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Clearly Drinks caps off record year with ambitious growth plans

A North East soft drinks manufacturer has seen sales fizz after investing £6million into a new canning line and entering into its best year to date.

Clearly Drinks, which manufactures its own branded products as well as providing a contract bottling service to some of the industry’s biggest names, is expecting revenue to double this year after tripling its capacity to 160 million litres over the last three years.

The continued investment by the company into its award-winning Sunderland plant is part of a wider investment programme which has seen the company expand into new markets, differentiate from its competitors, increase sustainability and launch new product lines.

Led by chief executive Mick Howard, who joined the company in 2018 having spent over 30 years in senior technical roles overseeing the operations of major brands across Africa and Europe including SAB Miller, the investment is the largest in the company’s 135-year history, helping futureproof the firm and bring it in-line with industry standards.

Mick said: “To make such an investment during a pandemic was a brave and courageous decision however it is one that has really paid off for the business. 

“Not only has it helped us bring new products to market but it has also seen our headcount exceed 100 employees and made the business much more agile. It’s a really exciting time for everyone involved with Clearly Drinks.”

Founded in 1885, Clearly Drinks originally started life as Fenwick & Sons before rebranding to Villa Drinks, a name synonymous with the North East which is still remembered fondly by people across the region and who’s iconic ghost sign adverts can still be seen on the gable ends of red-brick buildings across Tyne & Wear.

Today, the company employs over 100 people and remains deep-rooted in the local community by creating apprenticeships for local people through its annual recruitment programme and supporting local charities such as the Salvation Army, as well as maintaining a strong working relationship with Sunderland College.

Mick added: “Having been born and raised in the North East, I know the story behind Villa and was delighted when I was approached to take on the mantle of helping steer this historic business into the 21st century.

“I knew how much the company meant to the local community and its employees, therefore we made it our mission to ensure everyone was on board with our growth plans while continuing to invest in the community and give back to those that have given so much to this business over the past century.”

As well as investing in a state-of-the-art canning line, the company has also purchased a new pasteurisation unit and nitrogen dosing system which have led to the creation of 10 new jobs and helped the company land its largest contract to date with a national wholesaler.

The total investment, which is over £6.5million, was supported by the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, which provided technical support to help the company integrate the new technology into its business, as well as a £50,000 grant towards the purchase of the new pasteurisation unit.

“The support from SAM was fantastic,” Mick said. “The process was super-simple and allowed us to not only tap into funding to help de-risk our investment somewhat, 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.”

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.

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “Clearly Drinks is a real North East success story and we’re delighted to have been able to support the company on its incredible growth journey.

“The investment in the new canning line and pasteurisation unit will not only help make the business more sustainable but it will also allow it to realise its potential and continue growing its presence across the globe. We’d like to wish them all the best for the future.”

Metal 3d printing

Desktop Metal – Metal 3D Printing from Desktop to Production

Join Desktop Metal and the SAM Project to discover how metal 3D printing can help you take designs from your desktop and put into production.

Paul Gately (Strategic Accounts Director, Desktop Metal) will explore the exciting range of metal additive solutions which they offer. Paul will look at their systems that are suitable for desktop fabrication for small numbers of items as well as their Shop and Studio systems that can produce quantities suitable for a production run of parts.

Date and time

Tue, 7 June 2022 09:00 – 12:00 BST

Location

The Industry Center, Sunderland SR5 3XB

Book your place here.

 
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. 

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.

RIchard-Eynon-AMAP

Meet our Electronics and Industry 4.0 Expert

Richard Eynon, Industry4.0 and Electronics specialist at the SAM Project, helps SMEs understand and embrace the latest innovations.

Despite the many technological advances that have transformed the manufacturing industry over recent years, many SMEs are still reluctant to invest in the latest Industry4.0, digital and electronic innovations due to a common misconception that you need the budget of an OEM in order to purchase and run the latest software and machinery.

Having accumulated over 20 years’ experience working with transducers in a variety of industries, I have seen the impact cost effective and retrofittable cyber-physical devices can have on SMEs, especially when it comes to productivity. For example, using Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices such as condition monitoring equipment, which include Vibration, Temperature, Humidity, and Proximity Sensors.  These devices can help SMEs monitor performance of their machines and identify potential breakdowns and failures before they happen, resulting in less machine downtime and increased productivity.

Our Acoustic sensors can also be used to validate (audio) data from the connected devices, with an option of further in depth spectrum analysis and can also be intrinsically safer to locate where physical access may be a problem.

This wide industry experience over many years has essentially made me ask better and more relevant questions to help manage and determine a successful design solution, which generally can exceed internal or external customer (client) expectations.  Many design concepts require multi-skilled individuals or groups to solve them and being within the SAM Project – and having access to our colleagues with their broad industry experience and a wide network of industry contacts – can quickly determine the validity of an idea from proof of concept to manufacturability.

SMEs interested in learning how new technologies such as conditioning monitoring can benefit their business can also trial the technology themselves at our state-of-the-art factory areas at the University of Sunderland. Boasting over £1million worth of market-leading equipment, one of our most popular devices is a Portable Monitoring System.

The equipment is small and cost-effective but is a great introduction for SMEs wishing to learn how to implement digital data gathering into their business without breaking the bank and our test factory provides the perfect opportunity for companies to de-risk any future investments in new technology.

All of this equipment is completely free for manufacturers to try out. So, if you’re thinking of investing in any new machinery or software over the year ahead, why not de-risk your investment by paying us a visit?

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.

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