Mackinnon & Saunders, the Altrincham-based puppet-maker behind the Oscar-winning animated film Pinocchio, has praised the transformative impact of Made Smarter’s technology adoption programme.
Made Smarter is a national movement backed by world-renowned businesses and the UK government. It’s designed to connect UK manufacturing industries to the digital tools, leadership and skills they need to drive sustainable growth.
Pinocchio is the first puppet that has been made using 3D-printed stainless steel. The innovation was made possible through the Made Smarter North West adoption programme, a government-funded initiative to help SME manufacturers digitalise, decarbonise and drive growth through new technologies and skills.
Funding support and impartial expert advice enabled Mackinnon & Saunders to test and trial brand new 3D-printing techniques with Laser Prototype Europe (LPE), a rapid-prototyping service based in Belfast.
‘We are thrilled to have played a part in creating such a successful film, which has been watched and loved by so many,’ said Peter Saunders, co-founder of Mackinnon & Saunders. ‘It means the world to our team to have worked on an Oscar-winning film. It is also testament to what can be achieved through programmes like Made Smarter, who gave us such valuable technical support and facilitated our exploration of this game-changing technology. That support has kept us ahead of the game and given us great confidence to focus on the next big potential-Oscar-winning productions.’
Founded by Saunders and Ian Mackinnon 30 years ago, Mackinnon & Saunders has brought to life some of children’s most beloved TV characters, including Bob the Builder and Postman Pat, and contributed to films including Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie, the Corpse Bride and Fantastic Mr Fox.
The team of sculptors, costume makers, metal workers and painters has found success blending traditional skills with new technology and processes. ‘We have developed a lot of knowledge about 3D printing over the years. All that sum of knowledge gathered up was put into Pinocchio, said Saunders. ‘Made Smarter arrived at the perfect time. We were able to access funding and advice to trial the latest development in the metal-printing machines.
‘Our collaborators LPE really understood what we were striving for and pushed their machines to the absolute maximum to achieve fine metal printing work to retain the details, while ensuring the parts fit together to create a moving puppet,’ he continued. ‘The animators who used Pinocchio were delighted with the outcome, because it was a very delicate puppet, but it was indestructible.’
According to Saunders, none of it would have been possible without programmes such as Made Smarter. ‘We’ve built a team of more than 100 very creative, innovative and brilliant people, but we work in a highly competitive industry. We’re a minnow in comparison to some of our rivals,’ he said. ‘Without the support of Made Smarter, we would never have been able to achieve what we have with Pinocchio. Made Smarter has really helped us keep ahead of the game.’
Launched in the North West in 2019, Made Smarter has supported more than 2,500 businesses, offering fully funded support, including expert, impartial technology advice, digital road-mapping workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps to transform their business, and skills development. It has also helped 250 manufacturers invest £18million in technologies that enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are now using 3D printing, automation and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.