The chemical sector is experiencing a tectonic shift towards automation of processes and products. However, this presents barriers for SMEs, from finance and a lack of digital skills, to uncertainty over where to start and the struggle to find time to capitalise on opportunities.

Helping SMEs keep up with the pace was the foundation of the Made Smarter Adoption programme, which was first launched in the North West, and is now set to expand across the UK.

Launched as a £20m government-funded industry-led pilot in 2019, it has since worked with over 1,200 businesses, including many in the chemical sector, offering impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops, a leadership programme, and funded digital technology internships.

The programme has supported 201 technology projects which are forecast to deliver an additional £150m in GVA for the North West economy over the next three years, create over 920 new jobs, and upskill 1,764 existing roles.

Some have invested in technology to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are using 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

For example, Organica UK, a Birkenhead-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly household cleaning products, invested in two technology projects which have created new jobs and increased turnover.

Sensors now capture the volumes of ingredients going into and coming out of its blending tanks and other parts of its filling process, introducing real-time monitoring and analytics which have resulted in a 20% productivity increase. A second project will create a bespoke, cloud-based ERP solution to help keep track of orders, production and stock, and is forecast to improve efficiency by 25%, reduce energy consumption by 10% per ton of product, and reduce waste by up to 20%.

Where to start

A Digital Transformation Workshop offers a streamlined diagnostic of products, services, processes and people to find practical solutions. Manufacturers are then given a bespoke guide with recommended first steps and a digital roadmap. This roadmap helps target the right technology to grow progressively and sustainably, and avoid wasted time, effort and money.

Skills and leadership

Manufacturers can upgrade their skill sets with a Leadership Programme to give them the strategic view and skills needed to pursue smarter manufacturing, using a hybrid model of classroom learning and site visits.

Andrew Mooney, Managing Director of Actikem, a chemical manufacturer, based in Warrington, benefited from the programme which helped the business navigate the impact of the pandemic.

Made Smarter also offers specialist advice about organisational and workforce development, and funded Digital Technology Internships for university students and graduates.

Such has the been the success of the North West programme, it has now been expanded to the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the West Midlands.

More details at