Companies share their supply chain data needs

In collaboration with the Made Smarter Connected Factories project, the first Shoestring Supply Chain Requirements workshop was held last month to explore how supply chain challenges could be addressed with low-cost data sharing solutions.

The event at the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, brought together two different workshops and showcased the low-cost data sharing solutions used in the IfM’s offices, robot and 3D printing labs.

The morning started with  a Shoestring Digital Needs workshop, which is based on the original Shoestring Requirements workshop developed during the EPSRC-funded research project, 2018-2022. This session was followed by a newly devised Supply Chain Requirements workshop,  designed by Dr Sam Brooks and Professor Duncan McFarlane as part of the Made Smarter Connected Factories research project using the Shoestring workshop tool,  and support from IfM Industrial Associate,  Liz Salter. 

At the Digital Needs workshop participants identified their business priorities and constraints, so that they could explore how different low cost solutions could address their business challenges. All participants were interested in supply chain challenges and came from a range of 9 manufacturing companies, a software security company and 6 organisations. 

Digital Needs workshop results

The results from this first session aligned well with Shoestring’s top 10 ranked solution areas, which is compiled using findings from previous Shoestring workshops run over the last four years. Participants chose seven of the solution areas that appear in Shoestring’s top 10, but they also chose two new areas that have not been seen in previous 10 top lists – including supply chain monitoring and employee training management. See Figure 1.

The Supply Chain Requirements workshop followed, during which participants considered the key challenges they face when sharing data with customers and suppliers in their supply chain. 

Supply Chain Requirements workshop results

The majority of manufacturers participating were most interested in sharing data related to quality and logistics / delivery information. However there was also a desire to both share and receive information which would help with future production capabilities, future forecast of sales and product specific information. The image in Figure 2 highlights some of the key types of data that were chosen.

The Connected Factories research team are developing a range of low-cost digital solutions to help companies share data across multiple sites and the supply chain. As part of the project they are creating a multi-site demonstrator in the IfM which aims to replicate the way in which many smaller companies operate and interact. Workshop attendees saw some of these solutions in action in the 3D printing lab and in the robot lab where big screens broadcast the live status of inventory control and scrap monitoring to ’employees’ on the shop floor.

Does your production occur across multiple sites?

The Connected Factories (MSCF) and Elastic Manufacturing (EMS) research team would like to engage with companies operating across two or more sites to understand the challenges of operating in this way. For example:   

  • Challenges with communicating information between sites? Is key information shared effectively between the sites?  
  • Challenges with Sharing effectively between the sites?  
  • Issues with tracking goods as they move between sites.  
  • Delay and mismatches in synchronising operation?  

We are very grateful to our East of England partners for supporting this workshop and promoting it to their members. The supporting partners include NAAME, West Suffolk College, Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, Cambridgeshire Peterborough Combined Authority, Invest in Huntingdonshire and Oxford Innovation.

If you’d like to find out more about the Connected Factory and Elastic Manufacturing projects, please contact Dr Sam Brooks at

Or send us an email at