World-class manufacturers unite in Alliance

Manufacturing across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is about to become more globally competitive with the launch of a new sector network, The Smart Manufacturing Alliance. 

The Alliance, launched in October 2021, is a joint venture between economic development company, Opportunity Peterborough, and the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority.

Its work will be overseen by a steering group of local industry leaders, and recruitment is underway for a range of expert roles within the Alliance to help manufacturers improve productivity and performance.

Plans for the Alliance have received an additional boost with Opportunity Peterborough’s successful bid for a £1.2 million ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) business support programme. This will fund an innovation programme of direct business support and a grant scheme to encourage investment in new technologies and research and development.

Over its first 10 years, the Smart Manufacturing Alliance is expected to help manufacturers generate an additional £50 million in Gross Added Value (GVA) through job creation, improved productivity and competitiveness, and helping manufacturers to make early gains in new and emerging markets.

Regional importance

Manufacturing is one of the area’s most important sectors – it makes up 13% of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economic output and provides employment for 40,500 people, or 9% of the area’s workforce – making it one of the biggest employment sectors.

The region is home to major manufacturers like Caterpillar Perkins, ALS Pharmaceuticals, Marshalls Aerospace and Engineering, and disruptors like 3D printers Photocentric, and Metalcraft.

Although the sector has a big presence in the area, consultations have shown that a formal sector network would significantly improve performance and help manufacturers stay competitive at a global level.

A steering group of local industry leaders will ensure the team meets its targets and tackles the most pressing sector challenges. All steering group members are expected to be in post by the beginning of August.

What help is available?

The Smart Manufacturing Alliance will provide members with:

  • A diagnostic and brokerage service to help track and improve performance
  • Grant funding advice and guidance
  • Direct delivery, and brokerage of, training services so the workforce has the technical and leadership skills which industry needs. This will include supporting STEM education in schools and colleges through apprenticeships up to a degree level.
  • Sector and market analysis to help members stay ahead of the competition
  • Networking opportunities, events, and workshops to strengthen connections between local manufacturers, academics, researchers, educators, and innovation programmes.
  • Pilots and challenge-led innovation platforms to improve organisations’ performance and support new product development

5-year targets

  • Targets for the first five years of the Smart Manufacturing Alliance include:
  • Ongoing support to the 190 members of the Smart Manufacturing Alliance
  • Creation of over 380 jobs in manufacturing, related fields and supply chains.
  • Successfully nurturing the growth and development of at least 20 manufacturing start-up businesses
  • Taking part in 24 collaborations which share resources, knowledge, and drive innovation within the sector. These projects could create knowledge exchanges with research institutions and universities right through to manufacturers creating greater efficiencies by sharing resources, spaces, tools, and equipment.
  • Support the creation of 96 new products, processes or services among its members

Self-finance plan

The Smart Manufacturing Alliance has initially been funded through an equity investment provided by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board via the Local Growth Fund.

However, it will eventually self-finance through a fee paying membership scheme, corporate sponsorship, and high value services like training brokerages, and innovation pilots.

Tom Hennessy, chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough, said: “Manufacturing across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is extremely diverse. The mature supply chains and skilled workforce are a huge part of what makes it such an attractive investment location, but there’s still plenty of untapped potential.

“Through the Smart Manufacturing Alliance, we can address productivity gaps which are a national challenge, and embed innovation at every level so our manufacturers continue to pioneer new technologies, products, and services.

“Ultimately we also want to see high quality career opportunities for residents with continuous learning and development, and collaborative approaches that drive innovation and enhance the reputation of the sector in our region.”

Austen Adams, chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board, said: “So much of what makes this region an economic powerhouse comes from clustering where businesses operating in similar sectors are drawn together to create a virtuous cycle of attracting talent, investment and promoting excellence and innovation.

“Fostering these vital ingredients for success in our manufacturing and engineering sector, while addressing the challenges we have around productivity and skills will strengthen and grow this important part of our regional economy.”

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