Two Cumbrian businessmen are among the first in the country to take part in a trailblazing leadership programme.

James Swindlehurst, engineering manager of acoustic cleaning systems manufacturer Primasonics, based at North Lakes Business Park, and Robert Webb, innovation programme manager at Forth Engineering, based in Flimby, near Maryport, are among 12 people on the Made Smarter Leadership Programme.

It is run in collaboration with Lancaster University Management School and the Government-backed £20m Made Smarter initiative for North West manufacturers.

The eight-month programme is designed to equip leaders with the vision and the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing.

It involves a mixture of workshops, site visits to ‘smart’ SME manufacturers around the region and classroom-based activities.

The first site visit was to Hosokawa Micron Ltd in Runcorn, a manufacturer and supplier of powder processing systems and equipment, which has transformed its production performance through the application of digital technologies, allowing them to see a smart factory in action.

During the programme, participants will enhance their leadership capacity to enable them to take a strategic view required to adopt hi-tech and digitally-based manufacturing techniques into their own production processes.

They will also gain insights into undertaking an audit to reveal how digital-ready their business currently is, how to measure the true impact and value of any changes they make to the way they work, and how to successfully bring employees and other stakeholders along on their journey of business transformation.

Other parts of the programme, which will be delivered jointly by academic experts from Lancaster University and business leaders already using smart technology, will include special project sprints to test new ideas.

Mr Swindlehurst said: “It has given me insight into how the business can improve through digitalisation.

“There are aspects of our internal systems that would benefit from an upgrade.”

Mr Webb said: “The course has been very helpful in looking at the strategic approach to digitalisation.

“Visits to businesses like Hosokawa are so useful to see how a large organisation with an international client list has implemented such transformational changes.

“I’ve also really enjoyed the interaction with the cohort. Sharing knowledge has been an interesting approach. Some of us are even exploring potential commercial ties.

“I’m taking away a lot from each session. It’s about bringing all tools together and using them.”

Donna Edwards, director of the North West Made Smarter pilot, said: “The programme is a unique opportunity for manufacturers who want to accelerate the adoption of advanced digital technologies within their business.

“Crucially, it allows leaders to take time out of their business to reflect on the bigger picture and share ideas and experiences alongside their peers in manufacturing.

“This will help them return to their own business and develop a digital strategy – which has been identified as something many businesses lack, yet it is essential to create growth and efficiencies.”

Professor Angus Laing, dean of Lancaster University Management School, said: “Lancaster has an outstanding track record in devising and delivering world-class business leadership training.

“Many of the successful methods we have developed have been embedded into this new programme and tailored specifically to address the aspirations of the Made Smarter initiative.

“It has been designed to empower participants to transform their individual businesses through the use of highly advanced manufacturing methods.”