Lancaster University: Industry and academic collaboration supports 30 Greater Manchester SMEs to accelerate digital transformation

An industry and academic partnership between innovation hub operator IN4 Group and Lancaster University, part of the Greater Manchester AI Foundry, has supported 30 SMEs to innovate and grow through a ground-breaking industrial digital accelerator.

The fully funded IN4 Access programme gave SME businesses including Abbey Attachments, Simkiss Control Systems and Rutterkey, the ability to unlock innovative new products and services and uncover business growth opportunities using industry 4.0 technologies. The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership brought together Lancaster University’s academic expertise in innovative technologies and IN4 Group’s established experience in delivering applied innovation programmes to manufacturing and engineering businesses.

Chris Lambert, Programme Manager, Department of Engineering at Lancaster University, said: “This partnership between the IN4 Group and Lancaster University clearly demonstrates the value of industry-academic collaboration that directly advances the SME community. We’re proud to have worked closely with IN4 colleagues who have shaped and delivered the accelerator, ensuring it is absolutely right for the target audience. The AI Foundry accelerator has been a great success and a model of private-public partnership, which all stakeholders should be justifiably very proud of.”

The three-month accelerator provided a series of masterclasses, workshops, seminars, panel discussions and networking to business leaders and senior engineers, offering exclusive access to learning and coaching from the industry’s best change experts.

Leading industry speakers included Brian Holliday, Managing Director for Siemens Digital Industries; Alison Ramsay, Workplace Climate Director at BAE Systems; and Professor Ian Sherrington, Director of Jost Institute for Tribotechnology and research lead at the School of Engineering at UCLan.

SME businesses such as Perceptuo, Intelligent Development and Cybione are continuing to work with the Group through accessing its innovation membership, which includes one-to-one support to progress their journey, and support services such as CTO in residence and cyber security.

Mo Isap, CEO of IN4 Group, said: “The collaboration with Lancaster University and the GM AI Foundry has delivered ground-breaking outcomes for all of the SMEs involved. This is the perfect example of an outstanding academic and industry partnership, and how you can build an incredible innovation journey, particularly for SMEs. IN4 Access is specifically designed for scaling organisations that are experiencing significant growth within the engineering, manufacturing and digital sectors, so they can see the real benefits of future-proofing their businesses.”

IN4 Access is focused on using disruptive technologies, including cloud and immersive, to streamline business processes through upskilling leadership teams, and explores how digital solutions can help solve the most common industry problems.

The programme supported the businesses to develop proof of concepts in three key areas: machine conditioning and monitoring, supply chain digitalisation and process automation using IoT (Internet of Things).

Chris added: “Those participating delegates, made up of SMEs from Greater Manchester have spoken passionately about the value to their business, their customers and themselves that this programme has provided. As a result of participation, those SMEs will go on to generate new products, make productivity improvements and open up new markets because of their increased understanding of AI and digital technologies.”

Simon Bodill, General Manager of Simkiss Control Systems, said: “We joined the course because we weren’t sure about AI. As a solutions provider, the fear is being left behind. This has opened our eyes to the potential and endless possibilities of AI, but also how we access it and how we learn. We wouldn’t have had a clue where to start and this course has really given us some good channels to start working on.”