Crystal Doors embarking on digital transformation with the support of Made Smarter

Date published: 05 February 2021

Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) manufacturers in Greater Manchester joining the Industry 4.0 revolution [the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology] are driving up the demand for data science and software engineering skills, according to Made Smarter, the movement helping businesses grow through technology adoption.

Local Crystal Doors, a manufacturer of bespoke vinyl wrapped furniture components based at Trans Pennine Trading Estate, is one SME example that has embarked on its digital transformation with the support of Made Smarter, which was secured in December 2020.

Lewis Cookson, a graduate in BSc Computer Science & Digital Forensics from Northumbria University, was paired with Crystal Doors through Made Smarter’s digital internship programme, which has so far connected 31 university students and graduates with SME manufacturers to work on live digital transformation projects.

He has been supporting the implementation of a data and systems integration project at Crystal Doors which will establish a network of sensors connecting their machines through the cloud onto a dashboard. This will enable the business to gain insights into how its machines are performing and identify potential efficiencies.

Meanwhile, undergraduates, master’s and PhD students - as well as graduates from UK universities - are benefitting from paid work experience, valuable hands-on practical work experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry. A number have even secured permanent jobs.

Lewis, 23, said: “Crystal Doors has some very exciting plans for the future, and it is fantastic to be part of that journey, capturing and displaying real time data analysis for the first time, supporting the betterment of the company, and playing a role in reducing carbon emissions.

“It is exciting for me to be able to take my specialism and skills and apply them to a real-life situation and see the results. The progress we have made so far ellipses everything that has been achieved in recent years. We are making great strides.”


Ben Horn, Digital Transformation Programme Manager at Crystal Doors
Ben Horn, Digital Transformation Programme Manager at Crystal Doors


Ben Horn, Digital Transformation Programme Manager at Crystal Doors, said: “Our digitalisation plans are ambitious and will introduce technologies and concepts that are brand new to the workforce. The cultural change must be handled properly. We don’t want anyone left behind, so the training and transition needs to be as easy and intuitive as possible. Upskilling our staff is key to its success. 

“By bringing on Lewis through Made Smarter we have doubled the pace of the transformation. His input has been incredible and an injection of rocket fuel into our project.”

24 out of 44 technology projects supported by the Made Smarter North West pilot have data and systems integration at their heart.

By embracing technologies which connect disparate systems and unify data residing in different sources, companies are spotting trends in production, labour, maintenance, and quality issues. They are also able to minimise safety risks, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production.

But while this technology is solving business challenges and driving growth, it is also highlighting a digital skills gap across the industry and emphasising the need for existing workforces to be upskilled.

Ruth Hailwood, Made Smarter's specialist organisational and workforce development adviser, has worked with many of the 349 Greater Manchester businesses engaged with Made Smarter’s pilot to map the skills they need to introduce new digital tools and technologies.

“The fact that so many SME manufacturers have committed to investing in new technology projects in the two years since the pilot started demonstrates the significant appetite for digital tools and solutions,” she said.

“And the impact of Covid-19 has only accelerated the desire to speed up digital transformation.”

The Made Smarter Review identified skills shortage as a major barrier to technology adoption and that businesses are being hindered by a fragmented skills system and a lack of systematic engagement between education and industry.

Recent research by the Made Smarter North West Pilot revealed 8 out of 10 manufacturers recognised that gaps in their skills and knowledge were potentially impacting on their ability to adopt digital technologies.

Ruth Hailwood added: “The challenge manufacturing SMEs are facing is that the skills and training landscape is mixed. There are some very basic digital skills offerings, and then at the other extreme, the training is very technical and specialised. What’s missing is the in-between for SMEs. SME owners need something that focuses on building understanding of digital technologies and how they can be used as tools to take their business forward, taking away the fear of the unknown.  

“That is what Made Smarter is about, demystifying this technology and removing that fear factor.”

For more information visit

Do you have a story for us?

Let us know by emailing
All contact will be treated in confidence.

To contact the Rochdale Online news desk, email or visit our news submission page.

To get the latest news on your desktop or mobile, follow Rochdale Online on Twitter and Facebook.

While you are here...

...we have a small favour to ask; would you support Rochdale Online and join other residents making a contribution, from just £3 per month?

Rochdale Online offers completely independent local journalism with free access. If you enjoy the independent news and other free services we offer (event listings and free community websites for example), please consider supporting us financially and help Rochdale Online to continue to provide local engaging content for years to come. Thank you.

Support Rochdale Online