A NORTH East manufacturer of industrial cleaning machinery and equipment has revealed how a business support programme helped it through the pandemic and prepare for life post-Coronavirus.
Founded in 1990 by managing director Aidan Mallon, Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments is a market leader in the production of wet and dry blast cleaning cabinets, degreasing machines and phosphating equipment.
Manufacturing both off-the-shelf and bespoke machinery, the company exports 40% of its products overseas to customers in the nuclear, engineering, healthcare, automotive and aerospace industries, meaning it is often required to maintain close and constant dialogue with clients.
Thanks to a capital expenditure grant obtained last year from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project – which offers a range of support to the region’s SME manufacturing businesses – Aidan and the team were able to mitigate the impact of social distancing and travel bans throughout the pandemic, by purchasing state-of-the-art 3D CAD visualisation software.
The installation of ‘Solidworks’ software means Vixen is able to provide 3D demonstrations of its products to clients, allowing them to visualise how products will look and work once complete.
Aidan said: “As a manufacturer you must explore every avenue possible to grow your business, be it investing in new equipment or tapping into expertise and funding – and business support from organisations such as SAM is vital to helping SMEs move forward.
“We’d just extended our factory prior to approaching SAM and wanted to move into Solidworks. The grant helped us secure the funding needed to do that and accelerated our growth, helping us gain a competitive advantage by massively increasing the quality of service we’re able to offer clients.”
Vixen began producing 3D virtualisations just under a year ago and it has already enabled the company to secure a major export order from a German aerospace business, as well as helping keep its order book filled during the pandemic, which brought manufacturing supply chains to a halt across the globe.
“The first project we completed after the investment saw us test the Solidworks software on a live project that we won,” he added. “It was a €500,000 export order from a German aerospace company and I genuinely believe we wouldn’t have won that contract without including it in our offer. It really adds credibility and professionalism to our proposals.
“It also helped us share up-to date designs and updates with clients during the pandemic, meaning we could still fulfil orders despite travel bans. That’s not to say we weren’t impacted by the pandemic – as we were functioning with just 25% of our workforce at one stage – but it certainly helped us to continue operating and servicing clients.
“We’re now have almost everyone back at work and the continuity of interest means our order book remains heavy. Now, looking to the future, we’re confident that we can continue building on this.”
SAM offers four key support functions to businesses that are gearing up to grow, including access to technical expertise, with industrial specialists using their skill and expertise to guide businesses through the process of understanding and implementing technology; R&D, with a team of researchers able to support with the development of new products and processes; factories and facilities, including access to £1m of industry-leading advanced technology and equipment; and its grants scheme, that offers financial assistance to businesses that qualify.
Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “Vixen Surface Technologies is a fine example of how visualisation through 3D technologies such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)can help businesses innovate and grow, even during the most challenging of conditions.
“Millions of manufacturers across the world are reeling from this crisis and wondering how they can improve business continuity strategies in the event of such disasters going forward. Technologies such as Solidworks and other CAD, CAM that can also be pulled into Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will play a huge role in helping businesses minimise downtime in the future. It’s been a pleasure working with Aidan and the team and we’re excited to see what the future holds for them.”
Image shows: Aidan Mallon, managing director of Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments.