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Shoestring conference autumn 2019 panel

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Getting started with Shoestring

We would love to hear from any company or organisation who think they might like to get involved in one or more of a range of Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring activities.  

Not only do Shoestring activities help build relationships, and digital skills both internally and externally, but they also develop a company’s knowledge and expertise in digitalisation through experimentation, and in the case of pilots, they help improve business efficiencies along the way. 

All Shoestring activities are low-cost, designed to make is easy for companies to get involved. 

Below is a list of activities you and your company can get involved with: 

  • Use the requirements workshop to bring members and networks together to share challenges and identify digital needs.
  • Run an industry Shoestring pilot to see how quickly your company benefits from improved efficiencies and inspire your workforce first-hand. 
  • Develop and encourage your employees’ digital skills with a hackathon or use the opportunity to engage with work placement students and apprentices.


With technology moving at pace and pressure to embrace digitalisation increasing, Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring recognises that senior managers in manufacturing welcome the opportunity to discuss the challenges their companies face and see how these can be solved easily and affordably with the plethora of off-the-shelf technologies.

The Shoestring workshops bring together groups of managers to discuss the business challenges they encounter today, both externally with peers (in the requirements workshops) and internally with colleagues (in the in-company specification workshops).

Requirements workshops

To date over, 250 companies have helped Shoestring to collate its catalogue of 59 ranked business needs. As more companies and regional and trade organisations recognise the value of Shoestring, demand for requirements workshops for specific sectors and regions has increased. 

These workshops (which can be run both online and face to face) help organisations, networks and companies realise how their group’s specific challenges can be addressed via small scale digital solution areas. In addition, they can profile their sector’s needs against the national needs of the industry.

Specification workshop

Finding the opportunity to reflect on your company’s needs can be difficult. Shoestring offers an easy way to gather together senior managers to discuss their thoughts and views on the company’s business priorities. 

By using an online Shoestring specification workshop, guided by a Shoestring researcher, companies work through the challenges they face which are then matched to Shoestring digital solution areas. 

A series of evaluation exercises enables participants to rank their top three challenges, so that they can prioritise which one will be easiest to implement. In the second part of the workshop, a more detailed analysis provides a full specification for the chosen solution area, which in turn will deliver a Bill of Materials listing all the off-the-shelf technology required as well as a specification for the software output. 

Small-to-medium sized manufacturers who have conducted the in-company specification workshop have found the process invaluable in itself:

“To be given a safe space (for employees) to have these kinds of conversations, share thoughts, ideas and crucially, align themselves and end up facing in the same direction is hugely powerful, the value of which is not to be underestimated.”

Alex Campbell, Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service


Hackathons offer a great opportunity for companies, organisations and education providers to give staff, members or students a creative ‘away day’ during which they explore ways to improve their working environment, whether that involves automating processes or collating information so that it is easier to find. 

Shoestring hackathons are ideal to help uncover and develop people’s digital skills. These alternative ‘away-days’ can stimulate new ideas as well inspire company staff, apprentices and students. 

Shoestring runs face-to-face and online hackathons. Both types illustrate how small groups can use the Shoestring approach to develop innovative ways of employing off-the-shelf technologies to improve manufacturing processes, whether in the office, or on the factory floor.

A Shoestring guide to running hackathons enables companies and other organisations to run hackathons for their company employees, members or students – either independently or with some support from the Shoestring research team. 

The last hackathon in October 2020 was run by the universities of Cambridge and Sheffield and attracted over 100 participants.

For more details on hackathons email