Shoestring introduces starter solutions

The Shoestring Digital Manufacturing initiative has taken its first steps into commercialisation with a suite of starter solutions, helping more companies tackle the digital transformation.



"It's like before swimming, you are always afraid to touch the water,

but then you touch it and find it's OK. That's how we all feel now that

we have some confidence that digitalisation is OK, we can do it."

Hazel El Sara, El Negma (Egypt)



Industrial digitalisation comes with a host of benefits, but the costs of adoption can seem prohibitive, especially for small and medium sized companies (SMEs). Knowing that great gains can be made with low-cost solutions, Professor Duncan McFarlane established the Shoestring Digital Manufacturing initiative in 2018 as a research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSCR).


Since its inception, Shoestring Digital Manufacturing has been all about pouring the manufacturing engineering expertise of the IfM into off-the-shelf digital tools, creating affordable and transformative solutions for SMEs. The tools are designed to help companies learn how to automate the monitoring of their manufacturing processes, from temperature control and process monitoring to waste management, and ultimately help them digitalise for profitability and sustainability.


So far, many SMEs in the UK and Western Australia, and soon also in Egypt, have benefited from the solutions developed by the Shoestring team. These collaborations have been enabled by central and local government initiatives, but demand is growing and changing.


"Last year, companies said they did not want to wait for government funding," says Kate Price Thomas, Marketing and Engagement Lead at Shoestring. "That spurred us on to make our package commercial."


So when the four-year research trial came to an end last year, the team seized the opportunity to expand their reach. The initiative has become a central part of IfM Engage with its own dedicated full-time team, and companies can purchase directly a training package which incorporates a starter solution chosen from a range of ready-made starter solutions designed to meet their digitalisation needs. Enthusiasm for the programme sparked the early launch of the membership which gives member companies annual access to three training packages as well as all the starter solution guides and online support forum.


"This is the most transformative programme that I have launched at PIL Membranes. A huge network – your network – is able to help me to accelerate the transition to sustainable membrane technologies. We’re delighted to be a member," says Jerome Faissat of PIL Membranes, a Norfolk-based manufacturer of polymers and membranes.


Asked whether he would recommend Shoestring to other SMEs seeking to digitalise, Tom Pounds, Technical Director at PhotoFab in Cambridge, expresses no doubt:


"Yes, I think that’s a bit of a no-brainer. It’s a very low-cost way to have a look at the technology, and the support is there to make it work."


The Shoestring story is changing — the initiative is moving away from being a research project and finding its feet as a business working with other businesses. And beyond the solutions themselves, Shoestring offers something highly valuable to clients. When companies purchase a starter solution package or membership, they gain access to the support and expertise to make it work for them. Through workshops which top and tail each programme, and weekly catch-up meetings with proactive feedback in between, they collaborate with the Shoestring team to build offerings that are sustainable and meet the changing needs that companies have, now and in the future.



Find out more about Shoestring Digital Manufacturing starter solutions.


Date published

13 December 2023

Share This