What is Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring?

Capturing digital information offers manufacturers the opportunity to create a detailed picture of how their production and processes are working. It helps them to improve their decision making, increase their efficiencies, and puts them in a better position to grow. Additionally, digital processes encourage and develop digital skills, enable greater productivity and provide the opportunity for staff to move into higher value jobs. 

Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring is a collaborative project that brings together a range of people working in the manufacturing industry with university researchers to adapt low-cost accessible technologies for companies to use. Conceived in 2016 by Duncan McFarlane, Professor of Industrial Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge Engineering Department, the project launched in 2018 and in the following three years demonstrated its potential for industrial impact with the help of industry partners.

Established in response to the UK Government’s 2017 Digital Strategy, initially funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project seeks to open up the benefits of digitalisation to small- and medium-sized companies who might be overwhelmed by the complexities and cost of commercial digital offerings.  

The thought of creating a digital roadmap and embarking on full scale digital transformation can be scary, so Shoestring helps companies get started on the process of exploring digital options. It does this by taking a low-risk approach through adding digital solutions in an incremental manner whilst also providing the support needed to make sure the solution is implemented correctly and can deliver results.  

In this way, Shoestring is bringing digital solutions into many small-scale manufacturing environments for the first time, helping them put a ‘toe in the water’ in the digital space, and so giving them a proof of concept and confidence to digitalise further.   

Partners include manufacturers such as Warren Services, Kemdent and Buchanan Orthotics; organisations including MakeUK, High Value Manufacturing and Digital Catapults, as well as education-focussed initiatives including ESP-Scotland and SERC (South Eastern Regional College) in Northern Ireland; and, technology providers such as Raspberry Pi, Siemens and Microsoft.  

How can we help?

Digital Manufacturing on Shoestring aims to help small-to-medium sized manufacturers by: 

Project funding

The research project (2018-2022) was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with further support from the Foundation of German Business and Impact Accelerator fund, and from Research England’s Pitch-In project.  

As the project transitions to a community programme open to all manufacturers (in the UK and globally) it is seeking funding support. The Gatsby Foundation is supporting the set up of the core Shoestring unit and funded a further education scoping study. Scottish Enterprise is funding an initial regional pilot in Scotland, with the intention of supporting a regional rollout country-wide from 2023. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in Western Australia is funding a regional roll out of Shoestring with the food and drink sector.

Contact Holly Sheahan to find out how your region or sector could support a Shoestring pilot.