Digital support for North West manufacturers set to deliver £100 million GVA boost

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Evaluations of digital transformation initiatives, Cheshire & Warrington 4.0 (CW4.0) and LCR 4.0 Holistic, have discovered that the projects supporting SME manufacturers will collectively contribute an additional £100m of gross value added (GVA) and 489 full-time jobs to the region’s economy.

Over the last two years, the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) initiatives, led by the University of Liverpool's Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), have assisted 308 SMEs and start-ups throughout the North West.

SMEs working with the programmes have already created 150 full-time jobs, 90 of which are in Cheshire and Warrington’s advanced manufacturing sector.

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The projects have helped SME manufacturers and supply chain businesses to integrate new digital technologies into their operations. These include developing sophisticated customer service tools, gaining real-time insights into processes through data analytics, and employing visualisation tools for improved decision-making and product development. Knowledge Transfer workshops and access to world-class facilities and expertise have enabled regional businesses to develop business strategies, optimise operations, and even upskill teams for further development.

Andrew Borland, Chief Innovation Officer at the Virtual Engineering Centre. Photo: CW4.0Andrew Borland, Chief Innovation Officer at the Virtual Engineering Centre. Photo: CW4.0
Andrew Borland, Chief Innovation Officer at the Virtual Engineering Centre. Photo: CW4.0

Over half of Cheshire and Warrington’s SMEs surveyed reported an increase in productivity, while 60% reported an expansion in business growth. The LCR 4.0 Holistic initiative has resulted in a 30% diversification rate into new markets for participating SMEs, offering additional opportunities and financial gains.

Andrew Borland, Chief Innovation Officer at the Virtual Engineering Centre, said: “North West manufacturers are primed and uniquely positioned to respond to global challenges. From renewable energy and transportation to pharmaceuticals and the chemicals sector.

“SME manufacturers we have been lucky enough to work with have proven that cutting edge R&D in AI, robotics and the sciences from our universities can be harnessed locally to deliver new products, processes, and services.

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“Putting the challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit behind them this proactive approach highlights the sector's commitment to innovation, creating competitive products that deliver both environmental sustainability and robust economic growth.”

Dr Andrew Levers, Executive Director for the Institution for Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS), University of Liverpool and Principal Investigator for LCR4.0 and CW4.0, added: "These impressive figures are a real testament to the success of CW4.0 and LCR 4.0 Holistic. Its success would not have been possible without each of the partners and supporting Growth Hubs, each determined to help SMEs in the region become more efficient, sustainable, and successful as we aim to become an epicentre for business support within the region and beyond.

“The improved understanding and confidence levels of such organisations has resulted in over 130 new products crossing the development line, with 83 additional new products being launched to market, strengthening the regional offering. We hope to see continued innovations throughout the regions in the future and are looking to continue in our collaborations and support through additional initiatives and projects.”

CW4.0 was delivered by the VEC, University of Liverpool, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Liverpool John Moore's University (LJMU), and the Northern Automotive Alliance. LCR 4.0 Holistic was delivered by VEC, University of Liverpool's Management School, LJMU, STFC and Liverpool City Region Growth Platform.

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