Category Archives: Grants

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. 

Artech Lighting

Capital investment leaves manufacturer beaming

A County Durham business is hoping to establish itself as a leading light in the world of manufacturing, as it continues to invest in the region and increase its global footprint.

Artech Lighting, based on the outskirts of Durham city, has invested in a Ultimaker S5 Pro 3D printer as it looks to bring the production of many of its lighting components back to the region, creating a number of new jobs in the process.

Additive manufacturing, a term for industrial 3D printing, is the process where a three dimensional CAD model is turned into a physical object. For Artech, this will bring several benefits, the most significant will be to reduce costs and lead times for parts as well as making in-house prototyping more efficient, making the company more competitive on the global stage.

Since its launch in 2017, Artech Lighting has made a commitment to support UK manufacturing, producing 100% of its product range at its facility in Durham and securing contracts to supply some of the world’s most high-profile developments, from the Dubai World Trade Centre to The University of Edinburgh and cinemas across Saudi Arabia. 

Stuart Hylton, managing director, said: “As one of the very few lighting manufacturers left in the UK that produces 100% of its products within our borders, we are incredibly proud to stamp our products with the Made in Britain marque and to fly the flag for UK manufacturing.

“While many businesses were hit by supply issues during the pandemic, we saw our business grow three-fold, as developers across the globe began to seek out products that not only offered sustainable delivery and lead times, but were also environmentally sustainable, and we would never have been able to achieve this had it not been for the fantastic work of our team over the last few years.

“Looking forward, the investment into our new 3D printing system will allow us to bring the production of even more components in-house, creating more highly skilled jobs, further driving down our carbon footprint and massively improving productivity, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.”

The purchase of the 3D printer was supported by matched-grant funding from the ERDF-backed £10.9 million Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project led by the University of Sunderland.

The project is a 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.

“The support from SAM has really been fantastic,” Stuart added. “Not only did they provide the funding required to invest in the machinery, but their guys also guided our design team through the entire process of identifying the right kit and ensuring we saw the maximum possible return on our investment.

“Prior to engaging with the programme, we always knew that embracing additive manufacturing would be key to sustaining the future of our business over the coming years, however the support from Carl and the team at SAM has helped us to achieve what we thought we would in three years, in just three months. I can’t recommend them enough.”

Artech Lighting is also making significant investment of its own into a series of factory upgrades, purchasing a second paint plant, press brake, profile roller and punch tool, as well as making substantial upgrades to its IT network.

Stuart said: “The Artech brand continues to be a major industry disruptor. We are willing to compete with the more recognised brands and offer equal or better quality, output, delivery and efficiency, but with significantly less cost with the added peace of mind that you are buying a UK manufactured product. It is a strategy that is working, as recognition of the Artech brand continues to grow.”

Carl Gregg, product and process design specialist at the SAM Project, said: “It’s been a real pleasure working with Stuart and the design team at Artech on this project.

“The SAM Project was set up to help the region’s SME manufacturers innovate and grow by breaking down the barriers to embracing new technology and to see Artech not only increasing its global presence, but also creating highly skilled jobs in the region following this investment, shows just how much of an impact the programme can have on those that engage with it.”

Hundreds of firms have secured grant funding from SAM, could you be next?

Since 2018, the SAM Project has helped over 200 North East businesses become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance products, processes and technology.

Central to this success has been its incredibly popular Grant Funding scheme, providing matched-funding grants of up to £50,000* for manufacturing projects that support the growth of new products and processes.

This encompasses funding towards new to firm production technology; new product validation (tests/ consultancy); process improvement capital investment; structure to support research and development implementation; external consultancy on a time limited basis linked to a manufacturing/ production project and other product and process development costs.

During the first phase of the SAM Project, spanning 2018 – 2020, this saw the Project distribute over £1million in matched-funding grants, helping add £41.7 million in GVA to the North East businesses that engaged with the programme, creating 290 direct jobs and leading to a 30.1% rise in sales.

And the team at SAM are confident that, following its three year extension to 2023, it will have an even larger impact on the sector going forward, after it saw its grant pot double in size – by a further £1 million – and its technical team at the University of Sunderland continue to grow.

Speaking about the grant funding, Claire Darling-Cooper, compliance officer at the SAM Project, said: “The Grant Funding scheme proved incredibly popular with the region’s SME manufacturing base during phase one of the project, so we were delighted when we received confirmation that it had been extended for a further two years until 2023.

“Not only did it help create jobs, but it also helped safeguard many more and as we look to re-emerge from the pandemic, business support initiatives such as this will be key to ensuring the region’s manufacturers have all the tools they need to compete on the global stage and continue to innovate and grow.

The grants are restricted for small to medium sized (SME) business in the North East Local Enterprise (LEP) area – spanning Northumberland, County Durham and Tyne & Wear – and are also accompanied by 10-15 days’ worth of fully-funded technical support from the SAM Project’s team of eight manufacturing experts, who combined, boast over 250 years’ experience working across the industry in a number of senior roles.

Claire added: “We know how much of a leap of faith it can be when investing in new capital equipment, which is why we provide the technical expertise required to really understand the technology and all of its pros and cons, ensuring we help de-risk each and every investment we underpin.”

One such company to benefit from the SAM Project’s Capital Grant scheme is Vixen Surface Treatments Ltd, a market-leading manufacturer of industrial wet and dry blast cleaning cabinets.

After engaging with the SAM Project, the company was able to receive an in-depth demonstration of how 3D CAD visualisation software could help improve both its design and sales processes, as well as securing the funding required to invest in state-of-the-art software from Solidworks to implement the technology into its business model.

Aidan Mallon, managing director of Vixen Surface Treatments, said: “The first project we completed after the investment saw us test the Solidworks software on a live project that we won. It was a €500,000 export order from a German aerospace company and I genuinely believe we wouldn’t have won that contract without including it in our offer. It really adds credibility and professionalism to our proposals.

“As a manufacturer you must explore every avenue possible to grow your business, be it investing in new equipment or tapping into expertise and funding – and business support from organisations such as SAM is vital to helping SMEs move forward.

“We’d just extended our factory prior to approaching SAM and wanted to move into Solidworks. The grant helped us secure the funding needed to do that and accelerated our growth, helping us gain a competitive advantage by massively increasing the quality of service we’re able to offer clients.”

Another company to benefit from the grant scheme is Chester-le-Street architectural metalwork specialist, Steelcraft Ltd. Since engaging with the SAM Project and securing a five-figure funding grant, the company has expanded its product offering and launched a new brand, Forjj, allowing it to diversify and sell its products directly to consumers across the globe.

“The team at SAM were absolutely amazing,” Liam Armstrong, operations manager at Steelcraft said. “Prior to engaging with them, our factory hadn’t changed in 20 years and we were struggling to see how we could scale up our operations while keeping costs and disruption at an absolute minimum.

“Using simulation software, they were able to create an identical, computerised model of our workshop and, working closely with our production manager, identify which machines and processes could be altered and moved to make space for the new machinery and improved workflow.

“We’d never have even thought about using digital twin software to visualise and improve our shop floor and – as a family-business – we could never have accessed something like this without the support of SAM.”

The grants are accessible by all manufacturing SMEs, who can also still engage separately in a technical project with SAM (this can often support or identify the need for a grant application or helps to specify their precise needs and focus on the benefit and returns). The grant award is 25% matched funding available to those in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and 35% for those in County Durham. The grants can also be used to support the purchase of second-hand equipment, as well as brand new machinery kit and software, and can even be used for specialist services or testing needs that may be holding a company back.

Claire added: “Vixen and Steelcraft are just two of scores of success stories we’ve recorded through the Project’s journey so far and are evident of the impact this support can have.

“Not only do the grants help break down the barriers to investing in new technology but they also help eliminate other financial inhibitors to driving strategic development of both product and process.

“The only drawback for us is that we only have £1 million to give away. While it may sound like a lot, the first phase of the SAM Project proved so popular that the grant pot was empty well in advance of the project’s end date, therefore we’d recommend any manufacturer reading this who thinks they may be eligible to get in touch with us and find out more.”

Interested in finding out more about the SAM Capital Grant scheme? Visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/grant-support-helps-sustain-growth-for-vixen/ or email: sam.project@sunderland.ac.uk

Manufacturers across the North East are being urged to tap into grant funding and fully-funded technical support to help their businesses innovate and grow.

North East manufacturers urged to tap into support before it’s too late

Manufacturers across the North East are being urged to tap into grant funding and fully-funded technical support to help their businesses innovate and grow.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM) was launched in 2018 to help businesses become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance their products, processes and technology.

Since then, the programme – which was originally due to end in December 2020 – has proved a huge success, providing over £1 million in matched-funding, as well as practical and research support to over 200 SMEs across the region and is set to continue supporting the sector after securing a further £6 million, taking it to June 2023.

The pioneering initiative was originally part-funded by ERDF – with a £2.6m commitment – and the University of Sunderland and industry, which invested £2.5m, and is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees) based in the North East LEP area, with an annual turnover of less than €50m (£45m approx.)

The project offers a range of assistance – tapping into significant academic resources, a team of industrial specialists and five distinct factories with more than £1m worth of equipment – to offer both practical and research support, ensuring businesses can access a knowledge bank comprising some of the industry’s brightest brains and most advanced technology. This extension has also seen SAM’s Technical Research and Development team grow, to offer even greater specialist industry support to companies.

Roger O’Brien, Research and Technical Lead at the SAM Project, said: “The first phase of the SAM Project was a huge success and we were delighted when we heard that the project was to be extended. Over the last two years, we’ve provided funding and support to hundreds of businesses and have witnessed first-hand the impact this has had, from safeguarding and creating jobs to transforming entire production lines.

“Since the pandemic hit, the impact it has had on the nation’s manufacturing sector has been catastrophic. 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 this funding boost will go a long way to helping many of the region’s SMEs adapt and grow as we look to re-emerge from this crisis and keep Britain’s economy moving.”

In phase one, the SAM Project provided matched-funded grants of up to £50,000 to SMEs across the North East LEP area for capital, product validation, equipment and other financial inhibitors to drive the strategic development of both product and process. This has continued in phase two, with an additional £1 million being put into the grant pot, together with some tweaks to the intervention rates (now at 25% in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and 35% in County Durham).

An independent report commissioned to explore the impact of phase one also revealed that the programme helped create 270 jobs and added over £47 million in gross value to the regional economy. It was also revealed that SAM’s impact on innovation and new product development meant that the average TRL (Technology Readiness Level) – the scale on how new products are measured as being close to market launch – was a staggering 3.9 steps, with some clients jumping from Stage 2 up to Stage 9 due to SAM support.

“Our fully-funded technical advice and support is what really makes the SAM Project stand out from your traditional business support schemes,” Roger adds. “While there are many other grant funds out there to help businesses grow, there are very few – if any – which offer the intensive, personalised technical support that we do.

“Combined, our nine experts boast over 250 years’ experience working for an array of businesses, from blue-chip manufacturers to start-ups, with each of them specialising in their own individual disciplines, from additive manufacturing to automation and robotics, AR/ VR, electronics and process improvement, to name just a few.”

Roger concluded: “If you’re an SME manufacturer, then the engineers, researchers, grants and access to capital are here to help you adapt to the inevitable process changes facing us post-pandemic 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.

“There is only a set amount of money and technical support available, therefore – following the huge success of phase one – early registration is highly recommended.”

For more information on the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/

Heliguy SAM Project support

Tech investment leaves Heliguy flying high

A North East drone specialist is scaling new heights after investing heavily in its own manufacturing facility.

heliguy™, based in North Shields, has established itself as a go-to drone supplier for clients across the globe since its launch in 2006.

The company started life as a retailer of remote-controlled helicopters but has since grown into a full-service drone specialist, providing drones, bespoke accessories, servicing, repairs, custom integrations, product development, drone pilot training and end-to-end workflow support.

Over the past two years, this diversification has seen the company secure contracts with 38 police forces across the country, as well as the London Fire Brigade, Port of Tyne and a host of personal and commercial clients.

One recent project, for a police force in the South East of England, saw the company’s design experts produce a bespoke drone mount, allowing officers to test mobile phone and radio signal strength in hard-to-reach areas such as farms and rural roads.

Another design and manufacture project, working with a commercial client – Aerial Ashes – resulted in the team developing a safe, sensitive way of scattering ashes at beautiful and memorable locations, such as out at sea or on mountain peaks.

This expansion of its services – and the establishing of a dedicated manufacturing hub at its Orion Business Park base – has not only led to the company onboarding more clients, but also more staff, with its headcount in North Shields now at 28.

Ross Embleton, custom integration specialist at heliguy™, said: “We identified a gap in the market – quite early on – when the drone market was just maturing and swiftly established ourselves as one of the UK’s leading independent providers of drones and accessories.

“Since then, we’ve continued to invest in the business year-on-year, ensuring we continue to service our clients to the highest possible standard and continuing to create job opportunities for local people.”

Central to bringing product development and manufacturing in-house and growing the business has been a suite of state-of-the-art 3D printers that has allowed heliguy™ to design and produce parts at its North Shields facility, helping to slash lead and prototype times while reducing costs.

Ross Embleton from Heliguy based in North Shields has purchased equipment with support from SAM project. Photo with Carl Gregg (SAM Project)

The company purchased the printers after receiving technical support and a grant from the £10.9 million Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, which is a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), University of Sunderland, the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes.

The funding supported the purchase of a market leading Markforged X7 3D printer, which allows the company to print parts in reinforced carbon fibre and Kevlar and will work alongside its selective laser sintering (SLS) machine and a Formlabs Fuse 1 3D printer.

The firm also purchased a Form 3L SLA 3D printer in November and aims to acquire a number of surface finishing machines over the coming months as it continues to invest in its design and manufacturing capabilities.

Ross added: “Bringing the production of our components in-house was key to us broadening our horizons and expanding into new markets and the support we received from SAM has been key to helping us do that.

“Carl [Gregg] was fantastic as he really bought into the concept. After working with him to identify which areas of our business could benefit from additive manufacturing and which 3D printers would be best suited to our needs, we went on to buy a state-of-the-art Markforged composite printer that has helped us significantly slash costs and lead times.

“It has massively reduced design times too. Now, if the managing director or a client has an idea, we can create a physical, working prototype within a week as there’s no waiting around for third party suppliers.

“Aviation parts also need to be strong and light, therefore being able to print parts in carbon fibre and kevlar on the Markforged printer is a huge benefit to us. It’s really helped us to step our business up a gear and we can’t thank Carl and the team enough for all of their support.”

Carl Gregg, product and process design specialist at the SAM Project, said: “As a team of engineers who thrive upon helping businesses overcome challenges to growth, it was fantastic to work with heliguy™ and to become so involved in helping them plan for the future as they continue to innovate and grow and create jobs here in the North East.

“The SAM Project was set up to help the region’s SME manufacturing base improve products and processes by adopting new technologies such as additive manufacturing and heliguy™ is a prime example of just how much of a positive impact the project can have.”

Ken Teears SAM Project Manager

Multi-million-pound boost for North East manufacturing

MANUFACTURERS across the North East are set to receive a major boost, after one of the region’s largest investment programmes secured a further £6 million in funding.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM) was launched in 2018 in a bid to help businesses become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance their products, processes and technology.

Since then, the programme – which was due to end in December 2020 – has proved a huge success, providing £800,000 in matched-funding – as well as practical and research support to over 200 SMEs across the region – and is set to continue supporting the sector after securing a further £6 million, taking it to June 2023.

The pioneering initiative was originally part-funded by ERDF – with a £2.6m commitment – and the University of Sunderland and industry, which invested £2.5m, and is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees) based in the North East LEP area, with an annual turnover of less than €50m (£45m approx.)

The project offers a range of assistance – tapping into significant academic resources, a team of industrial specialists and a number of factories with more than £1m worth of equipment – to offer both practical and research support, ensuring businesses can access a knowledge bank comprising some of the industry’s brightest brains and most advanced technology. This extension will see the Technical Research and Development team grow, to offer even greater specialist industry support to companies.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “We are absolutely delighted to announce that the project has been extended until June 2023. Over the last two years, we’ve provided funding and support to scores of businesses and have witnessed first-hand the impact this has had, from safeguarding and creating jobs to transforming entire production lines.

“Since the pandemic hit the UK in March, the impact it has had on the nation’s manufacturing sector has been catastrophic. However, it has 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 this funding boost will go a long way to helping many of the region’s SMEs adapt and grow as we look to get through this crisis and keep Britain’s economy moving.”

In phase 1, SAM provided matched-funded grants of up to £50,000 to SMEs across the North East LEP area for capital, product validation, equipment and other financial inhibitors to drive the strategic development of both product and process. This will continue in phase two, with an additional £1Million being put into the grant pot, together with some tweaks to the intervention rates (now at 25% in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and 35% in County Durham).

Teears added: “This latest expansion means the project is now fully-funded until June 2023, however we can’t recommend early engagement enough. Our fully funded technical research and development support and grant fund are seeing a strong increase in interest as companies look to diversify, adapt and innovate. We have moved to monthly grant panels as we foresee the additional £1 million being very popular.

“If you’re an SME manufacturer, then the engineers, researchers, grants and access to capital are here to help you adapt to the inevitable process changes facing us post-pandemic and 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.”

AGMA Family owned business

Capital investment pays off as AGMA helps clean up

A FAMILY-OWNED manufacturer of cleaning and hygiene solutions has revealed how major investment in new machinery helped it step up to the fight against Coronavirus.

AGMA Ltd, based in the rural town of Haltwhistle, Northumberland, designs and manufactures sterile and non-sterile cleaning and biocidal products, which it exports to customers in over 30 different countries.

Serving a broad range of industries – from the NHS to major global blue-chip pharmaceutical, biotechnology and oil companies – the company, like most others in its sector, saw its order book swell during the Coronavirus outbreak, with production lines running at full capacity while staff adhered to social distancing measures.

However, despite growing demand from its client base during what has been an incredibly testing period for the industry, the company was still able to join the global fight against Covid-19, thanks to grant funding and expert advice from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

The support helped AGMA – a Royal Warrant holder – identify areas of the business that could be improved through automation – such as the production of its triggered sprays – and invest in the machinery required to automate the process, safeguarding 30 jobs while increasing output, reducing lead-times and increasing sales.

John Taylor, finance director at AGMA Ltd, said: “Our sanitisers and hand gels have become extremely popular both abroad and domestically over recent months due to the pandemic. However, as a family company that is deep-rooted in Haltwhistle, we’ve continued to stand-by our commitment to give back to the community that’s served us incredibly well over 52 years, by continuing to donate products locally. We also supply the NHS and various other organisations – while fulfilling orders for clients.

“This would not have been possible had it not been for the support we received from the SAM Project last year. The funding and support was crucial to help us understand how automation can benefit our business and allow us to invest in new machinery, introduce new procedures and make us more competitive, while reducing production costs, expanding into new areas and safeguarding jobs.

“As a company, the majority of our competitors are multi-global organisations that – for the past 50 years – we’ve had to really punch above our weight to compete with. This support has allowed us to tap into R&D expertise, previously out of reach, and invest in state-of-the-art machinery that will help us compete for years to come. We can’t thank the team enough for all of its support.”

Having seen output double and a significant rise in sales over the last 2-3 years, AGMA is now looking to the future as it continues investing in new machinery and processes, as well as ramping up its R&D activity as it uses its increased manpower to brings new innovations to market.

John added: “Looking forward, we’re hoping to continue growing and exploring how we can continue to embrace new technologies. The support from SAM has really opened our eyes to the potential of industry 4.0 and how processes such as automation can help us grow as a business, and we’re aiming to continue investing in new technologies as a result of this over the next 12 months.

“As an export nation, our manufacturing sector is vital to our economic success and projects such as SAM will play a pivotal role if manufacturing companies such as AGMA are to continue competing on the global stage long into the future.”

SAM 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.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The SAM Project was launched in a bid to help manufacturers in the North East LEP area lead the way in product, process and technology innovation – and AGMA Ltd is a perfect example of this in action.

“The company is a fantastic case study of how manufacturers can innovate and grow by embracing new technologies and processes. Not only has investing in automation helped the company increase output and sales but it has also helped safeguard 30 jobs and maximise the potential of its workforce.

“However, the support on offer from SAM is only available for a limited time, therefore I’d recommend any SME manufacturer in the North East LEP area that has plans to grow over the next few months, or that is having to adapt due to the pandemic, to get in contact with us to find out if they’re eligible to tap into the support on offer.”

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing 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.)

Grant support helps sustain growth for Vixen

A NORTH East manufacturer of industrial cleaning machinery and equipment has revealed how a business support programme helped it through the pandemic and prepare for life post-Coronavirus.

Founded in 1990 by managing director Aidan Mallon, Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments is a market leader in the production of wet and dry blast cleaning cabinets, degreasing machines and phosphating equipment.

Manufacturing both off-the-shelf and bespoke machinery, the company exports 40% of its products overseas to customers in the nuclear, engineering, healthcare, automotive and aerospace industries, meaning it is often required to maintain close and constant dialogue with clients.

Thanks to a capital expenditure grant obtained last year from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project – which offers a range of support to the region’s SME manufacturing businesses – Aidan and the team were able to mitigate the impact of social distancing and travel bans throughout the pandemic, by purchasing state-of-the-art 3D CAD visualisation software.

The installation of ‘Solidworks’ software means Vixen is able to provide 3D demonstrations of its products to clients, allowing them to visualise how products will look and work once complete.

Aidan said: “As a manufacturer you must explore every avenue possible to grow your business, be it investing in new equipment or tapping into expertise and funding – and business support from organisations such as SAM is vital to helping SMEs move forward.

“We’d just extended our factory prior to approaching SAM and wanted to move into Solidworks. The grant helped us secure the funding needed to do that and accelerated our growth, helping us gain a competitive advantage by massively increasing the quality of service we’re able to offer clients.”

Vixen began producing 3D virtualisations just under a year ago and it has already enabled the company to secure a major export order from a German aerospace business, as well as helping keep its order book filled during the pandemic, which brought manufacturing supply chains to a halt across the globe.

“The first project we completed after the investment saw us test the Solidworks software on a live project that we won,” he added. “It was a €500,000 export order from a German aerospace company and I genuinely believe we wouldn’t have won that contract without including it in our offer. It really adds credibility and professionalism to our proposals.

“It also helped us share up-to date designs and updates with clients during the pandemic, meaning we could still fulfil orders despite travel bans. That’s not to say we weren’t impacted by the pandemic – as we were functioning with just 25% of our workforce at one stage – but it certainly helped us to continue operating and servicing clients.

“We’re now have almost everyone back at work and the continuity of interest means our order book remains heavy. Now, looking to the future, we’re confident that we can continue building on this.”

SAM 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.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “Vixen Surface Technologies is a fine example of how visualisation through 3D technologies such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)can help businesses innovate and grow, even during the most challenging of conditions.

“Millions of manufacturers across the world are reeling from this crisis and wondering how they can improve business continuity strategies in the event of such disasters going forward. Technologies such as Solidworks and other CAD, CAM that can also be pulled into Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will play a huge role in helping businesses minimise downtime in the future. It’s been a pleasure working with Aidan and the team and we’re excited to see what the future holds for them.”

Image shows: Aidan Mallon, managing director of Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments.

Manufacturers continue to invest in innovation during UK lockdown

MORE THAN a dozen North East manufacturers have been supported with funding to enable them to innovate during the UK lockdown.

Small and medium sized manufacturing and engineering businesses from across the region have been backed in their plans to pivot during the COVID-19 crisis by the University of Sunderland and ERDF-backed Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM), which exists to support the development of the sector in the North East LEP area.

Thirteen businesses – including three who used the funding to enable them to adapt to supply vital PPE in the COVID-19 battle – have been successful in accessing financial assistance since March, allowing them to adapt their business in order to grow.

Projects including manufacturers purchasing equipment to bring previously sub-contracted work in-house, purchasing new equipment, adapting production to enable workers to return from furlough and work safely at a distance, and companies piloting cobotics technology as a means to supporting safer social distancing, have all been part-funded by SAM, which offers businesses grants and a range of support to assist with introducing new technology to improve products or processes.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “It’s been encouraging to see that – despite the challenges the UK manufacturing sector has faced – many businesses have been looking to innovate, and find new ways to emerge from this crisis on the front foot.

“We were absolutely determined that – despite not being able to get the panel physically together to assess applications – we would get together virtually to keep the support flowing when it is so sorely needed.”

The SAM Project provided circa £100,000 in grant support to the businesses that applied, running virtual grant panel meetings every two weeks to ensure that much-needed assistance continued to reach businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic.

“There was a fear that businesses would retreat during the pandemic, and perhaps wouldn’t be minded to save rather than investing in the future, but the fact that we have approved and paid out applications from businesses that have invested in new technology to drive the growth of their business in the long-term and adapt their company to be more resilient to any future impact of the pandemic, demonstrates that there is still a real focus and drive among the region’s manufacturers.”

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing is a £5.1m project to support the implementation of product and process development, and the introduction of technology to the SME manufacturing sector, in the North East LEP area. The project has received £2.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the University of Sunderland, who are investing £2.5m and managing the delivery of this project.  It is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees), with an annual turnover of less than €50m (c.£45m)

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.


 

 

 

RDS Engineering receive grant

North East firm turns weeks into days with new kit

A WEARSIDE engineering firm has trimmed weeks from delivery times, thanks to support from an elite team of manufacturing experts.

RDS Engineering is turning weeks into days and days into minutes, thanks to state-of-the-art scanning equipment, purchased with the assistance of the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

SAM, which offers a range of support to SME manufacturing businesses in the North East LEP area, also supported the Washington firm via a production planning and workflow management workshop, to help iron out any kinks in RDS Engineering’s internal processes.

RDS managing director, Rob Bone, backed the SAM Project as a vital weapon in the armoury to combat the impact of the COVID19 pandemic has had on manufacturing businesses.

“There are businesses that are going to need all the support available to them as we emerge from lockdown and begin the process of restoring normality,” said Rob. “Projects like SAM are essential to help firms, like ours, take that next step and begin operating on another level.

“We probably would not have been in a position to invest in the new scanning equipment if it weren’t for the support of the SAM Project. However, having done so, and gained new knowledge and understanding via the workshop, we have massively reduced our inspection timescale – in most cases turning weeks into days, which has been a huge manhours saving for the business.”

As well as the new scanner, SAM helped fund a new Hwacheon Vesta 1000+ vertical CNC machine, which has been installed at RDS Engineering’s Washingto HQ.

Established in 1991 by Rob and David Bone, RDS Engineering is an independent supplier of precision engineered components and tooling. Having established a reputation for rapid response and high-quality products to the oil and gas, automotive, aerospace and defence, medical and power generation sectors, the company has set its sights on the pharmaceutical and rail sectors as potential growth areas.

Jess Houston, RDS Engineering office manager, added: “Like every business, our immediate priority is making sure we emerge from the pandemic in a positive way and see no reason that, with the speed we can now accomplish inspection, we can’t expand into new sectors to win business.”

SAM 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.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “RDS Engineering is a prime example of a company operating successfully in a sector in which our region has particular traditional strengths. However, what sets them apart from many is the desire to drive forward progress and keep improving and streamlining its processes.

“As we look beyond the economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic, we want businesses to know that we are here for them – ready, willing and able to lend our support to the major effort required to get the UK economy back on its feet and moving in the right direction.”

As well as its comprehensive suite of support, the SAM Project also launched an adapted grant scheme to help SME manufacturers looking to pivot during the pandemic, and the organisation is urging eligible businesses to apply for funding before time runs out.

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, as well as its normal funding stream to support businesses looking to diversify, or improve products and processes in order to grow.

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. The current grant fund ends in September 2020.

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing 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.)

To find out more about SAM, visit www.samprojectuos.co.uk or contact sam.project@sunderland.ac.uk

Images: Jess Houston, RDS Engineering office manager and Rob Bone, RDS Engineering managing director.