Monthly Archives: April 2022

Bignall Group Shildon SAM Project

Big changes at Bignall Group, thanks to SAM expertise

A firm of County Durham engineers has stripped hours from its manufacturing times and is planning to venture into new markets, thanks to an elite team of experts. 

Bignall Group is saving hundreds of manhours, investing in new machinery and already planning the second phase of its project working with a team of specialists from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project. 

SAM – which offers a range of support to SME manufacturing businesses in the North East LEP area – supported the Shildon-based operation following a full survey of Bignall Group’s production and workflow management systems, helping the company pinpoint bottlenecks in the process and then develop a plan for addressing the issues. 

Bignall Group general manager, Mark Coatsworth, said the expertise of the SAM Project team had been vital in helping identify areas where improvements could be made. 

“We were already examining our workflow system and identifying areas where we could eliminate bottlenecks and remove waste from the manufacturing process,” said Mark. “Bringing in the SAM team really helped speed that process up and we benefited from the fresh sets of eyes looking at how we operated. 

“Like all businesses, we are always looking at ways to be more efficient, save on costs and generally just improve the way we do things. SAM really boosted that process, in one instance tackling a challenge in our sawing process that previously took a minute to remedy, but now takes about four seconds. 

“We worked out the machines that were operating over-capacity and we addressed it, quickly speccing up two new pieces of kit that not only alleviated the capacity pressures, but expanded our ability to do more. 

“Projects like SAM are essential to help firms, like ours, take that leap forward and begin operating on another level.” 

Bignall Group is made up of three complimentary businesses, Shildon Manufacturing Company provides CNC machining; Cobtec Cubicle Hardware supplies cubicle ironmongery into construction projects all across Europe; and Masterlube Systems designs, builds and distributes grease and oil lubrication systems worldwide from its facility in Shildon, County Durham. 

SAM support not only helped pinpoint bottlenecks in the company’s systems, but also invest in a new 4-axis CNC machine and CNC lathe. 

For over 40 years Bignall Group has been designing and developing light engineered products, with a manufacturing facility and multiple product groups. Selling in 20 countries across multiple industries, the company puts design and innovation at the core of everything it does. It currently employs 32 people, who work across all three businesses. 

“Working with the SAM team last summer was an excellent experience and one that I’m very much looking forward to again, with the beginning of phase II of the project,” added Mark. “To be able to tap into that industry expertise has been invaluable for us. 

“I’d absolutely recommend SAM to any SME looking to make efficiencies or improvements.” 

Shildon Manufacturing Company remained open throughout the pandemic, with its clients providing items used in the NHS and the company even ventured into the world of PPE production at one point, designing, manufacturing and donating equipment to frontline workers.

Neil Taylor, automation and robotics specialist for the SAM Project, said: “Bignall Group is a fantastic cluster of businesses, each of which is really blazing a trail in its respective sector. It is a fantastic example of a company that has harnessed our region’s traditional industrial strengths and married them with leading-edge innovation. 

“I look forward to continuing the great experience of working with the team at Bignall Group.” 

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 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. 

SAM offers four key support functions to businesses 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 qualifying businesses. 

SOLIDWORKS with SAM

SAM brings SOLIDWORKS to the North East

Solid Solutions are partnering with SAM Project to deliver a discovery session on funding and implementing world leading 3D CAD for your business.

Providers of SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, Solid Solutions, have been delivering and supporting software and training to over 17,000 businesses for 20 years. Now, you can start your journey by attending this first look technical seminar to discover where SOLIDWORKS will take your product or business.

And to help facilitate your next step, SAM Project can provide eligible SMEs with access to grant funding*, expertise and facilities. This partnership between ERDF and University of Sunderland, is specifically for the introduction of technology and implementation of product and process development.

What’s more, you will get a free guided tour of the facilities available at the SAM Project, located at the Industry Centre, Sunderland.

Register for free here.

EVENT SCHEDULE

• 09:00 – 09:30 – Arrival, coffee and introductions

• 09:30 – 10:30 – SOLIDWORKS 2022 First Look

• 10:30 – 10:45 – Break

• 10:45 – 11:15 – SOLIDWORKS Portfolio and Services Overview

• 11:15 – 11:45 – SAM Project Introduction

• 11:45 – 12:15 – SAM Project facilities tour

• 12:30 – Close

*grants subject to availability

**registration details will be shared with the SAM Project and Solid Solutions Group Ltd.

Carl Gregg Additive Manufacturing

Meet the Experts: Carl Gregg, Product and Process Design Specialist

Carl Gregg, product and process design specialist, has helped open the eyes of hundreds of SME manufacturers to the potential of additive manufacturing.

In its earliest form, Additive Manufacturing (AM) – or 3D printing as it is often referred to – has been with us since the early 80s and it should be no surprise that the technology has evolved significantly since then.

We are now at a stage where functional parts can be produced that can potentially outperform those which are conventionally manufactured. Prototyping remains a major use for additive manufacturing, however the days that 3D printing’s sole use was to produce non-functional prototype parts is over and increasingly, there is a trend emerging within the industry where additive manufacturing is being used for far more impactful means.

Our Prototype and Innovation Factory is home to a range of 3D printers that range from very basic (but still very useful) to advanced industrial machines. We even have a large format 3D printer that has a print area of 1mx1mx0.7m that can rapidly produce large parts that would usually need to be split apart to print on numerous printers.

In terms of advanced materials, we also boast two printers from market-leading 3D Printer manufacturer MarkForged (Metal X and Mark Two). The Metal X is able to print metal parts in a range of materials such as stainless steel, tools steels, Inconel and copper. This same printer was recently utilised for a project to produce an alternative to a cast part that was needed for testing. The lead time to produce the initial casting was six weeks compared to the production time on the Metal X which was just a few days.

We have had similar successes with the Mark Two system, which allows us to produce composite reinforced parts. The printer is fantastic for producing components that require highly functional parts such as machining fixtures or end of arm tools. The printer achieves this in two ways. Firstly, the material that is used to produce the parts is a blend of nylon and chopped carbon fibre, however the feature that sets this printer apart is its ability to inlay continuous fibre reinforcement such as carbon fibre or Kevlar. This fibre reinforcement allows us to produce plastic parts that have a similar functional strength to 6061 aluminium.

For higher volumes of production, we have an HP Multi Jet machine that can produce accurate, highly detailed parts in batches in an overnight run. Increasingly, companies are seeing this as a viable alternative to injection moulding for shorter runs of under 10k. The printed parts from the HP machine are air and watertight and some interesting case uses have been found to exploit this, such as, incorporating vacuum lines into end of arm tooling to produce a part that cuts out numerous assembly steps.

A common trait that we do see is that the 3D printing can increase the band width of conventional machines. For example, the printers need very little oversight when compared to CNC machining and they’re very easy and quick set up. Typically, a machine could be set up with a “digital warehouse” of jigs, fixtures, end of arm tooling, etc. and they can be called off with only a button press. This can reduce lead time and cost for any production change over and to ensure your machines keep running.

3D-Digital-Twinning

Meet our Simulation and 3D Digital Twinning expert

Rita Potts is the Business Process Improvement and Simulation Specialist at the SAM Project, specialising in 3D digital twinning and simulation.

Simulation has historically been primarily used by larger organisations and for major installation programs in the planning and de-risking of major change.

However, here at SAM, we’re helping break down these barriers to entry for SMEs by allowing them to test and understand the benefits of the latest 3D simulation software by applying the knowledge and techniques often used by major corporates to their operations.

We have numerous examples of companies benefiting from this, such as through our plant layout projects. Similar to the way large organisations use the software, we can help SMEs plan and re-arrange the layout and organisation of their factory on a digital twin model that helps them better plan for the future.

For one of our customers, the digital factory included everything the real factory did. It was a digital replica of the staff, shifts, process flow and capacity constraints, modelling exactly what happens. Then, with the team, we made changes to create a layout that improved output by around 30% in the same square footage. Using the software, we were able to test all ideas in the digital safe space before actually physically moving any machinery, so planning the change was extremely time and cost effective and resulted in increased productivity as all overheads stayed the same and output increased dramatically.

We have also used digital twinning to look at plants that do not exist yet. We have helped a number of customers with what we call ‘concept plants’. These customers have been either growing rapidly and needed to understand their future space requirements  or looking to potentially secure investment. We have successfully helped customers, who have been able to demonstrate to their own staff, boards and to potential investors, what the factory looks like and how it will work, when the business is still in the early stages of planning, with one of our customers securing around £2m of investment and allowing their growth plans to be fulfilled.

It is often difficult for owners and managers to disseminate ideas and plans which are not yet developed fully and the 3D digital twin software helps by turning such ideas and concepts into a visual representation that allows for shared understanding. For one SAM SME, this meant creating a virtual production so that staff could see in advance the changes that would be made to their current operations when moving from a static build environment to a flow line. It also aided the training of staff in how that change – which was a major cultural shift – would look and work, creating improved communication and smoother transition to new ways for working.

This powerful visualisation also works for the business’ customers too! Our help with a production line installation company to demonstrate their line and products to their customer, as part of a tendering process, won them two £1m contracts from a major customer. For another company, we benchmarked their product against other products on the market, clearly demonstrating the difference in environmental impact and benefits, enabling them to take an accurate digital working model to presentations.

So, if you’re a small to medium sized manufacturer, or even a business looking to begin manufacturing, talk to SAM today to find out how our support could benefit your business.