Plastics manufacturer find productivity boost with Made Smarter


A plastics manufacturer has experienced a 15% productivity boost and subsequent growth after investing in new digital blending technology, with the support of Made Smarter.

Norlin Compounding, based in Bolton, worked with the North West technology adoption programme to identify and invest in new technology which would automate and control a vital blending process, while giving it real-time visibility of the key data.

The outcome of the partnership has been an increase in capacity and productivity, better real-time control of manufacturing processes, and improved its quality assurance.

Meanwhile, existing operators have been upskilled to use digital technologies.

Jonathan Holland, Commercial Director, said: “Over the last 10 years we have been on a journey to incrementally improve the quality of our products, track our throughput and identify potential efficiencies through data capture and analysis.

“Working with Made Smarter has been a great experience. The team were extremely knowledgeable and helped us get to where we needed to be, a lot quicker.

Donna Edwards, Made Smarter’s North West Adoption Programme Director, said: “Norlin is a superb example of a Made Smarter-supported business which has identified the value technology can bring to its operations.

“Upgrading to new technologies can seem like a complex and daunting task and I am delighted Norlin has embraced the fully funded support on offer to work with Made Smarter to bespoke digital manufacturing roadmap. Armed with that vital intelligence it has been able to move forward progressively and sustainably, investing in new technology which has had a significant impact on the business and its workforce.

“Norlin is among hundreds of manufacturers in the region grasping the opportunities offered by Made Smarter which include expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help take that first step to transform a business, a leadership programme, and funded digital technology internships. I would encourage other SME manufacturers to do the same.”

Launched in 1981, Norlin started life supplying compounded polymers to a variety of sectors including household brands, such as Coca-Cola and Fisher Price Toys.

A shift towards manufacturing more technical and specialised polymers for the medical sector 10 years ago, prompted a drive to improve processes to increase its efficiency and quality, and triggered Norlin’s digital transformation.

The team produces over 3,500 metric tonnes per year from their 30,000 sq ft manufacturing facility. But to remain competitive in a global market recognised the need to further improve quality and control over its processes.

After engaging with Made Smarter, Norlin embarked on a digital transformation workshop, a two-hour diagnostic of the business’s product, services, processes and people, to identify practical solutions to overcome challenges and an easy-to-use guide for decision-makers with recommended first steps, a technology roadmap, and information about how to get further support from the programme.

Armed with the insights and solutions, Norlin invested £30,000 in new gravimetric blending technology that allows for digital integration with their ERP system.

Software controls the material conveying and blending processes such as product formulations and material dosing, and live diagnostics shows material usage and diagnostic reports for every cycle or batch produced, which greatly enhance quality assurance and product traceability.

As well as increased output, high precision dosing has increased product homogeneity, which means Norlin achieves much lower deviations of around +/-0.1% against customer specifications.

The investment is the first major step to digitising and capturing shop floor data in a more systematic way, which is all part of Norlin’s drive to continuous improvement.

Jonathan said: “The investment enables us to know what is happening at any given time, capture the data, store it, and leverage it to make further gains.

“It is the automation and access to data that we didn’t have before that has been ‘the’ big change for us. We can improve processes and products with the data to back us up.”