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TRL9 SAM Project

Innovation specialist praises manufacturing support programme

The expertise offered by a business support programme is allowing a North East innovator to rapidly bring a new air sterilisation product to market.

Founded in 2016, TRL9 is an industrial research, development and deployment company, with a particular expertise in surface engineering and specialist materials. But the need for innovation sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic led them to develop an air sterilisation system which eliminates the majority of airborne viruses.

With the help of Ian Barrett, CAD specialist at the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project – which offers a range of support to the region’s SME manufacturing businesses – they have been able to fast-track the development process.

Dr Bryan Allcock, founder and CEO of TRL9, said: “When you’re in my line of business, money isn’t always the most appropriate form of support, sometimes you need expertise.

“We have nine people in TRL9 and there are areas where we don’t have expertise, we have no one who can use computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, but this is an area of expertise SAM can provide.

“The outputs for us were initially a set of drawings and a bill of materials, but then they were able to help with the design as I didn’t know what the final product was going to look like and Ian from SAM came up with the design we’re now using, they also did most of the build of the first unit.

“Without the support of SAM, it would have taken us a lot longer to be able to get to where we are now, so we’ve had a much more rapid route to market. That has included introducing skill sets that we just didn’t have and couldn’t afford.”

Dr Allcock, who is originally from Birmingham, moved to the North East from Dorset, where he had been working in the aerospace industry, before setting up TRL9. He has a PhD in corrosion engineering, focussing on coatings, with TRL9’s most developed technology being responsible for coating the decks of the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales aircraft carriers so that F-35 fighter jets can land on them.

The company has a portfolio of research projects, with clients including the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems and Halliburton, usually looking at things that are materials or surface engineering related.

“We have projects at various TRL stages,” said Dr Allcock. “We currently have a PHD student from Durham who is looking at thermoelectric coating, where you use the heat from your body to charge the little watch on your arm, so you never need to plug it into the mains. We’ve also got an oil and water separation system, a project looking at high entropy alloys and another involving solar fluidics, which SAM is actually helping us with at the moment.”

The SAM project has allowed TRL9 to develop a working prototype of their air sterilisation system that they can take to industry.

SAM is a £10.9m project to help SMEs in the North East develop new products and processes.

The programme is a collaboration between ERDF who is providing £5.77m funding (£2.6million from 2014-2020 and £3.1million from 2020-2023) and the University of Sunderland who are managing and, alongside industry, are investing £5.15m in delivery of this project.

Ian Barrett, Computer Aided Design and Engineering Specialist at SAM, said: “TRL9 is a great example of how the variety of help available through SAM, with our broad range of skills and expertise, combined with the access to funding, can be transformational for SMEs.

“For a lot of companies looking to innovate and bring new products to market, there are so many barriers – especially when it comes to product design – which can prevent them from bringing new products and services to market, however the support from the SAM Project can really help eliminate those challenges.”

The project has over £1m of industry leading capital including 3D printers, I4 rigs and VR/AR equipment and software to encourage SME engagement with advanced technology. The project also has grants of up to £50,000 available to support capital/product validation/tooling and other financial inhibitors to driving strategic development of both product and process.

Dr Allcock added: “I only have positive things to say about SAM, the guys there are fabulous and they’re very knowledgeable. There’s no hidden agenda for them, they’re not trying to sell something. I have already recommended SAM to two organisations that they are now supporting, that’s two further projects on the back of the work I’ve done with them, so I think that’s a pretty good accolade.”

Design experts create on-street EV charging solution

A North East company has created an innovative on-street electric vehicle charging solution, following a record-breaking year for EV car sales.

Rediviva Ltd, a research, design and development company, explores alternative technology that will lead to cleaner energy and a low carbon future, including charging solutions to increase the adoption of zero emission vehicles. 

With the EV car revolution well underway in the UK, Rediviva has been exploring ways in which drivers with no driveway can easily charge their vehicles from home without leaving a cable running across a public footpath, causing a trip hazard.

Rediviva came up with the idea to create ‘zapkerb’, an easy install, low-cost solution that allows the cable to be enclosed, therefore keeping the path free of any obstructions while a vehicle is being charged.

During the early stages of the project, Rediviva contacted the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at the University of Sunderland for assistance with research and development, to help drive forward the creation of a prototype.

Stuart Duckett, managing director of Rediviva, said: “We received support from the SAM Project to help develop a prototype, including technical expertise and assistance with the initial design. The team helped us create a 3D printed prototype, which allowed us to effectively assess the concept.

“The support was fantastic. It was great to have that facility and expertise, and it helped us progress quicker than we would have done, taking the project to proof of concept and beyond.”

Since creating the 3D printed prototype, Rediviva is now in talks with partners to help manufacture, distribute and export the product, and has also contacted local authorities to open up meaningful conversations about street to home EV charging across the UK.

Stuart added: “We’re hoping to launch this year and we’re currently looking at revised versions of the prototype, as we look to constantly improve and refine the product following evaluation in use.

“The EV market is growing massively, and it’s expected to double this year. These solutions are needed not just in the UK but worldwide, so we’re hoping once we can take the product to market, we can export it.”

According to the latest vehicle stats, EV car sales increased by 76.3% in 2021, and as of January 2022, there was an estimated 400,000 Battery EV cars and over 750,000 plug-in hybrids on the road in the UK.

Ian Barrett, Computer Aided Design and Engineering Specialist from SAM Project, said: “Rediviva is a great example of how innovative thinking, design and manufacturing can solve real life problems and have the potential to change industries. It’s been fantastic to work with Stuart and the team to create a prototype that we’re confident will make the switch to electric vehicles easier for many people.”

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. 

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.”

Vision system helps packaging manufacturer freshen up its act

A fast-growing food packaging manufacturer is the latest business to box clever and benefit from the SAM Project’s electronics and industry 4.0 support.

The experts at SAM recently worked with a North East packaging specialist to help the company understand how electronics technology could improve product quality and eliminate manual visual checks which was adversely affecting their manufacturing line.

After visiting our state-of-the-art test factory at the University of Sunderland, the company – which supplies packaging to a major blue-chip client – was able to trial technologies such as Portable Monitoring Systems and a Vision Systems to understand how they could benefit their production process.

The goal was to eliminate faulty ‘black-spots’ items from its assembly line of transparent packaging, with the end-goal of increasing product quality and output, making the company’s operations more sustainable and profitable.

Working with Richard Eynon, SAM’s Industry 4.0 and Electronics Specialist, the company was able to achieve its goals after being introduced to a Vision System (Balluff), which helped it meet the ever-increasing requirements for maximum quality and greater flexibility within modern production plants.

This new quality checking process – through the implementation of a Vision System – has since resulted in the company eliminating almost every transparent container with inclusions from its production lines.

Richard said: “Each and every company that engages with the SAM Project has a unique challenge, be it improving quality, reducing lead-times or slashing costs and this client was no different”.

“Working with a blue-chip client, the company has to ensure the products it supplies meet the most stringent of standards, placing a huge strain on the company’s quality control teams and leading to heavy lead-times during periods of heavy production”.

“However, after sitting down with the company, we were able to identify how a Vision System was able to detect an issue and subsequently identify faulty products which could be eliminated from the production line using its digital ports (air, paddle…)

“Not only did this take the strain away from the quality control teams but it also helped the company improve product quality by reducing the number of products that could potentially be identified further down the line”.

“As engineers, we love a challenge and we love working with the latest technology, so this was a great project that really got our brains ticking.”

The company has also taken on additional resources as a result of the support it received from Richard and the SAM team and is confident that it is now on track to record zero detectable failures across its entire operation.

Jig and Fixture 3D Printing

Stratasys – Additive for Jig and Fixtures

Find out why more and more SME manufacturers are embracing additive manufacturing and why your business should be the next to benefit.

Additive is proving to be a vital part of many manufacturers tool sets. Increasingly, there is a trend to use additive for using 3D printing for rapid production of jigs, fixtures, and assembly aids.

Join Chris Andrews (3D Printing & AM Consultant for SYS – Stratasys Platinum Partner) to explore how companies are moving fixturing production to additive. As one of the longest established companies involved in 3D printing, Stratasys have a broad range of machines and materials, including fibre reinforced printing. Composite materials are ideal for fixtures as they can offer additional strength and stiffness to the part.

Date and time

Wednesday, 22 June 2022 09:00 – 12:00 BST

Location

The Industry Centre, 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. 

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.

SAM Innovation and Growth

SAM Features in The Journal

The SAM Project featured in The Journal, published in Newcastle in a special feature in March 2022.

The article covers all of the areas of expertise offered by the the project with an introduction to the Technical Team, alongside case-studies featuring companies who have received support.  There is also information about the grant funding the project offers.

The full supplement can be downloaded here.

Creative design studio a cut above the rest

Creative design studio a cut above the rest

A North East creative design studio is cutting a path to success after investing in new equipment to expand capabilities and explore new markets.

Cabinet of Curiosity Studio, which specialises in public art commissions for the arts and heritage sector, worked with the team at the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, to engage with technical experts and upgrade its cutting machinery, enabling the business to unlock new opportunities and support batch production.

Based in South Shields, the studio was established in 2010 by designer maker Caroline Collinge and architect Edmond Salter, after they were selected as finalists for a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) competition, which was exhibited at the National Theatre in London.

Since then, Cabinet of Curiosity Studio has worked with museums such as the V&A, arts and heritage organisations such as the Thames Festival Trust, as well as local authorities and universities across the UK to create art exhibitions, installations and participatory activities, with a focus on architectural themes and nature inspired design using materials such as paper and wood.

Working with technical experts and academics at the SAM Project, Cabinet of Curiosity Studio attended a digital manufacturing course to find out more about the skills and knowledge needed to manufacture products on a larger scale, before tapping into grant funding to invest in a CNC Router and additional accessories for its laser cutting machine.

Caroline said: “We have worked on some fantastic projects over the years, helping our clients engage with a wider audience through arts and design. All elements of the design and making is carried out at our studio, using laser cutting fabrication techniques and CAD software.

“Before the pandemic, I attended a business event in Durham to find out about the support we could tap into, which is how I came across the SAM Project. We wanted to ensure Cabinet of Curiosity Studio was one step ahead, and the digital course and funding has enabled us to invest in equipment to craft more detailed designs, use a wider range of materials and recycled materials, as well as explore new income streams and batch production.”

Caroline and Edmond are currently working on two projects with local authorities. One is supported by a grant from Durham County Council, fabricating laser cut kits for families to take away and build their own miniature market gardens to grow fresh produce, and the other in Milton Keynes, using laser cutting equipment and wood materials to create a nature themed art trail along cycleways.

She added: “Cabinet of Curiosity will continue to work on arts and heritage projects, but we’re also looking to move our business towards creating products for people to purchase. Supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic, and more and more people are wanting to support UK and regionally made products and businesses.

“With the help of the SAM Project, we decided to innovate and continue to adapt the business, and we hope to translate some of the work we’ve previously produced into beautifully decorative wooden items for the home.”

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

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Caroline and Edmond to explore the next steps for their business and invest in the equipment needed to continue innovating and creating unique and bespoke products. 

“The SAM Project was launched to support the region’s SME manufacturers and help them innovate and grow, and It’s fantastic to see Cabinet of Curiosity taking advantage of new opportunities and embracing new technologies to improve their processes and outcomes.”