lettuce salad

Source: Unsplash

Funding from Made Smarter would allow the businesses to invest in assets such as a free-range egg management system and a new prepared salad factory

Five food manufacturers have signed up to a government-backed programme to help businesses apply the most cutting-edge digital technology in a drive to boost profitability and competitiveness.

Bell Mount Farming, Blends Holdings, Bells of Lazonby, Lancashire Farm Dairies, and Len Wright Salads are the latest companies to participate in the £20m Made Smarter pilot under way in the north west.

They join more than nearly 500 businesses in the region that have so far committed to implementing advances in data analytics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the industrial internet of things, 3D printing and robotics.

The scheme, a partnership between the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the private sector, aims to engage with more than 3,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the north west and increase the regional gross value added by up to £115m.

Other benefits are expected to include improved productivity and revenues, increased export sales, job creation, providing new skills to workforces, integration with supply chains and reduced environmental impact.

Up to 600 companies in the region will also qualify for more intense support, including potential grant funding - delivered through the north west’s five Local Enterprise Partnerships and their network of Growth Hubs.

A Made Smarter spokesman said the next stage would be rolling the scheme out across the UK.

David Brass, co-owner of Bell Mount Farming, said the matched funding from Made Smarter would realise his ambitions to invest in a free-range egg management system to monitor the health of hens using sensors, to optimise welfare and egg production.

“This will provide a first step in the collection of a unique data set that will be shared by industry stakeholders, improve performance, welfare and aid research into the industry’s most pressing problems.”

Len Wright Salads, which processes a wide range of produce for supermarkets, said it had embarked on an ambitious transformation strategy to secure its future, which included investment in a new prepared salad factory - “one of the most advanced in Europe”.

Colin Charlesworth, finance director, said: “The vision is to reduce our energy usage and improve our productivity through waste reduction using industry-leading digital technology.

“Support and match-funding from Made Smarter and expertise from our external consultant Rick Patterson, has enabled us to make the crucial investment in IT and data infrastructure to support this goal.”