A £20 million initiative to help the North West’s manufacturing sector through the adoption of more industrial digital technologies has appointed a key figure at BAE Systems as chair of its steering board.

Andrea Thompson is BAE’s managing director for Europe & international programmes, which includes contributing to the F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft programme, the world’s largest defence project.

Prior to this Thompson spent several years working in the United States, primarily in the automotive sector, before returning to the UK to work for major names including Leyland Trucks and Rolls Royce.

She will oversee the successful development and operational delivery of the Made Smarter programme by leading the steering board, which features over a dozen representatives drawn from manufacturing firms from across the North West.

“Having spent many years working in global industries like engineering, automotive and aerospace I know how respected and admired the North West of England’s manufacturing tradition is,” Thompson said.

“However, much of this is down to the legacy of the first industrial revolution which started in this region.

“With Made Smarter we now have a real opportunity to kick-start a new era of technology-led manufacturing, driven by innovative and ambitious SMEs, throughout the whole of the North West.

“I am very proud to have been appointed to the role of Chair for the steering group, and I am relishing the opportunity to helping shape and develop this exciting project which has the potential to transform the region’s industrial economy.”

Made Smarter

Made Smarter launch

Other outputs from the steering board will include the ongoing promotion of Made Smarter locally, regionally and nationally, and the strengthening of relationships between Made Smarter and other partners working across the advanced manufacturing agenda in the North West.

The board will also be responsible for ensuring good governance during the lifetime of the Made Smarter North West pilot.  

Made Smarter’s director Donna Edwards said: “Andrea was born and brought up in the North and also has extensive international experience across many key manufacturing sectors.

“The contribution her and the employer-led steering board we have established will make to the successful delivery of Made Smarter will be invaluable.

“I greatly look forward to working with her and other board members to drive the programme forward and boost the North West’s economy through the adoption of new technologies across our manufacturing base.”

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Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens and co-chair of the national Made Smarter Commission said: “I am delighted Andrea has agreed to become the Chair of the North West steering group.

“She will be a fantastic addition to the wider Made Smarter network of key business leaders we have brought together, both regionally and nationally, to help develop and deliver this project.”

Also on the steering board with Andrea is Emma Degg, Chief Executive of the North West Business Leadership Team.

“There is no better region in the UK to pilot this important project,” she said. “The North West was home to the first industrial revolution and our business have all the talent, ambition and drive to be a leader in the fourth.

“The North West Business Leadership Team has been proud to have been involved in bringing this important partnership together, and we are firmly committed to ensuring it now delivers real and lasting change for SMEs right across the region.”

Made Smarter was officially launched before Christmas in Liverpool. Backed by government and some of the world’s biggest businesses, the Made Smarter North West programme is set to engage with 3,000 SME manufacturers based in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region to boost productivity.

Companies that get involved in the project will get the chance to access match funded support and advice regarding how new technologies could revolutionise their manufacturing processes and reap the benefits of more efficient production.

Around 600 North West manufacturing SMEs will also qualify for more intensive business support, gaining access to match-funded grants, bespoke consultancy, mentoring and other resources which will help them to accelerate commercial growth.