smarter includes match-funding opportunities and the provision of dedicated technical and business support for SMEs adopting digital technology, to support advanced manufacturing.”