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How tech can help plug the manufacturing skills gap

How tech can plug the manufacturing skills gap

Much has been made of the skills gap in the UK manufacturing industry in recent years and there are a number of factors contributing to this, including a lack of investment in new technology.

The manufacturing industry is heavily influenced by evolving technologies and new techniques are constantly helping to improve processes and the quality of end-products. There’s also no hiding from the increasing amount of computerisation involved in production processes, as well as the need for bespoke software solutions to meet growing demand, utilise different materials and manage workload.

As someone who has spent over 30 years’ in the industry, I’ve witnessed this first-hand. After working at one of the earliest adopters of industrial robots in the UK, Tallent Engineering (now Gestamp), I have seen the first robots they installed in the early 1980s grow to a robot population of over 1,200 at its Aycliffe site, with the pioneering technology helping bring continued success to the company and making it more competitive on the global stage.

Fast-forward 30 years and we have seen many more of the region’s manufacturers invest in emerging and mature technologies, such as AR/VR, which has been embraced by the likes of Caterpillar in Peterlee.  However, technology advancement isn’t unique to large companies, despite the many pre-conceptions of such technologies being too expensive. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Recently, we have worked with scores of North East SMEs to help them embrace new technologies, including companies such as Kail &Co, Heliguy, and AR Controls. Additive manufacturing in particular is increasingly competing with traditional manufacturing techniques even outside of prototyping and is a fundamental part of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

This is why, when reading the latest ‘Addressing skills and labour shortages post-Brexit’ report by the CIPD, I was surprised to see that only 9% of UK businesses plan to invest in technology as a way of addressing skill or labour shortages over the coming years. Technology is such a key driver within industry, which is why it’s now as important as ever to support businesses and employers to increase the adoption of new technology and support the skills development of staff.

Many SME manufactures are facing staff shortages and short-term interventions are needed in the way of quality business support and funding to overcome this crisis, making the investment in skills and technology more manageable and paving the way for long-term success. This support is exactly what the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is here to provide, by helping SME manufacturers to innovate, grow and diversify.

Backed by ERDF, the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and the University of Sunderland, the SAM Project has a team of dedicated technical experts who work alongside the region’s SME manufacturers to support the implementation of product and process development, as well as the introduction of technology, at absolutely no cost to businesses. We also have matched-funding grants to help make the investment in new technology as affordable as possible.

Over the past few years, I have seen with my own eyes the many benefits that investing in technology can have on SMEs through some of the incredible projects we have been a part of, helping manufacturers embrace new technologies such as robotics, automation, design software, 3D printing and augmented and virtual reality. It’s technologies like these that open new doors for businesses and provide their employees with the capability to build upon their skills and ensure they are employable for years to come.

One such business that we were proud to support is specialist metal fabricators, Almet, who we helped explore the use of robotic welding technology through live demonstrations, showcasing to the team what they could achieve with this type of machinery based upon their specific needs. The Washington-based company has now increased its factory size by 12,000 sq ft and is investing in the technology itself to enhance processes. Not only did this safeguard jobs, but it will also create a number of highly skilled roles.

Another company we supported was precision engineering specialist, Ashgarth Engineering, providing funding to help with the purchase of a 3 axis vertical machining centre with a 4th axis attachment. This allowed the company to branch out into new markets and offer their current clients additional processes, leading to an increase in turnover and the creation of jobs.

However, tackling the skills and labour shortages post-Brexit and post-pandemic will take time and will also need to filter down to education, increasing awareness in schools about careers in manufacturing and increasing the number of manufacturing apprenticeships to help bridge the skills gap.

The manufacturing industry can provide employees with limitless potential to grow and learn as technology continues to advance. After all, just because someone lacks a certain skill, or the knowledge to operate new machinery, doesn’t mean they won’t pick it up quickly. If you have the willingness to learn and explore the opportunities in front of you, the skills shortage can be reduced, and your business can thrive.

For the SAM Project, we will continue to encourage the regions SME manufacturers to explore the support on offer and get in touch to find out how we can help. Our objective has always been the same, to build resilience among the region’s SME manufacturers, increase productivity and help not only safeguard, but also create jobs for the generations to follow.

Theorem-XR webinar

Theorem Solutions. Theorem-XR for Industry: latest advancements in data optimisation and XR visualisation

An introduction to the latest advancements in data optimization & XR
visualization capabilities for full-scale spatial context collaboration.

This event has now passed: SAM Project hosted Theorem Solutions for this live workshop event at The Industry Centre, Sunderland on Wednesday 1st December 2021 9.30 to 1pm.

If there is anything you would like to talk to 
us about in relation to enterprise XR solutions, please email our SAM expert Roger Thomas.


Join us for a morning of education, insight, best practice and thought leadership around the latest Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality technologies for engineering and manufacturing, in collaboration with the ERDF funded SAM Project at the University of Sunderland.

We will introduce our fast, efficient, flexible and secure, XR visualization capabilities of our Theorem-XR Suite enabling full- scale, spatial context collaboration; and show how to automate and process all CAD, PLM and visualization data, using a simple drag and drop application.

There will also be live demonstrations that will enable you to try the devices* that will help to define use cases.

To attend, please register your details here.**

*in line with COVID-19 guidelines, all headsets will be sanitised in between uses using Cleanbox UV technology. Other precautions will be taken- more details will be given upon registration.

**please note, your registration data will be shared with the SAM Project and where appropriate applied within its monitoring process –  but will not be shared with any 3rd party organisations.

This is part of the regular programme of events Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project run spanning a range of technologies across the manufacturing process. This is part of those events looking at Virtual & Augmented Reality and how they can be applied and bring benefit to manufacturing and industrial contexts. Major solutions providers, are sharing insights into best practice, pathways to successful adoption whilst also demonstrating real-world case studies.

HP Multifusion online event

Additive Manufacture using HP MultiJet Fusion Workshop Webinar

DATE: Wed. 27th January 2021 TIME: 10:00 -12:30 Online Event

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology has proven to be an enabling technology for industrial additive manufacture. The speed, accuracy and material properties of MJF prints have allowed manufacturers to move beyond 3D printing for prototypes and into a myriad of end use parts.

Join this webinar, hosted by the SAM Project, to hear Maryam Qureshi (Applications Specialist 3DP, HP) give an overview of HP’s own journey to adopt this technology within its own product design and manufacturing processes.

During this webinar, Carl Gregg (Product and Process Design Specialist, SAM Project) will discuss additive manufacturing support (including HP MJF) that is available as well as how the SAM team can support your company with a range of support areas.

To register via Eventbrite click here.

*Please note that as the workshops are fully funded through ERDF, companies not already registered with the SAM Project will be asked to register in advance.

 

 

 

North East manufacturers urged to tap into innovation grant scheme

A GRANT scheme set up to support SME manufacturers during the pandemic is urging eligible businesses to apply for funding before time runs out.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project – which offers a range of support to SME manufacturing businesses in the North East LEP area – launched a new fund in March to help companies that have adapted during the Coronavirus crisis.

The fund provides support to companies that have had to diversify or adapt in order to stay in business and operational during and after Covid-19, with match funding grants of up to £10,000 available.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The feedback we’ve received from the region’s manufacturing community so far has been fantastic. However, we know that there are still hundreds of businesses out there that have been affected by the pandemic and are eligible to tap into this support, but are yet to contact us.”

Applications can be for new capital equipment or external expertise – excluding working capital, salaries, rent or rates – to help their company survive, adapt and sustain themselves through and after the crisis. Companies looking to innovate and grow are still encouraged to apply even if their capital investment is not specifically as a result of COVID-19.

This could include buying capital kit to help diversify income, bringing outsourced processes and parts manufacture in-house, such as re-shoring parts made overseas to safeguard supply chains, improvements required in manufacturing operations as a result of social distancing measures and government guidelines, or any manufacturing and production specific capital investment to help the company diversify, stay afloat or take advantage of changes in market conditions. Grants are offered at a 50% rate in County Durham and 40% rate in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.

Mr Teears added: “The project has taken the decision to limit maximum grants to £10,000 grant value, to allow us to support as many companies as possible to stay afloat, adapt and maintain operations through Covid-19. We believe that sharing the funding around as best as possible, with a limited pot to draw from, will ensure more businesses are able to survive during these challenging times.”

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) is a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and University of Sunderland, that was set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes. It was funded with a £2.6m commitment from ERDF and £2.5m from the University of Sunderland, and is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees), with an annual turnover of less than €50m (£45m approx.)

The project offers four key support functions to businesses that are gearing up to grow, including access to technical expertise, with industrial specialists using their skill and expertise to guide businesses through the process of understanding and implementing technology; R&D, with a team of researchers able to support with the development of new products and processes; factories and facilities, including access to £1m of industry-leading advanced technology and equipment; and its grants scheme, that offers financial assistance to businesses that qualify.

To find out more about SAM contact sam.project@sunderland.ac.uk.


 

 

 

April’s cover story in Machinery Magazine features SAM Project

SAM collaborative project for Dyer Engineering

April’s cover story in Machinery Magazine features SAM Project

Dyer Engineering was supported by SAM to investigate the use of VR, 3D scanning and 360 immersive videos within their workshops.The collaborative project between SAM Project and SynergiVR is this months cover story in Machinery Magazine.

To read the whole story click here.

360 virtual tour of Dyer Engineering