WEAF has partnered with supply chain software business, Valuechain, along with the North East Automotive Alliance and Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) to kick-off a new project to Accelerate Cross Sector Ecosystems and Sustainable Supply-chains (ACCESS), funded by Innovate UK.
The ACCESS Project brings together leading regional industry associations from different sectors including WEAF, NEAA and RFM to promote cross-sector collaboration and sustainable supply chains. The project will create a digital business networking platform developed by Valuechain to facilitate intercompany communication and collaboration.
This project aims to promote cross-sector collaboration to minimise risks of supply chain impact from the pandemic by helping companies expand into new sectors; facilitate onshoring by simplifying the process to identify suppliers; and accelerate sustainable transport initiatives by encouraging open exchange of future technology, skills, capacity and innovation requirements.
As Tom Dawes, CEO of Valuechain explained “We have seen with COVID-19, how significantly high value manufacturing sectors, such as Aerospace and Automotive in particular, could be impacted almost overnight, and the challenges this causes for business productivity as well as future skills retention.”
“The ACCESS project will launch a many-to-many digital collaboration platform which will be open across High Value Manufacturing sectors, bringing together companies within Aerospace, Automotive and Rail to create more sustainable and collaborative supply chains. Companies will have easier access to new sectors opening up more opportunities to collaborate with cross-sector partners.”
“We are also excited to be piloting our Fitfactory appstore which will combine digital productivity diagnostics with freemium productivity, compliance, collaboration and business intelligence apps”.
Colin Turner, WEAF CEO, also noted that the significant impact of the pandemic on the aerospace sector, commenting “The sudden reduction in air travel has hit our sector hard. We must now look to use new innovative digital tools to support our SME’s rebound. The ACCESS project will help SMEs develop new B2B opportunities and ensure that they can react to R&D opportunities across multi sectors.”
The project builds on Valuechain’s iQluster platform, which was recently used by the Made Smarter’s North West Pilot to map companies and their capabilities in the region. iQluster will be deployed to:
- Automate B2B matchmaking using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to suggest new customers, suppliers or innovation partners based on interests and company profiles.
- Provide a many-to-many tendering platform to optimise sourcing and supplier selection decisions.
- Illuminate multi-tier supply-chain risk, with mitigation scenario planning and action management dashboards.
- Integrate Fitfactory productivity appstore providing access to free smart manufacturing apps to incentivise and accelerate adoption
Furthermore, it is not only the pandemic which is cause for concern regarding the sustainability of supply chains, with Brexit on the horizon and the increasing focus on electrification. As Paul Butler, CEO of NEAA explains “With Brexit around the corner, there is great opportunity for onshoring as a result of the impact of rules of origin. In addition, the acceleration towards electrification is not just being felt by the automotive sector, we know there is increasing appetite for electrification across the rail and aerospace sectors. As a result, we envisage that more companies will enter the automotive supply chain and for certain automotive companies to expand into other sectors. This diversification will make manufacturing businesses more resilient.
The NEAA has been working with Valuechain for a number of years and we are excited about this project and its role in helping automotive sector companies with the skills and capabilities needed, whilst also supporting our members to access support and opportunities in other sectors”
Additionally, there is a need to ensure sustainability and support the deployment of new technologies in the supply chain, as Elaine Clark explained “The rail supply chain experiences significant peaks and troughs in workload and whilst the industry is committed to creating a smoother pipeline we need to do all we can to ensure suppliers don’t have all their eggs in one basket and can tap into wider markets both in the UK and overseas. We also need to move faster in the development and deployment of new technologies; working with other sectors has the potential to help companies make better, more informed investment decisions and achieve cost effective production volumes faster.
The ACCESS project is funded by Innovate UK, who as part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £191 million to fund single and collaborative research and development projects as part of the Sustainable Innovation Fund over the next two years. The aim of these competitions is to help all sectors of the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19.
The Sustainable Innovation Fund is funding 1,103 projects, 1069 UK businesses and totalling over £130 million in support across the UK.
Innovate UK Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell said: “In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy.”
“The ACCESS Project, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”
Collaboration is at the centre of this project, bringing together organisations from different regions and industries. And the steering group will be actively seeking collaborations with additional industry bodies to provide more companies across the UK with access to greater opportunities.