Two Cumbrian business leaders are among the first to graduate from a programme aimed to give them the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing.

James Swindlehurst, of Primasonics in Penrith and Robert Webb, of Forth Engineering in Barrow, were in the first cohort of 10 people across the North West who took part in the innovative eight-month leadership scheme.

The programme was run by Made Smarter, an industry and government partnership driving manufacturing productivity and growth through digital technology in collaboration with Lancaster University Management School.

It involved workshops, site visits to other manufacturers and project sprints – delivered by Siemens Digital Industries – to test new ideas.

Robert, innovation programme manager at Forth Engineering, which has its head office in Flimby, near Maryport, said:“What has impressed me most is the level of collaboration and openness among both the cohort and the businesses we visited during the programme.

“The life as an SME can be lonely. When you sit in a room with other business leaders, regardless of their size, you realise they are facing the same issues and looking at the same technology to solve their problems. It has been interesting how digitalisation umbrellas across all business. It doesn’t matter if you are involved in making horse harnesses or robotics, we all face the same issues.

“Forth is now developing a plan to integrate its systems which will have a monumental impact on levels of efficiency.

“As well as connecting businesses from different sectors in the North West, this programme has helped me realise that manufacturing SMEs have an important role in the bigger picture – UK plc, which is at the vanguard of the cutting and bleeding edge of digitalisation on the global stage.

“Digitalisation is omnipresent and should be the focus for all manufacturers. Changes don’t have to be large and disruptive. There are easy wins to be achieved. This programme is the perfect place to start.”

Registration for the next leadership programme is now open and will close on January 29.