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Cobot Event

SAM Cobot Roadshow with RAR UK Automation

Join the SAM Project and RAR UK to learn more about collaborative robots and how they can transform you manufacturing business and save cost.

Event Date: September 28th 2021

SAM are delighted to collaborate with RAR UK Automation to bring our Cobot Roadshow to the North East , in Sunderland, to share first hand how companies can benefit and implement cost effective collaborative robot (cobot) solutions within their manufacturing operations, to improve productivity, reduce costs, increase quality, and allow resources to be more efficiently and effectively deployed.

The free event can booked on the SAM Eventbrite page:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sam-cobot-roadshow-with-rar-uk-automation-tickets-170280434363

This event will feature hands on demonstrations, powerful real life case studies and examples and the opportunity for 1 to 1 sessions. To get Hans on with the Cobot and mobile robots themselves. It will also explain how manufacturing SMEs in the North East can make use of the fully funded resources and facilities within the SAM project to explore the technology, and even access grants towards purchasing and deployment. Experts from SAM and RAR UK will be on hand to hold individual discussions and demonstrations with attendees after the main event, whilst group demonstrations of various applications will take place during the session itself.

We will also be joined by AR Controls, an SME who have received SAM support, both as technical and grant assistance, to speak about their Cobot and integration experiences.

The full agenda is as follows:

8-30 am Arrivals, registration, breakfast and networking

9-00am Introduction and SAM project overview

9-15am RAR UK Automation overview

9-30am AR Controls – Integration of Cobots, Case study and Sam Project Support Experience

9-45am Case Study examples – RAR UK and SAM Project Team.

10-00 Coffee

10-15 Practical Application Demonstations (in groups working through all applications) including:

Dispensing

Sanding and Polishing

Pick and Place / Machine Tending

Pick-it bin picking

Mobile Robots – featuring MiR

11-15 Question and Answers session

11-30 Close, networking and subsequent opportunity for 1 on 1 detail discussions and demonstrations with RAR UK, and SAM Project Teams

We look forward to seeing I you there at what promises to be an interesting and thought provoking event.

Almet using robots

Rise of the robots aids Almet expansion

ROBOT-tech is boosting business at a North East metal fabricators.

Specialist fabricators, Almet, is expecting turnover to increase by 40%, as it prepares to invest in state-of-the-art robotic welding technology and increase its factory size.

The Washington-based business is laying the groundwork to increase its factory size by 12,000 sq ft as it invests in technology to enhance processes, following support from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

The company, created in 1995, started out supplying large businesses in the region with general metalwork requirements and soon expanded into the automotive and yellow goods industries. From one-off bespoke prototypes to batch production items, Almet manufactures and supplies a diverse range of products to customers including Nissan, Komatsu and Caterpillar.  

As the business developed, Almet built an in-house paint plant as well as launching their sister company Temla Laser, which is ran by Paul’s daughter Hayley and son Paul, providing the latest in laser cutting technology keeping up with the demand for services with a quick turnaround.

Working with manufacturing experts from the SAM Project, Almet explored the use of robotic welding technology sooner than anticipated, as well as receiving funding that will support with paint plant machinery and the purchase and installation of a cure oven.

Paul Almond, director at Almet, said: “The SAM Project has helped us with several programmes, the latest one being robotic welding. The support is invaluable to us, as we didn’t know the ins and outs of robotic welding, or if it would suit our process. SAM was able to show us live demonstrations and explore what we could actually achieve with the machines.

“We may have invested in this technology in the future, but it would have taken us considerably longer – probably another couple of years – to get there without the support from SAM. Now we’re looking to invest in robotics within the next six months, so they have really sped up the process and allowed us to get there faster, which is important to stay competitive within this industry.”

Almet is also expanding into the adjoining unit, increasing its current 17,000 sq ft factory to 29,000 sq ft. This will allow the business to move and expand its paint plant – currently based across the road – keeping everything under one roof.

Paul said: “The expansion will see us move our paint plant into the new factory so that we can take in higher quality paintwork and attract additional business. SAM is also helping us in the form of grant assistance to purchase a new oven and spray booth.

“Now that we’re getting the facilities in place, as a target within two years, we’d like to increase the turnover for both Almet and Temla by 40% and this will without a doubt create new, highly skilled jobs.”

He added: “The SAM team couldn’t have been more helpful. The main thing is the support and the feasibility study. They look at products and business to help implement technology much faster. They’re on the money and really know their stuff.”

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, head of AMAP, said: “It’s a pleasure to work with Paul and the team at Almet to help them explore how new technology such as robotic welding can improve processes, as well provide access to grant assisted funding to support business growth.

“The SAM Project was set up to help the region’s SME manufacturers improve processes and unlock potential in terms of innovation and growth. Almet is a great example of this in action and we wish them all the best as they continue to grow.”

Steelcraft and SAM

Steelcraft shows true mettle to diversify and grow

AN ARCHITECTURAL metalwork specialist is forging ahead into new markets, after receiving investment and technical expertise from a team of manufacturing experts.

Steelcraft Ltd, based in Chester-le-Street, is expanding its product offering and launching a new brand, after securing a five-figure funding grant and support from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

The company, which up until last year specialised solely in the production of metalwork for housing developers such as Bellway and Miller saw its business almost grind to a halt after the closing of construction sites due to social distancing restrictions.

However, having launched its first ecommerce platform, Forjj, just prior to the pandemic, the company was not only able to diversify and sell its products directly to consumers, but also capitalise on the rise in housing restorations during the pandemic, leading to a 900% uplift in online sales during the crisis.

Liam Armstrong, operations manager at Steelcraft Ltd, said: “Forjj had been a work in progress for some time, but it never really received the attention it deserved until the pandemic hit.

“Once we saw our order books dry up during the Covid crisis, we dedicated most of our resources to pushing that side of the business and we couldn’t be happier with how it has improved our business.’’

While the launch of Forjj allowed Steelcraft to pivot during the crisis and carve out new business opportunities, it’s success also resulted in the company running at full capacity, once lockdown measures were eased and the UK embarked upon ‘project build’.

This led to Liam and the team tapping into further support from the SAM Project for grant funding – having already worked in partnership helping the team improve the management of its factory – and exploring how its different avenues of support could help sustainably increase output, while keeping costs at a minimum.

“The team at SAM were absolutely amazing,” he added. “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 tube bending machine allowed Steelcraft to not only create jobs and increase output, but also bring the production of its bent metal components in-house, which the company previously had to outsource, leading to increased costs and lead times.

Liam added: “Like many manufacturers, we were hit hard during the pandemic and would never have been able to purchase the new tube bending machine were it not for the 40% funding grant that we received from SAM.

“Not only has it allowed us to create new jobs, it also allowed us to be more competitive. Prior to this, we had to buy in many of our metal components however now that we’ve brought production in-house, we are more cost competitive, and we’ve never been busier.”

Looking to the future, Steelcraft is now on the verge of launching a third brand, the Newcastle Locker Company, which will see the firm produce military-grade lockers for the armed forces and other specialist users.

“If you’d have asked us a year ago where we’d be today, there’s no way we could have envisaged this,” Liam added. “We couldn’t be happier with the direction we’re going in and we can’t thank the team at SAM enough for their support over the past 18 months or so. I couldn’t recommend the project enough.”

Michelle Hambleton, business development manager at the SAM Project, said: “It was a pleasure working with Liam and the team at Steelcraft and we’re delighted to have been able to help them not only explore how new technology such as simulation software could help improve processes, but also access the funding required to take their business to the next level.

“The SAM Project was set up to help the region’s SME manufacturers innovate and grow by exploring the benefits of – and implementing – new technology, and we’d encourage any business interested in scaling up to get in touch and find out how they could benefit.”

Ashgarth Engineering

Investment gives engineering firm the tools to grow

A COUNTY DURHAM precision engineering specialist is proving it has the talent to turn tools into takings, and grow the business.

Ashgarth Engineering, a subcontract precision engineering specialist based in Consett, has reported a 40% increase in turnover over the past year after seeing demand for its services skyrocket.

Ashgarth Engineering has continued to grow, invest in new capital equipment and created skilled jobs despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The company, which supplies high volume precision machined components to customers across the UK, has benefited from a surge in orders from the automotive and medical industries following fresh investment into the business over the past 12 months.

The investment, which included funding from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at University of Sunderland, saw the company relocate to a new, larger workshop in February and invest in the machinery required to ramp up output and cater for the increase in demand for its services.

Co-founder and director, Niall Ash, said: “We’ve grown year-on-year since our launch in 2017 and we’re delighted that – despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic – we’ve been able to continue on this upwards trajectory over the past 12 months.

“Central to this has been the move to our new premises in February, which gave us the capacity required to really ramp up production supported by the investment we secured from the SAM Project.

“After engaging with the programme, we were able to secure a five-figure matched funding grant towards a 3 axis vertical machining centre with a 4th Axis attachment. This allowed us to offer an additional process to our current clients and also branch out into new markets, which previously we’d never have been able to cater for.”

Over the past year, this continued investment has directly led to the creation of three jobs – taking the company’s headcount to nine – and will see the company continue to invest in its team over the coming months.

“We’ve taken on two new skilled machinists on the shop floor as well as a sales specialist to help with business development and if all goes well, we’ll be recruiting for another two roles over the coming months,” Niall added.

“While the past 12 months has undoubtedly thrown up challenges, we’re delighted to be re-emerging from the crisis on such a strong footing and we can’t thank the team at SAM – as well as Business Durham which introduced us to the initiative – enough for their support.

“Although our business growth has been organic over the past four years, we would never have been able to scale at this rate of pace had it not been for funding schemes such as this and I’d urge any business going for growth to see how they could benefit.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £10.9 million business support programme led by the University of Sunderland and backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 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.

Ken Teears, project manager at the SAM Project, said: “It’s fantastic to see innovative, forward-thinking businesses such as Ashgarth Engineering continuing to invest in new technologies and creating highly skilled jobs in the region.

“SAM Project’s objective is to support  the region’s SME manufacturers to increase productivity, automation, diversification and resilience through our fully funded technical support and large grant fund. Ashgarth Engineering are a great example of a ‘SAM SME’ that is  scaling up their operations following our support. We urge other manufacturers to do the same. We’re delighted to have supported Ashgarth on its journey and would like to wish them the best of luck for the future.”

Shooting Target

Target manufacturer has new markets in its crosshairs

A BRITISH soldier is proving to be a sharpshooter in business as well as the bunker, after taking his battlefield skills into the boardroom.

Northumberland-based Tactical Shooting Solutions was set up by a British soldier with almost two decades’ service, after he identified a gap in the market for UK-manufactured, military-grade shooting targets.

Three years on, the family-run company is now exporting its products to customers across Europe and the USA and has outlined bold ambitions to further expand its global footprint, with the launch of a ‘revolutionary’ new product.

Working alongside the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at the University of Sunderland, Tactical Shooting Solutions has developed a new range of heat-sensored shooting targets, specifically designed for snipers and marksmen to train at night.

Launching early next year, the company believes the product range will be a ‘first-of-its-kind’ not only for the military, but also consumer markets such as pest control, and will help position it as a ‘leader in the next-generation of target technology’.

The company’s founder said: “Having served in the British military for the best part of two decades, I knew the market well and had often felt that it was one that hadn’t really moved with the times and had failed to innovate, especially in comparison to other industries, so I decided to develop something which I thought was more suited to the needs of military personnel.

“Initially, we started off producing targets, but as soon as we secured orders and customers began to realise the quality of our products, we sharp began to receive enquiries for other shooting solutions and today produce a wide range of items from targets, to gun cases and bags.”

Prior to the launch of Tactical Shooting Solutions, the shooting target market was dominated by manufacturers in the USA and reshoring production to the UK was something he was keen to explore.

“UK manufacturing is esteemed the world-over due to its exceptional standards and its commitment to innovation,” he said. “Not only has this helped us secure contracts, but it has also helped sustain jobs in the supply chain and tap into some of the brightest brains in the industry to take our products to the next level.”

Having already developed a market-leading product with no prior experience of running a business, the company’s founder began thinking of new ways they could increase their market share and devised the idea of producing a target that would allow military personnel – especially snipers and marksman – train at night.

This led to him being introduced to Richard Eynon, the Industry 4.0 and Electronics Specialist at the SAM Project, a £10.9 million business support programme led by the University of Sunderland and backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which helps SME manufacturers innovate and grow.

Richard, alongside experts from the University of Sunderland, worked closely with the firm to explore the electrical requirements that would be needed to develop heated targets, as well as identifying UK factories capable of developing the technology at scale.

He said: “Over the years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how difficult it is for military infantry such as marksmen and snipers to practice at night and have been drawing up ideas for some time to develop something that could fill the gap.

“We knew it had to be heat-powered, however we didn’t have any idea how to make it happen. Thankfully, we were introduced to the team at SAM and – with their technical expertise and funding – were able to not only design a product that was viable, but also establish a sustainable UK supply chain to bring the product to market.

“As a small, family business, the ability to tap into such free, specialist support has been amazing. We would never have been able to tap into such technical expertise had it not been for the SAM Project and we can’t thank them enough for their support.”

Richard Eynon of the SAM Project added: “It was great working with the team at Tactical Shooting Solutions and helping them design, source and implement the bespoke heater pads required to bring this game-changing technology to market.

“The SAM Project was set up to help unlock innovation among the North East’s SME manufacturing community and Tactical Shooting Solutions is a perfect example of how such collaborative working can help make the region’s manufacturers more competitive and increase productivity.”

 

Manufacturers OGLE on TV show Dragons Den

Dragons Den Date for North East manufacturer

A North East manufacturer is set for a face-off with TV’s most feared business leaders, as it enters the Dragons’ Den.

The founder of innovative building company, OGEL will appear on the hit BBC programme on July 8, 2021, as part of the new series currently airing.

Having already won over technical experts at the SAM Project, OGEL’s founder, Gary Giles, will face Dragons, such as Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Tej Lalvani to pitch a block-like system that turns waste plastic into anything from flood defences to humanitarian shelters and garden offices.

Gary said: “We have been developing our product over six years, and a glowing endorsement, and potentially the offer of investment from one of the Dragons could give us the kick start we need as we launch across the UK from July.”

Despite the challenges of 2020, OGEL still managed to work on developing its unique invention, which scored the business a place in the final of the European Recycled Plastics Awards, before being approached by the BBC to appear in the 2021 series of Dragons’ Den.

Working alongside E3 Design, which is also based in the North East, and RAM Extrusion based in the West Midlands, OGEL have developed the system to use 100% recycled polystyrene as its source material – the first ever to be globally patented.

Manufacturers OGLE ON DRAGONS DEN

Gary said: “A project of this size and scope requires a wide collaboration and luckily we’ve achieved this with a brilliant group of companies, coming together to turn a good idea into a fully working, game-changing product.”

OGEL launches with two products, TASKPOD, a home office designed for the new ‘work from home’ employee without the space for a dedicated room elsewhere in the home, and GARDEN LIVING, a series of flexible garden buildings to enable families to maximise their outdoor areas with the option to change the layout or dismantle and transport it if they move house.

“The system is designed to be simple, fast, light, and reusable, and the final OGEL buildings are significantly warmer than similar structures made of wood and brick” he added.

The SAM Project previously supported OGEL with design, material studies and simulation to evaluate and refine their products to optimise performance, strength, and overall cost. 

Gary said: “It was absolutely great to work with the SAM team, who are professional yet friendly and fully understanding of the technical and commercial requirements of the testing we required.

“Based on the positive experience of this part of the OGEL project, this won’t be the last time we work with Ian, Richard, Roger and the rest of the staff.”

Roger O’Brien, head of AMAP and technical lead on the SAM Project, said: “It has been a fascinating project to be involved with, and we were struck from day one as to the unique and clever thought process that had gone into Gary’s product.

“The SAM Project have thoroughly enjoyed helping him on his journey to create what should become a world leading, innovative product with vast scope for application.

“The work undertaken by the team, including Ian and Richard, has given Gary even more solid foundations to further build his product portfolio, and we look forward to continuing to work with him as his company grows.”

Gary added: “2021 and beyond look very promising for OGEL with a number of orders already in place, and interest from Russia and Africa as well as UK markets.

“A good performance in the Den and who knows where this could go?”

Ken Teears Project Manager for SAM Project

Manufacturers urged to ‘think local’

A TEAM of industry experts is urging regional manufacturers to prioritise localising supply chains, to minimise the impact of future crises on the sector.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project, a £10.9million initiative set up to provide expert advice and funding to North East SME manufacturers, issued the rallying call after witnessing first-hand how travel restrictions have affected the sector over recent months.

When national lockdowns were imposed in March last year due to the pandemic, entire supply chains were brought to a halt almost overnight, highlighting the extreme fragility of extended global supply chains, as firms the world-over were unable to import key components and materials.

Scores of small to medium sized manufacturers from across the North East have since approached the team at SAM – comprising academics from University of Sunderland and industry leading experts – for advice on securing and safeguarding their supply chains, as they look to minimise the impact of future crises.

Ken Teears, Project Manager of the SAM Project, said: “British manufacturing has been dealt blow after blow by the pandemic and establishing sustainable, localised supply chains is key to safeguarding the industry’s future.

“This was not only a challenge for the large Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), SME manufacturers were also left high and dry as suppliers in mainland Europe closed temporarily and imports ceased.

“The SAM Project was able to advise companies on how they could bring production in-house and identify the manufacturing equipment required to do so.

“Companies saw that, while the unit price of making components in-house was slightly higher, the reduced risk, increased resilience and ability for staff to move onto this equipment if supply chains were disrupted again, meant they were good investments to make.

“Over the past 40 years we have seen a huge shift in the number of western manufacturers setting up facilities and sourcing parts from suppliers in low-wage economies, while failing to heed the advice of the many industry-experts and academics urging companies to establish more localised, sustainable supply chains.

“While there is no hiding from the fact that the production of materials and parts overseas can be – at times – significantly cheaper for manufacturers, the pandemic acted as a stark reminder that the ever-growing trend of manufacturers relying upon imports can also be hugely damaging to the industry’s supply chains.                                                          

“Jaguar Land Rover was a great example of this. When Chinese factories and ports were forced to close in February last year due to the pandemic, the automotive giant’s global supply chain almost ground to a halt and the company made headlines the world-over after being forced to fly-in vital components via suitcases.”

Another example was the UK’s reliance upon imported PPE, the majority of which failed to meet the standards set by Public Health England (PHE) and forced a valiant effort from UK manufacturers to diversify and begin producing PPE of their own to support the fight against the virus.

Within weeks, millions of items of PPE were produced by UK manufacturers – many of which were from the North East – meeting the highest of industry standards and ensuring the safety of our key workers.

As well as quality and economic benefits, the reshoring of manufacturing and localising of supply chains also has huge environmental advantages, helping companies slash their carbon footprint and support the UK’s fight to cap greenhouse emissions.

“Many materials and parts are transported halfway around the world before the final product is even sold.” Teears said. “By sourcing goods locally, we can effectively eradicate the need for unnecessary transport, helping firms reduce their carbon footprint and providing a huge shot in the arm to their local economies.”

The SAM Project 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.

“If we can encourage more manufacturers to source parts locally, bringing production back to the North East that was previously outsourced and/or re-shore a larger proportion of their components, then this will prove a huge boost to the region and the resilience of the sector going forward,” Teears added.

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, manufacturers of all kinds have contacted us for support and we have witnessed lots of companies looking to think local and make their supply chains more sustainable.

“If we can be certain of one thing as we look to 2021, it’s that there will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead for the sector as we look to bounce back from the pandemic and adjust to the new trading conditions brought about by Brexit.

“However it’s important to remember that support is available for those affected, from both the SAM Project and other programmes in the region, whom we work closely with, and we’d urge any company seeking advice and guidance to contact us for support and guidance.”

For more information on the SAM Project, visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/

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.)