Made Smarter shines a light on digital tech with Panaz and Starlight

Since Made Smarter, the movement to increase the take up of digital technology among manufacturers, launched its adoption programme in the North West in 2018, it has supported more than 2,500 businesses.

By offering expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps, and matched funding to invest in technology, 140 SMEs in the furniture sector have embraced the benefits of digitalisation. Many of those are using technology to solve business challenges and meet increased demand. Here are a few grasping the opportunity:

Over the last 35 years Burnley-based Panaz have evolved into one of Europe’s leading suppliers of high-quality decorative fabrics and wallcoverings for the hospitality, healthcare, workspace and contract sectors. Custom design is a growing part of the business. But Panaz found that their traditional process was long-winded and insufficient resources meant they struggled to keep up with demand.

Rollie Attard, Chief Executive Officer, explained: “While each project is unique, it could take typically two weeks from our first contact with a customer, designer or specifier, to when they receive a sample of their bespoke design, with many touch points along the way.”

After engaging with Made Smarter, Panaz was able to invest in a game-changing end-to-end custom design and digital printing solution. Bespoke software allows clients more freedom and flexibility to choose from an extensive library of Panaz print designs and artwork from around the world, customise the pattern, scale or colour.

This is then produced on a new wide width digital printer which will allow it to print not only 300cm wide fabrics, but also two 150cm fabrics side by side. Meanwhile, a new wide width calendar heat transfer machine will then be used to produce the digitally printed design onto fabric before it is sent to the customer.

The right-first-time, automated process has reduced the touch points between Panaz and the customer, making the business massively more efficient, and increased its speed to market. The investment has doubled production capacity, reduced waste and enabled their highly skilled design resource to focus on more complicated design and range work.

Rollie added: “We see Panaz as being at the forefront of innovation within its industry and, as a consequence, need to keep pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology investment. There is an ever-increasing number of competitive importers from China and Europe entering the UK marketplace and competing for UK business.

“It is essential that we stay ahead of the competition and this necessitates a proactive approach to technology for the retention and growth of turnover and the protection of jobs. Without the Made Smarter funding we would not be able to make this level of end to end investment and would have to compromise on some of the project reducing its overall impact and effectiveness.”

Furniture manufacturer Starlight Bedrooms, based in Bolton, had a good foundation in terms of machinery and a strong reputation in the marketplace, but they lacked digitalisation across its operations.

Through Made Smarter’s digital transformation workshop – a fast and fully-funded diagnostic of the business’s product, services, processes and people – Starlight identified key challenges and opportunities, including: establishing data and systems integration, improving its design and ordering process; and optimising part of its production process.

“Our biggest challenge was our outdated, manual and paper-based processes, and a lack of digital connectivity between any of our business operations,” Rob Langford, CEO, explained.

With the support of Made Smarter, Starlight embarked on a project to create an integrated Customer Management System which connects CAD design and production software, and its sales and marketing operations. Data from site surveys can be used to rapidly generate room layouts and furniture and fittings configurations in a new CAD system. These configurations are linked into a costing, materials and workflow planning and management module. Meanwhile, instructions are sent straight to Starlight’s production plant and real time data is available for planning and progress to ensure clients and fitters are informed of the correct installation date.

By capturing vital data, connecting key systems and giving the whole team full visibility of the complete sales and production pipeline, the business has streamlined processes, removed bottlenecks, reduced errors and waste, and become more efficient, productive and profitable. The new system puts improving customer experience at the heart of its plans, reducing the design and quoting process, from a week to just one day.

Rob added: “Working with Made Smarter has been incredibly valuable. The experience of creating a digital transformation roadmap and the subsequent support and expertise has given us a lot of confidence to invest in the tools and technology we need to take Starlight Bedrooms to the next level.”

Made Smarter is now keen to reach more SMEs across the furniture and home goods supply chain. They have produced a free guide to help demystify digitalisation and drive technology adoption. To download the free guide visit:

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