The £1.9 million Made Smarter scheme was launched in the West Midlands in June 2021 to help manufacturing and engineering SMEs utilise new digital technologies such as AI, advanced robotics, big data and wearable technology to improve their efficiency and productivity.
The Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub is leading the one-year scheme with the region’s other Growth Hubs in Greater Birmingham and Solihull, the Black Country, Worcestershire, The Marches, and Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The West Midlands Growth Hubs are working closely with the West Midlands Combined Authority and their strategic partners WMG, at the University of Warwick, and the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry.
HMS Staircases in Stoke-on-Trent is a family business that started in 2010 which manufactures wooden staircases for large housing companies and bespoke staircases featuring timbers such as ash or oak to smaller builders and the private sector.
Managing director Sharon Murray, commented about their reasons for joining Made Smarter and the benefits it will bring to the business which employs 27 people.
She said, “I received an email about Made Smarter from the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub and thought straight-away – this is for us.
“Our office systems are outdated and we have been wanting to improve the way we process our orders for a while since the manufacturing is carried out over several units, so I wanted to see if Made Smarter could help.
“I submitted an application and had an appointment with Tim Kirby from the programme and then Alan Bloomfield and Beth Hughes from Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce came to visit for a tour of the factory and a detailed chat.
“I then received a diagnostic report from them which outlined all the areas from a digital perspective that we could implement to streamline the business.
“Following their recommendations, I’m getting together a few quotes for the installation of software technology called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) since we have been successful in receiving a grant from Made Smarter.
“Previously, everything was on a paper trail and Alan and Beth were amazed at how many Excel spreadsheets and sheets of paper we used to process just one order.
“The ERP is business management software that will process, collect, store, manage, and interpret our data – and we will be helping the environment by not using paper!
“As part of the report to help transform our business digitally, we have been signposted to the wider Growth Hub team for further support which is focused on improving connectivity in our manufacturing areas, R&D tax relief which I wasn’t previously aware we would qualify for, and improving our broadband.
“We’re also going to look into installing a Customer Relationship Management system and a cloud-based phone system so that we never miss any important calls even when we are working from home.
“The report also included feedback on our website and it was really interesting to find out that if we improve its site speed by as little as 0.1s it can lead to an 8 per cent increase in conversion rate, and we’re going to review our website content since it was suggested we add more calls to action as well as posting blogs and videos.
“Tim Kirby, the Made Smarter Industrial Digital Technology Specialist for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, has been very supportive. He is visiting to look at our lean processes and how we could improve our manufacturing processes by implementing digital technology since he has experience in this area.
“Alan and Beth have also been brilliant and their ideas and suggestions to improve the operation of the business have been really helpful.
“We are looking forward to installing the ERP and working more efficiently which will benefit us as a business and our customers as well. By achieving faster lead times, it will enable developers to build properties quicker since once the staircases have been installed, the rest of the tradespeople can start their work which will lead to earlier completion dates.”
Following the initial meeting with Alan and Beth, Rebecca Parker and Trish Reed from Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Growth Hub joined a follow up meeting to discuss further support that is available through a variety of referral partners and organisations such as grant funding, access to specialist business advisors and fully funded skills and training. This relationship will continue moving forwards to ensure the business is provided with access to all relevant programmes so as we can support Sharon in her growth aspirations.
Photo: Sharon Murray, MD of HMS Staircases