Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring

Is it possible for SME manufacturers to tap into the benefits of digitalisation without the costs and risks inherent in large-scale integrated solutions?

In a radical new project, research teams at the universities of Cambridge and Nottingham are collaborating with SME manufacturers to identify and develop a range of viable low-cost digital solutions based on readily-available components, for digitalisation in manufacturing operations.  These components might be from non industrial sources and include wifi enabled cameras, voice recognition systems, mobile phone based apps.

‘Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring’ is supported by the EPSRC and aims to understand and demonstrate how low-cost commercially available technologies for mobile computing, sensing and AI can be exploited in SMEs, and to tackle the issues associated with integrating these safely and securely into a small scale manufacturing environment.

Partners such as Raspberry Pi and Siemens and a cluster of manufacturing SMEs are helping us to explore how off-the-shelf technologies could be implemented and adapted to fit the individual challenges that SMEs are trying to overcome.

The project will begin by identifying the specific digital solution needs of companies, and to help them prioritise where they would focus digital implementation. The researchers will work with a large number of SMEs to identify common requirements between companies, with the objective of developing a tool box of low-cost technologies which will form building blocks of proposed digital architectures. These can then be combined and adapted to fit the specific needs of an individual small manufacturing company.

Fitting the entire ‘Shoestring’ approach, the project will actively aim to ensure engagement of IT solutions SMEs in the development processes, including workshops and events involving IT developers and start-ups.

Student participation will also be strongly encouraged, with hackathons for Engineering and Computer Science students, competitions for low-cost digital manufacturing solutions, and potentially sponsorship of relevant student projects.

The Shoestring Approach

  • Helping SMEs implement simple & affordable digital solutions to improve productivity
  • Solutions must be accessible, pragmatic, useful, affordable
  • Based on low-cost components
  • Accounting for regulations, safety, security
  • Engaging students and local IT community
  • Solutions are repeatable, reusable, integrable

Find out more by coming to our workshop at the SMAS conference, on our website, and by following us on Twitter at @dmshoestring.

If you would like to be involved in this project, register your interest by emailing

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