Tag Archives: ERDF

The sound of the Westminster Abbey organ during the Coronation of Kings Charles III this weekend will bring music to the ears of staff at an historic North East manufacturer.

SAM helps finetune Coronation organ manufacturer

The sound of the Westminster Abbey organ during the Coronation of Kings Charles III this weekend will bring music to the ears of staff at an historic North East manufacturer.

Family-owned Durham organ maker and restoration specialist, Harrison and Harrison, built and installed the formidable Westminster Abbey organ in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI.

Since then, the organ has been a permanent fixture for some of the most important dates in the royal calendar, from royal funerals to weddings, Christmas and Easter services and christenings.

Positioned on the north and south sides of the abbey’s nave screen, the organ is an 84-stop, four manual instrument with two plain oak organ cases designed by the architect J. L. Pearson and decorated in gold and coloured by W. Butchart.

Jeremy Maritz, administrator at Harrison and Harrison Ltd, said: “Our staff take great pride in their work, and especially continuing to maintain the work undertaken by previous generations of the firm to provide musical instruments that accompany and enrich important national events like the coronation.”

Established in 1861, Harrison and Harrison today employs over 40 people at its Meadowfield workshop – as well as nine tuners based around the UK from London to Aberdeen – and has forged a global reputation for its dedication to its craft, building and servicing organs for customers across the globe, from Australia to the USA, South Africa, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Nigeria and Kenya.

Underpinning this success has been the company’s commitment to continually invest in its staff by training the workers of tomorrow in the niche skills required to preserve this historic craftsmanship, as well as the company’s dedication to constantly innovate and push industry boundaries.

Most recently, this has seen the company attend a series of workshops held by experts from the University of Sunderland’s £10.9million Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project to explore how it could improve processes and how current manufacturing techniques could blend with traditional and craft skills to improve its output.

Jeremy added: “We came across the SAM project almost by accident, but by taking part in the workshops alongside other niche manufacturers in the region, the extremely helpful expert staff on the programme were able to direct us towards a new way of visualising how technology could improve our processes, and lead us towards a new way of looking at our own work.”

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Harrison and Harrison and to have helped them understand how current manufacturing techniques can be incorporated into such a long-established organisation.

“It’s a great example of how even the most traditional, niche of industries can benefit by embracing our support and how embracing modern day manufacturing techniques can help safeguard businesses for generations to come.”

For more information on Harrison and Harrison, visit: https://www.harrisonorgans.com/

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: https://cottambrush.com/

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.
from left to right Kevin Jones, Lean Workshop Group and Roger O'Brien, SAM

Lean Workshop Group event programme to drive operational excellence

North East engineering and manufacturing companies will be given support in driving operational excellence through Lean Tools & Techniques and Industry 4.0, with a series of events next month.

The Lean Workshop Group in collaboration with the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project are running two events at the Industry Centre in Sunderland on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 April 2023.

The Lean Workshop Group is a consortium of eight of the most innovative suppliers to the manufacturing sector: Bosch Rexroth, Spitfire, SICK UK, Orgatex, Bosch Power Tools, Visual Management Technology, WERMA Signaltechnik and K Hartwall.Harnessing a wealth of expertise in their specialist fields, the partners will provide companies with insightful tips and practical takeaways that they can implement in their business to bolster operational resilience, enhance inter-department connectivity, improve efficiencies and strengthen its competitive position.

There will be an opportunity to participate in practical and interactive session, using advanced equipment from the partner companies to put into practice Lean Management and Industry 4.0 techniques. Key topics will be covered including Visual Management, 5S (Workplace Organisation), Standard Operation Development, Work Content and Workplace Design, Logistics Operations, KANBAN Systems, ANDON, Intelligent Sensor Technology, Fundamental Skills Training, Cordless Power Tools, Autonomous Mobile Robots and Industry 4.0 Applications.

The events will be hosted by SAM, a £10.9m project to support the implementation of product and process development and the introduction of technology within the SME manufacturing base in the North East Local Enterprise (NE LEP) area.

Kevin Jones, partner at the Lean Workshop Group, said: “These workshops will be an excellent opportunity to review your processes, and listen to experts as they help move your company into the digital manufacturing age.

“Integrating lean management and Industry 4.0 into business processes to address pain points provides manufacturers with a host of benefits such as real time data to accelerate management, data driven quality control and training in virtual reality to improve working conditions.”

Roger O’Brien, Project and Technical Lead at SAM, added “We are pleased to be working with the Lean Workshop Group and promote areas of best practices to manufacturers in the region. The manufacturing sector is key to the North East and embracing the latest technologies that will be demonstrated in this event, and via our SAM facilities, will support companies to be more productive, competitive and meet some of the economic production challenges facing them in these challenging times. We encourage manufacturers to join us for this event for an insightful and thought provoking day.

The events will be held between 10am and 3pm on Tuesday 18 or Wednesday 19 April 2023 at the Industry Centre, Sunderland.  For more information and to book click here

Industry 4.0 and electronics expert Richard Eynon explains how the latest technological advancements are impacting upon the manufacturing industry...

A Manufacturers Guide to… Industry 4.0

Since starting my engineering career +20 years ago, manufacturing has evolved at pace, with new technologies, processes and practices that have been introduced year on year.

This is a relatively new era of manufacturing centred around automation, real-time data, and interconnected technology that has the ability to boost efficiencies, productivity, predictable maintenance and profitability for businesses.

Industry 4.0 represents a significant shift that is occurring in manufacturing, this is not a buzzword, but clear changes that are happening in organisations that are seeing real value in smart digital technologies and the use of virtual machine twins using artificial intelligence (AI).

From robotics and autonomous equipment to 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT) with connected devices, businesses that are adopting these new technologies and are already realising the potential of Industry 4.0.

For example, look at engineering simulators. Now, you can use multi-physics simulators to determine if your product will achieve its design goals without the cost of many prototyping concepts, “almost a design-simulate and build once approach”.

This can also be seen in big manufacturing data analysis, with a combination of AI to enable prediction and answer ‘what ifs’, which is especially important if there has been an early adaption to an extensive digital twin, which can then be used to produce early virtual manufacturing data.

Accelerometers, a sensing device that produces an electrical signal in response to a mechanical vibration, have also advanced, they used to be so difficult to setup, but with the evolution of microelectronics and IO-Linked technology, there are now virtually plug and play.

This type of technology has already been embraced by industries such as aeronautics, space, defence, and automotive manufacturing, but there are still challenges for SMEs looking to drive an implementation plan.

There is a greater need for ease of use for new manufacturing technology, which will in turn reduce costs and enable a quicker return on investment, which is especially important for SMEs.

Since working at the SAM project, I have supported a number of SMEs looking to explore the possibilities and benefits of implementing smart technologies.

For example, we’ve had several successful demonstrations using microcontrollers, designed to be configured by non-software engineers. The User Interface is configured so you simply select what action you want when a button is pressed. I see this as a great leap forward in the market, having internet enabled devices have had a lot of consideration in the ease of use, as a consequence you’re not likely to require additional personnel.

The SAM Project has also supported SMEs in the region to understand what is achievable with new technology through knowledge transfer, and we have used experimental data to correlate Finite Element Analysis for many projects to validate if designs are fit for purpose.

With the introduction of smarter manufacturing technologies being pioneered by the larger OEMs, these technologies are filtering down to smaller businesses as their production data may be required by their suppliers “a product supply web”.

Imagine, a secure global interconnected bi-directional manufacturing network which can see not only their supply chain but other suppliers too. This will require both people and tools to achieve this, so the future is bright for smart advanced digital manufacturing.

Carl Gregg Additive Manufacturing

A manufacturers guide to… Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM) – or 3D printing as it is often referred to – is a method of creating a three-dimensional object, layer-by-layer, using a computer created design.

AM moves very quickly. Over the past few years, we have seen metal 3D printing go from something that is highly specialised and very high cost, to something that is achievable on desktop machines.

Material R&D has played a huge roll in the uptake of additive as materials are easier to work with and have far better properties. The software has also developed with some pace and we are now seeing topology optimisation and bespoke objects that could have only been produced via 3D printing.

My interest in 3D design began with design and modelling for 3D animation. The switch to making functional parts, especially those which are 3D printed, came about as I needed some parts for a research degree that I was working on at the time at the University of Sunderland.

I joined the team at the university’s FabLab when that opened and supported a number of companies who were looking for 3D prototype parts and when the SAM Project began, it offered a fantastic opportunity to work with more advanced technologies.

Although I had worked with 3D printing prior to the SAM Project, it has been during my time here that I have really focussed on design for additive and how to get the most out of all the different technologies that are available.

I have worked on numerous AM projects at SAM, they include those that I have led on that focus on all aspects of additive, as well as supporting the work of my colleagues who frequently require parts and prototypes produced for their projects.

Additive is hugely impactful as it is one of the easiest ways to produce a part, simple or complex. This is allowing us to rapidly prototype and evolve designs.

In the North East, we are still seeing additive being used mainly for prototyping, but I think there is huge potential for it to have an impactful roll within traditional precision engineering firms for work-holding and jig production that could significantly increase productivity.

The two areas that we are seeing the most development in are materials and speed. Machines are now working with a broader range of materials than ever before, sometimes combining multiple materials in the same part. Machines are becoming faster and faster and in shorter runs can be more competitive than injection moulding. They also enable the mass customisation of parts in each build and allow complex assemblies to be printed as one piece.

For those interested in learning more about the uses and benefits of 3D printing, it has never been easier thanks to the support available through the SAM Project. To find out more about the support and how your business could benefit, contact the team today.

CNC Machining in UK advanced manufacturing at the SAM Project, University of Sunderland

A manufacturers guide to… CNC machining

Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is a form of manufacturing which uses software to control machine tools such as lathes, mills and 3D printers.

When I started out in the industry over 30 years ago, it was a relatively new, untested technology which was primarily used by the injection mould tool industry.

At the time, it was still in its early stages, meaning the majority of projects conducted using CNC machining simply involved old, punched paper feed or direct control input.

As the years have progressed, CNC and automated manufacturing have become somewhat commonplace across the industry and almost a requirement of modern-day manufacturing, reducing costs and significantly improving efficiency and quality.

My career – as a specialist in CNC – has echoed this. Since starting out in 1990, I’ve gone on to work with all kinds of workshop equipment, from manual mills to high end 5 axis mill/turns, 3D printers, laser cutters and CAD/CAM software.

This has seen me work on projects utilising CNC to produce everything from injection mould tools to tyre moulds, precision components, motorsport and F1 parts, aerospace components, film and TV props and even kitchen cooker hoods, you name it.

And it’s not just the large companies who are benefiting from embracing CNC. Here at the SAM Project, we’ve invested thousands into state-of-the-art CNC-enabled machines and software to help the region’s SME manufacturers test out the technology and understand its many benefits.

This has seen us work on numerous projects that have involved using my knowledge of manufacturing and CNC machining, with the biggest impacts being reduced timescales, improved accuracy, and repeatability where batch work is involved.

One of the key benefits is the ability for the equipment to complete a task without supervision. This allows the operator to complete other tasks during the manufacturing cycle which – at a time when manufacturers are facing a critical skills shortage – is a huge boon for those that have embraced CNC machining.

CNC machining is also able to produce parts with incredible precision, as the machine is controlled by a computer program that follows a set of pinpoint instructions. This means the finished parts will be more accurate and consistent than those produced using traditional machining methods.

As well as increased output and productivity, CNC also provides greater design flexibility by allowing manufacturers to produce a wide variety of complex parts and designs, as the computer program can be easily modified to produce different variations of parts. This allows manufacturers to be more flexible and responsive to changing customer needs and market requirements as demand ebbs and flows.

Contrary to popular belief, automated technologies such as CNC haven’t de-skilled the industry, either. Whereas much was made of the rise of the robots ‘replacing humans’, it has simply changed the skills required of workers, moving good machinists from hovering over machines to retraining them to program the machines, utilising their knowledge in a whole new way while adding extra skills to businesses.

As for the future of CNC machining, I feel that the relationship between CNC and 3D printing will continue to evolve, with machines capable of performing both techniques simultaneously and becoming more commonplace across the industry.

Over the coming years it is also likely that it will continue to evolve and become even more accessible to SMEs. New developments in technology such as machine learning and automation are likely to further increase the accuracy and efficiency of CNC machining, making it a must-have technology for any manufacturer.

Thankfully, for those interested in learning more about the manufacturing benefits of CNC machining, it has never been easier to trial the technology thanks to the market-leading equipment and support available through the SAM Project. To find out more about the support and how your business could benefit, contact the team today.

  • Martin Officer, Advanced Manufacturing Technician

A manufacturer’s guide to… AR & VR

I’ve worked across different areas of design for 25 years, spanning graphics, web, user interface and experiential design through, more recently to XR:- Extended reality which essentially encompasses VR – Virtual Reality and AR – Augmented Reality.

Running the “Game and App Design” degree at University of Sunderland cemented my interest in the potential of VR, I could only see it growing, improving and becoming central to digital communication. 

Applying these same skills across industrial and manufacturing contexts reinforced my view as to the value it offers. For example, accelerating training, enhancing design review, facilitating remote collaboration. AR and 3D scanning, share the same upward trajectory, adoption is growing and we are seeing increasingly innovative and effective adoption of these. Part of my role is in helping SME’s understand and identify how these technologies can be applied to improve their process.

Advances in the XR sector are rapid, in respect of both software and hardware solutions, alongside a lower cost point, this is broadening sector adoption. VR and AR are mature technologies. At its inception 25+ years ago, VR was an industrial application technology – bespoke computers were needed to create experiences and run it. Advances now mean there is more processing power to drive both VR and AR creation and the devices to run them. AR can be delivered on smartphones and tablets, whilst standalone VR headsets cost as little as £400. Affordability has democratised delivery.

There’s a better understanding of VR/ AR and how they can support core industrial and manufacturing processes. VR is increasingly used for accelerating training, creating digital twins, collaborative design review and production planning at 1:1 scale. AR aids field service support and predictive maintenance, drawing on IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) data for maintenance monitoring, asset tracking, and mapping 3D models to the physical world.

The evolution of computer processing has been key. GPU processing hugely improves rendering and frame rates, vastly enhancing the experience. VR experiences feel more realistic, AR tracking is more stable. Headset cameras map experiences to the physical space of the viewer. Increasing use of hand tracking eliminates the need for controllers, voice recognition leaves operatives free to work as they normally would, ‘gesture free’.  Haptic technology, with its induced ‘forced feedback’, is also improving.

Crossover and inter-connectivity across technologies is also driving things forward; the ability to bring 3D scanning into both VR and AR at scale, to compare CAD against physical parts, or to conduct remote design reviews.  All of these can prove invaluable and cost effective.

Using both data – pulling information into experiences in real-time, and AI for calculating and rendering events in real-time – are ever evolving and being applied to simulation for true digital twinning.

Sectors with the biggest development and investment budgets have been those quickest to embrace, notably Aeronautics and Automotive. They can deploy at scale and have the infrastructure to support and develop ‘services’ through R&D. The ROI – return on investment – is easier to identify and they can factor ongoing cost into their budgets.

It’s harder for SMEs who must prioritise investment in new technology. It’s not simply financial, there are many misconceptions, not least the perceived cost, that make firms pause. Many don’t understand how they’d use VR and AR. It’s part of my role to help companies understand this and identify ROI.

In my role, no two projects are the same. We helped a company visualise a digital prototype design for a standing desk at scale using VR and AR. Harnessed AR on modular building site platforms as a visualisation tool for construction planning.  Captured large area scans of factories and took these into VR where they can be moved and edited. Used AR to break down complex assembly sequences to improve operative understanding.

Globally, investment in XR technology is strong, pushing the technology ever further, there are no signs of this changing.

The big tech companies, Apple, Meta, Windows, Samsung, Google etc. continue to invest heavily.  As a result there’s a number of development/ delivery platforms: ArKit, ArCore, MRTK, OpenXR, ioX, major vendors are fighting for market share. Rather than standardisation, I envisage increasing niche specialisms and AI and/ or data will be pivotal to VR and AR applications within the industrial and manufacturing sectors. 

Digital transformation is a hot topic, AI and data is at the heart of this; as VR and AR prove effective ways of visualising, retrieving and using these, adoption will be more widespread as part of the larger ‘toolkit’ rather than standalone technology.

Robotics expert Neil Taylor provides an insight into the world of manufacturing automation...

A manufacturers guide to… robotics

When I first got involved with robotics back in the early 80s, I naively didn’t even know what a robot was.

Starting out as a welder, the plant superintendent pulled me aside one day to ask if I’d be interested in becoming a robot programmer.

The company had purchased 10 industrial welding robots and my job was to learn all I could and ensure we were able to put them to use.

And put them to use we did. By the time I’d taken early retirement in 2018, we had successfully deployed over 1,400 individual robots across our plant, here in the North East.

The growth of the industry was phenomenal, and the automotive sector wasn’t the only one profiting. Industrial robots had arrived across the manufacturing spectrum and I was seeing this with my own eyes.

I took up a role with a major Japanese robotic supplier before setting up my own consultancy and helping install over 1,000 industrial robots across Europe, the US and Asia.

I was always in my element with a robot teach pendant in my hand and if this experience taught me anything, it was that the robotic revolution was well and truly underway…and it was no longer just for the blue chips and major corporates.

Returning to the North East, I began working with the SAM Project to help the region’s SMEs break down barriers to automation and robotics, just as our team did all those years ago.

In the two years since, the role has seen me work with everyone from sole traders to firms employing hundreds, helping them better understand and implement everything from robotic welding to automated canning lines and palletising robotics.

But it wasn’t until we held a recent jobs fair at The Industry Centre that I really had my eyes opened to the current issues facing the region’s employers and how robotics could help them innovate and grow.

The vast majority of manufacturers are facing huge challenges when sourcing skilled robotic engineers, which I predict will spark yet another robotic revolution.

Not like the previous one in the 80’s and 90’s, but a new generation of automation. It’ll be “The Rise of The Cobots”.

When I first took on the role at SAM, one thing that jumped out at me, not literally, was a Cobot or ‘Collaborative Robot’, sitting in the corner of the room.

Having been involved with industrial robots for the best part of 40 years, my initial thought was “its not a real robot, it’s something that will keep children happy, a toy”. How wrong was I?

It’s collaborative. It’s designed to work with you. It doesn’t stop for a break or to browse social media and it works in a “lights out environment”.

Not only that, it’s also easy to teach and can be deployed just about anywhere to do just about anything. For an industry facing a critical skills shortage, the Cobot could well be the sector’s saviour.

Automation promotes growth and, I believe, the Cobot could well overtake what we witnessed during the original robot revolution, so much so that the industrial robotic manufacturers are now even developing their own collaborative robots.

Cobots can and will fill the gaps in the current labour market. The UK manufacturing base is slowly waking up to the fact that Cobots can take away all of the dull, dangerous and dirty jobs, with increased output per hour, and just like 30 years ago, SMEs are fast realising the benefits.

So, if you’re an SME in the North East and have applications that you think could be automated, any mundane repetitive tasks, or simply a concept you would like to investigate automating, then why not contact the team today?

Our team of industry experts and academics have over 250 years’ industry experience, so whatever your challenge, you can guarantee they’ll have seen it before…

  • Neil Taylor, Automation & Robotics Expert at The SAM Project.
The SAM Project has been helping North East manufacturers to become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance their products, processes and technology for the past five years.

Manufacturing a brighter future for North East industry

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project has been helping North East manufacturers to become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance their products, processes and technology for the past five years.

The programme – which was launched in May 2018 – has proven a huge success and benefit to the region, attracting national attention while forging an impressive reputation, as well as helping bring to market some notable new products and innovations.

To date, it has provided almost £2 million in grant funding to the region’s manufacturers, as well as providing practical and research support to over 300 SMEs, from sole traders all the way through to businesses employing hundreds of staff.

And with the programme set to run until June 2023, discussions are now underway as to how this significant support can remain accessible to the region following the end of European Regional Development (ERDF) funds.

The pioneering £10.9 million initiative is part-funded by ERDF, which invested £5.8 million, and the University of Sunderland and industry.

The project offers a range of assistance to eligible SMEs in the North East LEP area, allowing them to access and tap into the significant academic resources with the University’s Faculty of Technology, a specialist team of industrial experts and five distinct factories with more than £1 million worth of cutting edge equipment.

Through this, SAM is able to offer both practical and research support, ensuring businesses can access relevant knowledge comprising some of the region’s and industry’s best informed and experience practitioners, as well as access to the latest advanced manufacturing technology.

The SAM Project Technical Research and Development team has been drawn from industry with a diverse mix of backgrounds and skills to provide a unique and compelling offer of support to SMES in the region.

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “The SAM Project is, and has been a huge success, and we are delighted to be continuing to provide support to the region’s manufacturing sector, which is key to the regional economy, jobs, growth and position.

“Over the years, we’ve provided funding and support to hundreds of businesses and have witnessed firsthand the impact this has had, from safeguarding and creating jobs to transforming entire production lines. Last year alone we registered an additional 77 manufacturers onto the programme, as well as working with existing businesses, meaning 169 companies have now received support in the last 12 months alone.

“Since the pandemic and with the impact of Brexit, the nation’s manufacturing sector has faced more than its fair share of challenged. However, it has also provided opportunities such as re-shoring and bringing back in-house previously sub-contracted works, as well as business diversification.

“Now, more than ever, manufacturers need our support and the funding and support offered by SAM is key to ensuring many of the region’s SMEs are able to adapt and grow as we look to re-emerge from this crisis and keep Britain’s economy moving, and help prevent the UK from falling into a potential recession.”

The SAM Project has provided matched-funded grants of up to £50,000 to scores of SMEs, be it for capital, product validation, equipment and other financial inhibitors to drive the strategic development of both product and process.

The total grant pot was £2 million, which has supported approaching £6 million worth of private sector investment in new facilities and state of the art equipment, in nearly 80 businesses within the North East spread across all areas of the region and from a diverse mix of manufacturing sectors, from traditional engineering to those delivering cutting edge new products and processes.

An independent report commissioned to explore the impact of the SAM Project at the midpoint of the project also revealed that the programme helped create 270 jobs, over half of these directly as a result of SAM interventions and added over £47 million in gross value to the regional economy.

Two years on from that report and the success has magnified as the impact has continued to grow, with the project about to embark on a full impact assessment and evaluation for its full duration.

“Our fully-funded technical advice and support is what really makes the SAM Project stand out from your traditional business support schemes,” Roger added. “While there are many other grant funds out there to help businesses grow, there are very few – if any – and certainly none in the region, which offer the intensive, personalised, in-depth technical support that we do.

“We have delivered everything from concept designs, proof of concept studies, implementation support, factory layout, technology adoption and best practice, across the spectrum of advanced manufacturing. I am immensely proud of the support and benefit the project and team have made to the region, and hope this can continue to make a difference beyond June 2023.”

Roger concluded: “If you’re an SME manufacturer, then the engineers, researchers, grants and access to equipment are here to help you adapt to the inevitable process changes facing and to help take your business to the next level.

“Programmes like this are pivotal to ensuring the North East continues to lead the way in product, process and technology innovation – and we can’t stress enough how important it is that manufacturers get on board before this phase of support ends.

“There is only a set amount of time and technical support available, as well as very limited grant funds remaining, therefore – following the huge success – registration as soon as possible is highly recommended.”