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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.
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.

For almost 140 years, The Expanded Metal Company has driven product innovation in its sector, producing metal mesh products for construction materials, filters, grilles, walkways and visually striking architectural meshes. The Expanded Metal Company was founded by the patentee of expanded metal, John French Goulding and has been operating on the same site since in 1889. Refusing to rest on its laurels, the company tapped into SAM expertise to help ensure the smooth introduction of a new product line. The company was developing a modular cages range and accessed support from the team of University of Sunderland-based experts to help ensure smooth production processes and iron out some minor design challenges.

Future focus at metal mesh marvels

The opportunity of working with SAM specialists was music to the ears of a firm of Hartlepool metal experts.

For almost 140 years, The Expanded Metal Company has driven product innovation in its sector, producing metal mesh products for construction materials, filters, grilles, walkways and visually striking architectural meshes.

The Expanded Metal Company was founded by the patentee of expanded metal, John French Goulding and has been operating on the same site since in 1889. Refusing to rest on its laurels, the company tapped into SAM expertise to help ensure the smooth introduction of a new product line.

The company was developing a modular cages range and accessed support from the team of University of Sunderland-based experts to help ensure smooth production processes and iron out some minor design challenges.

Managing Director, Phil Astley, said: “The main benefit of the SAM team is that it allows companies like ours to quickly access the exact expertise and guidance required when embarking on a new project.

“I was very impressed with their support and having first met with Roger O’Brien, we met his team at the University of Sunderland and before long we were working closely with them on the redesign of our security cage.”

The company has developed a “flat pack” security cage, a modular system that can be tailored to meet the exacting requirements of clients, which is shipped in a relatively small consignment and assembled on-site.

Kalem Ainsley, Technical Manager and Ryan Pinder, Operations Manager and Head of Continuous Improvement at The Expanded Metal Company worked with SAM’s automation and robotics expert, Neil Taylor, and CAD design expert, Ian Barrett, to hone design specifications and create clear, smooth production processes ahead of the product’s launch at the end of last year.

“By being able to transport the cage packed flat on a pallet we’re being more efficient and reducing our own carbon footprint, as we’re not transporting empty space,” added Phil.

“Alongside the development of our website, which allows customers to configure the cages to meet their own unique needs, this new solution is perfect for a wealth of sectors, as customers can select their own dimensions, colours, whether the cages need wheels…anything they require really.”

Employing 86 people, the Expanded Metal Company has also developed a range of innovative fencing systems and security solutions and serves sectors including construction, filtration, automotive, aerospace, architecture, manufacturing and engineering, agriculture, acoustics and security.

Ian Barrett, CAD and CAM specialist at the SAM Project, said: “The Expanded Metal Company may have been around for almost a century and a half, but it remains laser-focused on setting the pace in the future.

“It was a fantastic experience working with a business that boasts so much knowledge of its sector but remains open and enthusiastic about adopting new technology and processes.”

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.”

Enabling brands to bring the of their garments home to the UK has proven the perfect fit for a fast-growing clothing manufacturer.

‘Made in Britain’ commitment leaves clothing manufacturer fighting fit

Enabling brands to bring the of their garments home to the UK has proven the perfect fit for a fast-growing clothing manufacturer.

Studio 54 Jesmond has unveiled plans to double its output and create three new jobs, following a period of significant growth.

Founded by fashion entrepreneur Amy Fettis, the Jesmond-based firm samples and manufactures athleisure clothing and accessories for brands across the UK and international clients.

Fusing activewear and loungewear, the athleisure market grew 84% during the first year of the pandemic, however mass supply chain disruption brought about by travel restrictions led to a dearth of produce for brands across the UK.

This led the forward-thinking entrepreneur, who had previously run her own athleisure clothing brand, to launch her own dedicated manufacturing business in 2020, bringing the production of goods onshore to the UK.

“Traditionally, the vast majority of athleisure products have been produced overseas and the pandemic really highlighted the dangers of this,” she said.

“As supply chains the world-over had their fragilities exposed by travel restrictions, companies who had safeguarded their supply by embracing sustainability and locally sourcing their products saw their efforts really bear fruit.

“It also led to more businesses embracing the idea of onshoring, which is where we have really benefited. Since restrictions were lifted, we’ve continued to see our business grow significantly and the rising demand for our products is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Based in a converted townhouse in the centre of Jesmond, Studio 54 offers bespoke sampling, development and small batch clothing production, which has made it a supplier of choice for independent and start-up fashion houses across the UK.

And having recently been backed by a venture capital fund and the £10.9 million Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at the University of Sunderland, the company has unveiled ambitious plans for the future.

“Entering into a joint venture with our VC partner, as well as the grant funding and support from SAM, has really allowed us to focus on growing the business,” she added.

“Over the coming months, the grant from SAM will see us invest in a suite of new industrial sewing machines and the VC support will see us create three new jobs as we continue to scale the business.

“We also plan to establish an off-site production facility next year too. Some clients are coming back with repeat orders and we don’t see this slowing down, so this will allow us to create bigger runs, which in turn will enable us to work with bigger brands.”

As well as helping Studio 54 Jesmond purchase new machinery, the support from SAM has also helped the company improve the quality of its products and identify other areas of the business that could be improved.

Amy said: “The SAM Project has helped us identify areas of our business that could be improved from the outset and improve our detailing. They have also introduced us to people in the industry and have kept us in mind when opportunities have arisen that could benefit us.

“They’re one of the only organisations that I know that are manufacturing focused and I think there’s a huge gap in the UK for organisations like this. So much offshoring has happened in the last 20 years and to have that dedicated support for manufacturers like us – who want to really champion UK manufacturing – is so valuable.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £10.9m collaboration between the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the University of Sunderland and the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, supporting SME manufacturers in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP) area to improve their products or processes and introduce new technology.

Roger O’Brien, Project & Technical Lead at the SAM Project, “It’s been great working with Amy and the team at Studio 54 Jesmond to improve their means of production and make the business more sustainable.

“With a recession on the horizon and a seemingly ever-worsening climate crisis, it’s never been so important for businesses to ‘buy British’ and Studio 54 Jesmond is a fantastic example of how onshoring can help create jobs and bolster the economy.

“It’s been a pleasure working with them and we look forward to continue supporting them as they plan for the future.”

Manufacturers urged to apply for funding before it’s too late

Manufacturers urged to apply for funding before it’s too late

The SAM Project is urging the region’s manufacturers to apply for grant funding before it’s too late.

Hundreds of businesses have received grants of up to £50,000 from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at the University of Sunderland since its launch in 2018.

Totalling over £1million, the grants have helped businesses – ranging from sole traders to those with over 100 employees – embrace the latest technology and improve processes, leading to the creation of hundreds of jobs and boosting the regional economy by tens of millions of pounds.

And with the second round of the grant fund closing this month, the programme is urging businesses to apply for funding before the February 1 deadline.

Roger O’Brien, Project & Technical Lead at the SAM Project, said: “Over the past four years we’ve seen hundreds of manufacturers benefit from our grant funding and technical support, from companies investing in robotics to cutting-edge machinery and VR equipment.

“The embracing of such new technologies hasn’t just led to increased profits, either. An impact report following the first phase of the SAM Project revealed that it had helped create over 290 jobs and add in excess of £47.1million in gross value to the region’s economy, so it has had a profound impact.

“However, all good things must come to an end, which is why we are urging the region’s manufacturers who have not yet applied for funding from phase two of the project to apply before it’s too late.”

The matched grant funding can be used to support capital/ product validation, tooling and overcoming other financial inhibitors, unblocking strategic development of both product and processes within a manufacturing business.

One business that has benefited from funding from the SAM Project is soft drink manufacturer Clearly Drinks, based on Southwick Industrial Estate in Sunderland.

After receiving a grant from the SAM Project, the company was able to purchase a new pasteurisation unit and nitrogen dosing system which led to the creation of 10 new jobs and helped the company land its largest contract to date with a national wholesaler.

Chief executive Mick Howard, who joined the company in 2018, said: “The support from SAM was fantastic. The process was super-simple and allowed us to not only tap into funding to help de-risk our investment, but also receive the technical expertise required to ensure we maximise the potential of the new equipment and technology.

“For a business like us, in the current landscape, it can be quite hard tapping into funding and support when you’re looking to scale and the team at the SAM Project really went above and beyond to help us.”

As well as providing grant funding, the SAM Project has also brought together a team of manufacturing experts with over 250 years of industry experience to provide free, expert support to the region’s businesses.

It has also invested millions of pounds into establishing a series of state-of-the-art test factories at the University of Sunderland’s Industry Centre, boasting 3D printers, I4 rigs and VR/AR equipment and software to encourage SME engagement with advanced technology.

Roger added: “Whether you’re overcoming challenges or identifying new opportunities to grow, the likelihood is that our team have been there and done it, and if they haven’t, you can guarantee that they won’t stop until they’ve helped you engineer a solution to it, so I’d recommend any business wanting to tap into their knowledge to get in touch while they can.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is 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 Partnership (NE LEP) area.

The programme is a collaboration between ERDF, which provided £5.77m in funding (£2.6million from 2014-2020 and £3.1million from 2020-2023) and the University of Sunderland, which manages and, alongside industry, has invested £5.15m into the delivery of this project.

For more information on the SAM Project’s grant funding and technical support, contact Dionne Clark at Dionne.Clark@sunderland.ac.uk