A leading industry figure has called upon Lancashire’s manufacturing base to embrace next-generation technologies and make the region a “world leader” in the sector.

Mo Isap is the founder & CEO of IN4.0, which is based at university UCLAN and is focused on providing SMEs with access to cutting-edge industrial digital technology and technical talent.

Speaking at BusinessCloud’s 'Lancashire’s untold digital story' breakfast event, he urged businesses to futureproof their offering.

“If Lancashire concentrates on its manufacturing assets and applies that digital technology, we can be world leaders. Absolutely no doubt about it,” he said.

“The big manufacturers have made that commitment: Siemens and BAE have said ‘in 20 years, this is what we're going to look like’. It's down to the supply chain to make that move; otherwise, these guys will find their supply chain elsewhere. That's the reality of the situation.

“If we make it, we'll reap the benefits. That’s why we're launching an accelerator in the New Year for supply chain and SME.”

→ READ MORE: £20M SCHEME TO REVOLUTIONISE NORTH WEST MANUFACTURING

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Isap is also a board member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, leading on schools and future skills, and chair of the Greater Manchester Careers and Employability Board.

He said UCLAN, which has campuses in Preston and Burnley, is taking a lead on tackling the skills gap head-on by finding ways to keep talent in the region.

“We have to create a marketplace for that talent to flourish,” he said. “I am frustrated to hell as to why we are losing some of our best talent to other regions and cities when we should be keeping them here and empowering the whole of our region to be world leaders.

“That's what the partnership with UCLAN is about – it's not good enough to send these students out with a qualification. Have they found a destination, been able to grow their career and in doing so helped the regional economy?

“That's the billion-dollar question that's on the table right now. We have to capture it.”

Dharma Kovvuri, dean of UCLAN’s Burnley Campus, told the event that “degree apprenticeships are changing the landscape of degree education” and said they can help the UK compete internationally against the likes of Germany.

“There are about 2,000 of these in the UK now,” he said. “By pushing high-level skills, we can bridge the productivity gap which is the Achilles heel of the UK economy.”

Miranda Barker (pictured below), chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, illustrated the different types of industrial businesses which are leading the way for Lancashire.

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“Burnley has £51 million inward investment and full employment. That sums up the really successful manufacturing sector in East Lancashire and Lancashire as a whole,” she said.

“We have some really spectacular businesses which are adopting technology: AMS Neve and British Aerospace in Burnley are making really high-tech products; there are those using tech to make more traditional products, such as Flavour Warehouse in Blackburn, which has gone from zero to £50m turnover in five years; then there are people like Businesswise Solutions in Nelson, who are using tech to create a digital product that is ahead of the market.

“However there are many SMEs which are not buying into this as quickly as we would want.”

Peter Catlow (below), director at Businesswise Solutions and a sponsor of the event, explained its business model for the energy industry.

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“We sit in between a supply industry and the consumer. We don't create or sell the energy – in the simplest of terms, we're a broker,” he said. “We've grown massively – five years ago we had ten people and we've now got 45. Our turnover's 13 times what it was five years ago.”

The company is now looking to blockchain technology to power its business going forward. “During the tender process there's a hell of a lot of back-and-forth with emails and telephone calls – we see an opportunity for a blockchain which can be a secure, encrypted way of dealing with that relationship.

“Traditional energy suppliers still think they're a nationalised industry and don't behave the way a genuine new-breed supplier would behave. We have a cultural problem trying to persuade them to come to the party..”

The event was held at Chorley Town Hall and was also sponsored by Chorley Council, which is set to open its £9 million Strawberry Fields Digital Hub next May which will offer 51,000 sq ft of office space for start-ups and SMEs.

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Chief executive Gary Hall (pictured second from right) spoke of the need for it to offer high-speed connectivity and a support network for those businesses and said 45 firms had expressed an interest in being based there to date.

“Manchester's obviously a growing digital economy, and I think you'll see a ripple effect of businesses moving outward to other spaces. We wanted to get in early with that offer,” he said.

Michael Gibson (below, right, with Dharma Kovvuri), chair of Digital Lancashire, praised the council’s tech ambition with a football analogy.

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“Burnley reached the Premier League with strong leadership from manager Sean Dyche, which you see with the likes of Gary at Chorley Council,” he said. “But then you need that infrastructure – in football that would be the training ground, high-level data science and tech to help the players into better footballers.

“Here, that translates as better broadband: it's criminal that we accept 24 Mbps when we should have been aiming for gigabit speed.

“I'm really impressed that Chorley has decided that is what it's going to have.” 

Also speaking at the event were Mark Crabtree OBE, founder, AMS Neve; Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, director, Lancashire Skills Hub; Michelle Mellor, MD, Cummins Mellor; Andrew Green, CTO, Utiligroup; Stephen Johnson, co-founder and director, ROQ; and Jennie Williams, cyber protect officer, NWROCU.