Two worlds collide as North West faces up to digitalisation

Steve Park, managing director of private sector-led economic development and regeneration business Warrington & Co, on how manufacturers need to fully embrace the digital revolution

Steve Park
Steve Park, chief executive of Warrington & Co


Manufacturers are designing ‘virtual twins’ of their factories to work out how to make them more efficient – and in my role heading up Warrington’s economic development I’m increasingly seeing them lean on the North West’s computer games industry for help.

And, whilst we already have a ready-made solution to help the region’s engineering and manufacturing sectors remain competitive in an era dubbed ‘Industry 4.0’, there’s still much that we can do to cement the partnership between manufacturers and the tech sector.

The concept, however, is a simple one. Creating a digital copy of a factory helps engineers work out how to improve efficiency without the expense of having to close production lines and move equipment around to see if their ideas will pay off.

The problem is that these ‘virtual twins’ aren’t particularly easy on the eye, which is limiting the gains that can be had.  Exploiting the skills of computer games designers is dramatically improving the user experience and therefore the outcomes from the investment. 

Fortunately, Warrington is able to feed growing demand for games designers with new courses at its UTC and dedicated office space at The Base, which was set up specifically to support businesses involved in Industry 4.0.

But employers are going to need to think about their workplace environment and cultures if they want to attract and retain the best talent.  I think of it like two worlds colliding.  The best games designers want to work in funky offices surrounded by like minds, not tucked away in a small office at the back of a factory.

Jaguar Land Rover down the road in Manchester understand this, but others seem to be struggling to make the cultural adjustment and they may find it harder to attract and keep the talent they need as a result.

JLR recently chose Manchester as the global base for its new software, IT and engineering hub to support its famous engineering base in Warwickshire.  The move points to the north west’s strengths in games design and other digital technologies – and I believe Warrington is well-placed to capitalise on this.

The Base was specifically developed as a hub for engineering and software firms with the design focus that such firms favour.  So far more than 230 new jobs have been created here by a range of technology-led businesses.  We have a highly innovative tenant mix that can bring these two worlds together and the challenge for our manufacturing and engineering sectors is to embrace what Industry 4.0 means for their competitiveness.

There’s no room for complacency.  The pace of change is staggering and without this continued investment Warrington and the wider north west could stand still.  The Base, and what goes on in there, should ensure we avoid that problem.

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