Digital Transformation for Modern Manufacturing

Today, the Bulb crew gained insight around how digital transformation is being approached in manufacturing courtesy of The East Midlands Chamber at the East Midlands Manufacturing & Trade Conference held at Loughborough University.

March 26, 2024

Digital transformation - image of an automated welding machine with sparks eminating from the robot arm

Manufacturing the future

Manufacturing in the East Midlands is on the rise, with the region’s sector bucking the national trend and growing healthily in turbulent times, with thanks in no small part to the Digital Transformation of the sector.

We learned that a heady mix of Artificial Intelligence, digital transformation, world-leading innovation initiatives, The East Midlands Freeport, the growth of East Midlands Airport, growing understanding and adoption of sustainable practices, more targeted (but not quite enough just yet) funding and the adoption of digital technologies are combining to drive growth in the manufacturing sector in our region and are contributing to the UK’s rise to eighth in the world manufacturing rankings, overtaking France in the process and with seventh in the sights.

Manufacturing in the East Midlands is getting smarter and embracing the efficiencies and green benefits that digital transformation can bring, with the sector leading the way on the path to net zero.

The Make UK keynote indicated that the UK manufacturing sector accounts for £224 Billion of output, providing 2.6 million jobs with average wages 9% higher than the average of the economy as a whole.

Leading the way in the UK manufacturing sector are Food & Drink and Aerospace, innovation in these sub-sectors is driving growth and opportunities for export.

Opportunities for 2024

More than half of manufacturers are gearing up to launch new products in 2024.

Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) opportunities are high on the agenda for Manufacturing with Net Zero a particular focus for many manufacturing businesses.

Exports and new international markets are also a key focus with more manufacturing businesses than ever being ready to leverage opportunities to expand into new, previously untapped markets.

Leveraging opportunities associated with digital transformation including adoption of new digital, cloud and AI technologies not only presenting major opportunities themselves in the year ahead, but these technologies also underpin every opportunity seen as important to the sector in 2024.

Digital Transformation is everywhere

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) keynote, delivered by Steve Morris, Director of SME Engagement demonstrated how in many cases pivoting between markets/subsectors is a particular strength of the sector. This is true of industry-specific businesses, for example an automotive manufacturing business can often pivot into Aerospace, but equally, digital technologies designed for one market can be applied across multiple manufacturing markets or indeed the entire sector. Interestingly the data suggests that integration of new and better back-office digital products such as CRM, sales and HR systems can be as impactful as the adoption of new, productive digital technologies on the shop floor itself. Digital, it seems, in manufacturing is everywhere.

Leveraging AI in manufacturing is becoming more common and the MTC is keen to encourage adoption of AI in a secure, robust, transparent and ethical manner under their ‘Trustworthy AI’ banner.

Trustworthy AI encompasses a set of principles that aim to ensure that AI is integrated and operated in a manner that inspires confidence in the user, developer and all stakeholders.

Manufacturing operations have significant opportunity for improvement with the adoption of better digital technology which encourages end-to-end connectivity. Currently the manufacturing supply chain is not linked-up and traceability and provenance in tier 2 and 3 suppliers is not available to OEMs and tier 1 suppliers. Adoption of connected, smart technology will help to resolve the major issues in this area:

  • No/low system or data connectivity
  • No/low blockchain on ledgers
  • Low resilience
  • No/low traceability, transparency and visibility
  • Low innovation

Linear v circular

Professor Shahin Rahimifard, Professor of Sustainable Engineering at Loughborough University provided a compelling explanation how refocussing manufacturing can be used to drive the transition from the linear to a circular economy.

The scale of this challenge, physically, politically and technologically cannot be overstated, however the opportunity is equally staggering.

Design for X is a guiding principle of this movement within manufacturing – design for disassembly, design for recycling, design for re-use (refill, recharge) are just some of the concepts covered.

Digital technology has its part to play here too. Integration of AI and efficiencies through the adoption and integration of technology will support the transition to a sustainable future and as the professor says “NO ACTION IS NOT AN OPTION”.

Sustainability is hot in the Bulb studios at the moment so this was a personal highlight of the conference. The utilisation of technology to create a more sustainable future for our clients in any sector is going to be a driving force for Bulb Studios in 2024 and beyond as we strive to build ever-more sustainable digital products and support the transition of our clients to sustainable digital business models.

Freedom in the EM

The political and economic backdrop to manufacturing in the region is of course instrumental to its future success.

The East Midlands Freeport is designed to support business with tax and customs benefits as well as improved investment opportunities and dedicated physical zones for enterprise in the region.

Tax benefits include business rates relief, enhanced capital allowances, NICs relief, enhanced structures and buildings allowance (SBA) and Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) relief.

Customs benefits of the Freeport include duty flexibility, suspension and exemption and simplified import procedures.

The Freeport Focus sectors are advanced logistics, space, life sciences, low carbon & energy, food & drink, aerospace, automotive and rail.  It will support other business sectors but the region is prime for increasing jobs, skills and inward investment in these areas in a sustainable manner through the Freeport’s unique tax and customs statuses, the local university & innovation landscape and transport and connectivity links.

Made Smarter

Any manufacturing business curious of the benefits of adopting digital or which is ready for digital transformation should start its journey by visiting

Made Smarter East Midlands provides digital transformation advice, impartial support in collaboration with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and provides high-approval-rate grant funding via an established and effective digital transformation programme.

Made Smarter offers a range of support including:

  • Impartial business growth advice
  • Specialist technology advice
  • Guidance for skills and culture development
  • Digital transformation and road mapping workshops
  • Funding opportunities
  • Leadership development

This process starts with a comprehensive Roadmapping exercise to plan the digital transformation:

  • Business strategy/plan review
  • Business operations and capabilities
  • Organisation culture
  • Business challenges
  • Digital Readiness Level (DRL) assessment
  • Digital roadmap
  • Initial implementation & support

The ‘Leading Digital Transformation’ programme lasts for 3 months and takes manufacturing leaders through 8 steps to ensure readiness for digital transformation, from contextualising digital transformation through cultural change management to the importance of digital leadership.

Through Made Smarter, manufacturing businesses can receive tailored support at any stage of the digital journey.

If your business is considering in engaging with Made Smarter and applying for funding to adopt digital technologies, Bulb Studios’ may be able to help when the time comes. Our proven discovery process could be just the thing to support your application with accurate scoping and clear investment requirements for the implementation and integration of fit-for-purpose digital solutions.

If a chat about digital transformation in support of a funding application would be of use or to explore how we might help you to achieve the most efficient digital transformation solution for your business, we’re here to help. Drop us a line to or pay us a visit

Much to consider

Thank you to the team at East Midlands Chamber for organising what was an illuminating, inspiring day which has given the Bulb Studios team so much to consider and provided a unique perspective on the value of digital transformation and digital technologies in the future of more sustainable, efficient and smarter manufacturing.

Image Credit: Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash