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    Partner News: CW4.0 Project – Closing Report

    CW4.0 was a fully-funded programme of support for manufacturers in Cheshire & Warrington to help SMEs explore and adopt industrial digital technologies.

    Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, CW4.0 brought together the combined expertise and capabilities of the Virtual Engineering Centre (University of Liverpool), Liverpool John Moores University, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Northern Automotive Alliance, who were the nominated industry partner.

    CW4.0 was the first project of its kind that was tailored specifically to the manufacturing sector in Cheshire & Warrington and delivered by organisations based in the North West. It covered the full manufacturing sector, from general engineering and fabrication to automotive, renewables, pharmaceutical and medical devices.

    Building on their decade long experience of supporting SMEs, CW4.0 combined technical expertise and best practice from the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors. The project helped manufacturing SMEs adapt to a changing world and exploit new opportunities to remain competitive in a post COVID and Brexit world, ensuring the strong legacy of manufacturing in Cheshire & Warrington has a bright, digitally-enabled future.

    CW4.0 helped manufacturing SMEs in Cheshire & Warrington to accelerate opportunities for growth and investment using digital technologies. Through fully-funded, hands-on support and expertise, the project teams enabled manufacturers to develop smarter processes and products and solve their problems. It supported manufacturing businesses to solve problems, seize opportunities and stay ahead of the competition by adopting new technologies emerging from the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). The project teams provided free access to a comprehensive range of facilities, technologies and experts.

    Two cases studies, involving NAA member companies are covered below.

    Autac Products

    Autac is a leading designer and manufacturer of standard and bespoke cable solutions, partnering with clients across the world, delivering high-quality cable products, solutions and services from its sites in the UK. Autac is a third generation family-run business of nearly 60 years of experience and expertise within the cable industry and British manufacturing. A solution-driven business, with a focus on innovation, customer service and quality, Autac has been helping customers succeed since 1964.

    Husband and wife team, David and Sallie Lowe bought the company back in 2016 with an average of £1.6m profit which has rapidly doubled to £4.5m turnover at the end of 2022. With the growing success and demand, the company now has a forecast turnover of £5.5m by the end of 2023 and over £10m by 2028. This growth has seen the company expand and introduce additional subdivisions including Autac Assemblies and Autac EV, focusing on charging cables for electric vehicles.

    The Approach

    Based in Macclesfield, Autac originally operated within a modest but busy red brick factory. The objective was to expand manufacturing capacity to keep up with increased customer demand, reduce lead times and create better facilities for the Autac team.

    Autac have invested in a new £2.8m state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in addition to the red-brick factory, having more than tripled the floor space and capacity (12,500 square feet). The challenge was to explore the most productive, efficient and optimised workflow for the business, the manufacturing of electrical retractable cable over the two sites. They needed to work fast as the move was happening quickly, with minimum disruption to the production line and be able to test out different layouts and options easily,

    Autac wanted to work with the CW4.0 teams who could utilise the latest in digital technology for running multiple scenario simulations and differing layouts, allowing Autac to confidently expand to their new premises as part of their growth strategy. The new facility is three times the size of the existing premises and will be used for injection moulding and product assembly in addition to introducing improved facilities for staff including staff canteen and changing room and even an innovation lab for research, development and testing.

    The Benefits

    Lead CW4.0 partner the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), together with NAA, worked closely with Autac to fully understand their current systems and processes, which machinery is needed, and the workflows of their operations.  The VEC selected a specific area of the Autac business (assembly sub-processes) and composed a Matterport and LiDAR scan of their existing and new premises that played a key role in this understanding and layout planning, offering the teams exact measurements of their equipment and machinery.

    Following this data collection, the VEC’s Industrial Digitalisation teams developed a factory simulation which offered the Autac team a virtual tour of their new facilities. This included virtual placeholders for the equipment they wanted to move around and include so they could see how it would work and use it as part of their planning process. This enabled Autac in identifying the most efficient layout plans which they could resolve with confidence and without the need for rigorous and timely moving and adjusting of large and heavy equipment.

    This support meant that Autac would not only be able to maintain the productivity levels of their business running during their transition period but would have the confidence that the new premise will be able to increase company efficiencies and optimise workflows.

    The VEC has used this technology demonstrator to highlight to Autac the potential impact of rolling this technology out across the wider company. Through a Knowledge Transfer Workshop, the Autac teams now have a greater understanding and have the know-how to run something similar in the future, without the dependence on external sources, making better-informed decisions.

    “Whilst it was an incredibly exciting time for Autac, makng the move to our second facility presented certain challenges for our day-to-day operations. We needed to maintain our production capablility, whilst at the same time moving machinery, people and stock across our two sites. Of course, our main concern was ensuring that our clients weren’t affected which meant keeping any disruption to an absolute minimum.

    This is where the support from the CW4.0 team at the Virtual Engineering Centre was invaluable. With their help, we were able to virtually map out and optimise our workflow and processes which meant that we could confidently expand into our new facility. Thanks to the team, we have been able to find the most effective and efficient layout for our business and to meet the evergrowing demands of our customers.” David Lowe, Managing Director.


    Valuechain is a technology business based at Daresbury that provides smart software solutions to enable manufacturing organisations to connect, collaborate, improve competitiveness, and become Industry 4.0 ready. They aim to generate tangible benefits for all organisations working in the manufacturing sector, through their production control (DNA 4.0), business improvement and supply chain intelligence solutions (Network Portal).

    Valuechain joins CW4.0 as an accelerator partner and a solution provider. Through working with CW4.0 together, Valuechain and CW4.0 aim to achieve the shared goal to connect with manufacturing and cross-sector industries in Cheshire & Warrington Region and to increase productivity, promote collaboration, build intelligence, and drive sustainable improvements and growth.

    The Approach

    The CW4.0 team at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and Valuechain worked together over 6 months period. Through discussions with other SMEs, we identified specific business challenges centering around supply chain digitalization that local SMEs are facing. A demonstrator involving Valuechain’s software and technologies was decided to showcase the state of the art in supply chain management and to demystify the technology to local SMEs in Cheshire & Warrington region. To this end, a supplier portal demonstrator was under development which is based on the cloud and includes key features as follows to benefit the local SMEs:

    • Quality, cost, delivery performance management

    • Two-way communications with suppliers

    • Historical performance of suppliers’ management.

    The Benefits

    The Proof-of-Concept Demonstrator has been successfully designed, developed, and implemented. The dashboard portal uses desensitised real data to represent how suppliers and their performance can be managed on the cloud with ease of access. The Supply Chain Digitisation partnership has been successfully established between LJMU and Valuechain. The demonstrator has the twofold benefits that it helps Valuechain to improve product performance and sales growth, meanwhile the CW4.0 team uses it as a valuable tool to showcase supply chain opportunities for SMEs in the Cheshire, Warrington, and wider areas.

    Summing up, the programme has helped by integrating digital technology into businesses for improved productivity, efficiencies, and relevance to the needs of your customers.  CW4.0 helped business leaders to understand where to start when considering digital technology and how to successfully implement it in their businesses.

    European Regional Development Fund Northern Powerhouse
    Partners Department for Business Innovation and Skills Finance Birmingham