Monthly Archives: April 2023

A family-owned manufacturer founded 165 years ago is envisaging a brighter future, after utilising cutting-edge technology to improve its products and processes.

New tech proves a master stroke for historic manufacturer

A family-owned manufacturer founded 165 years ago is envisaging a brighter future, after utilising cutting-edge technology to improve its products and processes.

Established in Sunderland in 1858, Cottam Brush is a product of the North East’s industrial heartlands, having started life supplying hand-made brushes to the region’s shipyards, mines and foundries of yesteryear.

Today, the Hebburn based company is a leader in the manufacture of brushes, selling its products globally and producing products for an array of sectors, from pipeline inspection, to cow brushes, wastewater brushes and high-tech subsea brushes.

Such is the firm’s commitment to constantly innovate, that it has led to Cottam brushing shoulders with some of the world’s biggest brands, with Nissan, Rolls Royce, De la Rue and Travis Perkins among the businesses to purchase its products.

However, never one to relax its efforts, Cottam Brush is now looking to continue innovating and growing the business as it looks to the future, after tapping into support from a team of manufacturing experts.

After engaging with the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at the University of Sunderland, Cottam Brush has designed and developed a new manufacturing technique for brushes used in the oil and gas sector which the firm believes will make it more competitive against its competitors overseas and help it grow as it plans for the future.

Alan Crook, managing director at Cottam Brush, said: “We’ve always had a reputation as being real innovators in our field, which we take great pride in, however the ability to tap into the industry experts at SAM really allowed us to step our research and development up a gear when it came to exploring alternative manufacturing methods.

“As a small business, it’s often hard to compete with the global giants when it comes to spending power, but the ability to work with experts who could not only demonstrate the advantages, but also break down the barriers to accessing the latest CAD and robotic technology, was a huge help.

“Not only has the use of the software enabled us to understand a range of alternative methods to manufacture brushes, but it will also help us to refine and improve our future ranges as we continue to innovate and grow. It could be a real game changer for us as a business.”

Industry 4.0 and electronics specialist, Richard Eynon, CNC expert, Martin Officer and automation and robotics specialist, Neil Taylor, each of the SAM Project, worked with the Cottam Brush team on the project, using the latest technology to work out how the product could be refined and produced in a way that was more cost effective and required less material.

Richard said: “I was excited to be able to lead this project in demonstrating new manufacturing technology which enabled greater efficiency in the manufacture of one of their key steel bristle brushes using automation and cobots and also introducing key benefits of bringing externally sourced machined components in-house which could be expanded to other product lines.

“Better yet, the refined method proved a cheaper to manufacture, as well as being of a much higher quality to the previous iteration, so it’s really making the company more competitive in a market where there is so much competition from across the globe.

“The company is such a fantastic success story for North East manufacturing, and we’re delighted to have been able to support them on their innovation journey.”

For more information on Cottam Brush, visit:

A manufacturers guide to… 3D CAD

Thirty years ago, when I first started using CAD software, it was no more than a means of creating an accurate 2D drawing.

Fast-forward three decades and the thought of designing something on paper is now – for the vast majority of manufacturers – a completely alien concept.

The introduction of 3D CAD software into the manufacturing mix has made businesses the world-over far more creative while vastly improving product quality.

Central to its success has been the rise of the internet and increased connectivity. I mean, can you imagine sending a drawing overseas and having amends fed back via return to sender?

While the manufacturers of yester-year may have had more localised customer bases, today’s manufacturing landscape couldn’t be any more contrasting, especially here in the North East.

As one of the UK’s most successful exporting regions, today’s manufacturers rely heavily on being connected to the rest of the world – be it dealing with suppliers or communicating with customers – and the increasing adoption of 3D CAD has been central to this success.

By reducing – and in some cases, completely removing – the need for complex programming, meetings and time delays caused by logistics and travel, the implementation of CAD has allowed parts to be manufactured and sold worldwide without worldwide travel, making the engineering and manufacturing environment way more collaborative.

Among the first industries to realise the benefits of CAD were the automotive and aerospace sectors. They were the early adopters as they had the money to invest in the technology and, in many cases, were used as guinea pigs to showcase the software and its benefits.

They swiftly learned that using 3D CAD not only reduced design and development time, but that it also highlighted errors at the early phases of a project. Errors during manufacture can be incredibly costly, particularly in high price, highly complex, high-volume products, so the automotive and aerospace companies bore witness to the immense benefits almost immediately.

Small workshops and manufacturers on the other hand were among the slowest to adopt the technology, as the majority of their machines were manual and they still relied on 2D drawings, however the vast majority are now seeing the bigger picture.

In the two years I’ve been with the SAM Project, I’ve worked on dozens of projects from the development of smart rings to large air sterilisers, outdoor garden buildings and material handling solutions, and have seen first-hand just how accessible and vital this technology has become to small and medium sized businesses.

All the projects have had one thing in common… they have given the clients an early insight into their product. The problems which they may encounter and how to overcome them, the manufacturability and complexity of an assembly and how to simplify or use alternative methods. It has helped both de-risk projects and give manufacturers the confidence and drive to further develop their ideas. 

Fifteen years ago, drawing office managers would have laughed at the prospect of a paperless drawing office, just as small manufacturers five years later would have laughed at the thought of their businesses being able to afford such technology.

However, as technology has evolved and the cost of implementing 3D CAD has fallen, it’s now almost impossible to think of any manufacturing business not embracing and reaping the benefits of it.

Looking to the future, 3D CAD will be essential for future product development and manufacture as it is the foundation of an idea. As we move into a ‘virtual world’, a virtual prototype will be required to see virtual reality become reality. Fit, form and function will always have a bearing on a design and although some of this may become automated, creativity, corporate identity and uniqueness will always be important to a company and 3D CAD will only help enhance such traits.

So, if you’re a North East business thinking of learning more about 3D CAD and its many benefits, why not speak to our team of manufacturing experts? We’d be more than happy to talk you through the many options available to your business and how they could drive product and process improvement for your teams.

  • Ian Barrett, CAD and Engineering Specialist at The SAM Project.
Rita Potts, Business Process Improvement and Simulation Specialist, provides an insight into the world of digital twinning within manufacturing.

A manufacturers guide to… digital twinning

Technology advances has allowed the digitisation of simulation concepts into what we now know as the 3D digital twin capability, but the use of simulation tools within manufacturing is not new, with the first known implementations in the 60’s and 70’s.

At that time, the early simulations were highly bespoke, expensive, slow and often manual, with the early adopters being large organisations in automotive, but the gamification of the technology now allows for highly visual, fast and cost effective fully functional digital twins.

In recent years, the concept of digital twins has been applied to a wide range of manufacturing sectors, and the capabilities of 3D digital twins has continued to evolve, making adoption and impacts more accessible.

For those unfamiliar with digital twinning, it is essentially the production of digital representations of machines or work benches, layout, people, timings, processes, routings and which provides manufacturers with a plant and production replica, on the computer.

The twin can then be used for visualisation, analysis, and simulation, to help plant planning and test ideas and aid decision making, to improve efficiency and reduce costs, to minimise risk and plan for growth, which we have experienced directly delivering practical support to our SAM customers.

We first began working with 3D digital twins at SAM in late 2018, as part of our implementation of industry 4.0 technologies and as a potential additional asset in our plans to support the region’s SME manufacturers by making such technologies more accessible.

The potential of the technology was immediately evident from building the very first model which looked at line balance and operator efficiency and then supporting clients with all kinds of projects from building potential production lines to ‘concept plants’ that could help our customers look to secure potential future growth opportunities.

We also began looking at how it could help improve layouts and optimising existing space, for example helping manufacturers visualise and optimise how they could fit new machinery into their workspaces or allow for volume increases and for assessing and optimising potential process improvements and benchmark different ideas.

Once we’d had our eyes opened to the potential of the technology, we began inviting businesses to understand more around the technology hosting a series of workshops on the subject and introducing it to our traditional manufacturing continuous improvement projects.

Our continuous improvement projects were set up to help break down the barriers that SMEs were facing when embracing new technologies and we have been inundated with requests for digital twinning support from manufacturing companies ever since we added it to our offering and our customers can see the results.,

In fact, in just a few years, we’ve helped SMEs secure investment, grow within their existing space and enjoy the benefits of overhead resulting from their expansion, increase their product range and turnover and secure new orders, just by embracing 3D digital twinning. The impact has been incredible.

The adoption of the technology has been transformative and while we still use traditional process improvement techniques, the development of 3d digital twin adds an impressive capability, allowing ideas and solutions to be tested before implementation and demonstrating ideas for shared understanding and critically minimising business risks and potential costs.

Historically, it may have been a tool used by the larger organisations, but as the software becomes more accessible, visual, and intuitive, it is swiftly becoming a key tool for manufacturers of all shape and size by helping them improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance quality and innovation.

So, if you’re a manufacturing SME and are interested in finding out more about 3D digital twin software and how it could help your business reduce costs and increase turnover, contact the SAM team today and see the benefits of 3D digital twins for yourself?

It could provide you with a whole new outlook on your business as you plan for the future…

  • Rita Potts, Business Process Improvement and Simulation Specialist