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Surgeon in PPE

Breaking down the UK Government’s new PPE Strategy

The UK Government has outlined how it aims to ensure the UK is prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 by investing further in UK PPE production and the supply and logistics for its distribution.

The strategy – released today (28 Sep) – sets out how the government is moving beyond the emergency COVID-19 response to help stabilise the nation and build resilience.It details how government is preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 or concurrent pandemic alongside usual seasonal pressures; how it is ensuring the UK has enough PPE to last through winter and making sure the nation has the processes and logistics in place to distribute PPE to those most in need.

Ken Teears, Project Manager at SAM, said: “The remarkable efforts by UK manufacturers to step up to the challenge of re-shoring PPE manufacture and production in the UK is to be commended, including that of companies in the North East.

“This strategy also highlights opportunities for manufacturers to innovate and support the ongoing PPE supply whilst looking at more sustainable solutions to the single-use challenge. SAM is here to support manufacturing SMEs in the North East and work with regional and national partners to identify further opportunities.”

The response of UK manufacturers to the crisis has been a significant achievement with, on average, UK based supply anticipated to meet 70% of forecasted demand in England in December for all categories of PPE excluding gloves.

However, to ensure the nation can respond rapidly to future demand surges, the Government are hoping to build a strategic stockpile and is calling on UK manufacturers to support its efforts.

Below, we break down each of the strategy’s key focus areas and how UK manufacturers can support the production of each of the key areas:

Plastic films

• UK Make capacity is now available for aprons. Pre-COVID-19 this manufacturing capability did not exist in the UK.

• Key barriers are the availability and cost of the machines to produce aprons for different care settings however the government is now investigating alternative materials to reduce unit costs and exploring environmentally sustainable materials.

Eye protection

• Market research suggests the UK has the capability to both design and manufacture eye protection to meet normal and COVID-19 volumes.

• Eye protection lends itself to the development of a reusable product which could also be fully recyclable.


• UK capacity is available for FFP3 masks with a large proportion of demand met by UK Make.

• Challenges remain around global availability and escalation of costs.

• R&D exploring the decontamination of single-use FFP3s could also allow such items to be reused.


• There are currently no existing manufacturers in the UK as raw materials are not available in Britain.

• However manufacturers could benefit from opportunities to re-engineer glove packaging to reduce wastage and to reduce glove usage where possible to avoid hand health issues.


• UK manufacturing and raw material is available from the UK textile industry by re-purposing fashion or furnishings factories.

• Certification process for small UK manufactures presents a barrier to entry but the Government is working with regulators to simplify the process.

• The Government wants to increase reusable sterile and non-sterile gowns with a potential to develop gowns as a service e.g. a comprehensive business model for the user including laundry. It is now working with UK Textile industry and leading universities on raw materials innovation i.e. graphene to address this.


• Strong UK capacity with potential to secure 100% of demand from UK based supply in 2021.

For more information on the support on offer from the SAM Project, click here.

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.

DLAW A NORTH EAST manufacturer of industrial heating units for the agriculture sector is celebrating after securing its largest contract to date.

DLAW expands with SAM help

A NORTH EAST manufacturer of industrial heating units for the agriculture sector is celebrating after securing its largest contract to date.

DLAW Contractors, based at Port of Sunderland, has created four new jobs as a direct result of the six-figure contract win, which will see it manufacture, supply and install a 6.2 megawatt output grain drying unit for a working farm in Northumberland.

The grain drying unit – which will be powered by two geo-thermal ground-source heat pumps – was designed and procured by renewable energy specialist Calibrate Energy Engineering on behalf of the farm. The project will drastically reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and significantly reduce its carbon footprint when fully operational.

The contract win marks the 17th industrial heating unit to roll-off the DLAW production line since the company opened its manufacturing facility at the port in April 2019 and has seen the firm recruit four more staff – from accounts to coded welders – to help ease its ever-growing workload.

Dale Barry, co-founder and managing director at DLAW, said: “This is a huge win for us and we are absolutely delighted to be in a position where we can continue investing in the business and create opportunities for local people, especially during a period of such economic uncertainty.

“Over the past 18 months we’ve seen the business grow from a team of four to a team of 12 full-time members of staff operating from our own, dedicated manufacturing facility, and we couldn’t be happier with how the company has progressed.

“As well as manufacturing our geothermal heating units, we also have a contract to manufacture solar-powered containerised, transportable water treatment systems for Pure Water International. The units provide a self-sufficient and sustainable way for hard to reach communities across the globe to access clean drinking water and we’re confident both sides of the business will continue to grow as we look to the future.”

Shane McDonald, director of Calibrate Energy Engineering, added: “We awarded the contract of principal contractor to DLAW based on its understanding of the product and expertise in the manufacturing sector, which gave us confidence to move forward with the project and we are delighted to be working with them”.

DLAW secured the contract after tapping into support from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, a £10.9million business support programme led by the University of Sunderland and backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The support helped DLAW not only identify the machinery required to improve its manufacturing process but also provided it with the funding to help with the purchase of a new 8×4 CNC Plasma Cutter machine.

“The support we’ve received from SAM has been fantastic,” Dale added. “Not only has it helped us invest in new machinery, but it has also helped us improve our processes and ensure we are running as lean an operation as possible.

“Without the new CNC Plasma machine we would have struggled to take on a project of this size and I couldn’t recommend the project enough to any manufacturing business looking to futureproof their business and continue growing post-pandemic.”

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The SAM Project was set up to provide innovative SME manufacturers across the North East with the tools and capital required to help them push the boundaries of their respective industries and DLAW is a perfect example of this.

“As a start-up business, the company has been able to adapt quicker than most to changes in its key markets and this is evident by its latest success which has seen the firm punch well above its weight and position it as a key challenger in the supply of industrial heating units. We are delighted to have been able to support the company and would like to wish them all the best for the future.”

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.




Turnmill re-jigs

Turnmill rejigs as orders soar

A SUNDERLAND-based engineering firm has expanded its presence in the city after investing in new premises and machinery during the pandemic

Turnmill Engineering, which is based at Washington Business Centre, works with businesses and individuals to help bring new products to market and improve production processes.

Specialising in the production of consumables, jigs and fixtures and machine components, the company was founded in 2018 by three industry experts boasting over 100 years’ experience between them and – boosted by an uplift in orders during the pandemic – is currently on track to record its best year to date.

The expansion, which has seen the firm increase its footprint three-fold, coincides with an investment in new machinery, including three Mazak CNC lathes machines, which will help the company achieve its target of increasing output by 50% over the coming months as it looks to ramp up production.

Andrew Howe, co-founder and operations director, said: “We try to concentrate on jigs, fixtures and production line improvements but if you were to take one look at our order book then you’d soon see just how much of a wide range of projects we work across.

“We started out in 2018 by completing a handful of projects for clients primarily in the automotive sector however since then – literally by word of mouth – we have diversified and established ourselves in several key sectors including pharmaceuticals, motorsport and construction.”

Turnmill Engineering has grown by 30% year-on-year since its launch however its busiest period to date proved to be while the UK was placed in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We welcomed on board a number of new customers during the pandemic and this was mainly due to our production breakdown and line improvement service,” Andrew added.

“With manufacturers the world over forced to adhere to strict social distancing measures, companies began exploring new ways to reduce production costs and we have been fortunate in the fact that we’ve been able to help through the provision of new fixtures, jigs and product development and hopefully we can continue building on that momentum post-covid.”

Turnmill moved to Washington Business Centre after being introduced to the office space by Sunderland City Council’s business investment team and being impressed by its flexibility and its ability to accommodate its future growth plans, which will see the company continue adding to its headcount over the next 12 months.

Andrew said: “What really impressed us about Washington Business Centre was the flexibility it offered us to grow. Since moving to the centre two and a half years ago, we’ve already expanded three times into larger units which has allowed us to continue scaling while causing minimum disruption to the business.

“Another advantage was its location, as it is situated ideally on the Nissan commuter belt. The North East is home to one of the largest automotive clusters in Europe and to be right at the beating heart of this has proven ideal for us as a company and has played a key role in helping us grow.

“We now have five members of staff and – following this latest move and the investment in new machinery – are looking to create a further two roles over the next 12 months, one of which will be an experienced engineer and one which will hopefully be at entry-level as we look to pass on our knowledge and know-how to the next generation, too.”

Turnmill’s investment in new machinery was also supported by the University of Sunderland’s Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, which provides matched-funding and business support to SME manufacturers across the North East LEP area and recently secured a £6 million extension taking the programme to 2023.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “We were delighted to work with Andrew and the team at Turnmill to help identify new opportunities for growth and invest in the machinery required to take the business to the next level.

“The SAM Project was set up to support the implementation of product and process development in order to help the region’s SME manufacturers unlock their growth potential and Turnmill is yet another great example of this in action.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Washington Business Centre was launched to help SMEs scale and grow and to see Turnmill Engineering continuing to innovate and expand its presence at the business hub is a fantastic success story not only for the centre but for the city as a whole and I think I speak for everyone at the Council when I say we’d like to wish them all the best for the future.”

IMage of man working on blocked sewer

Innovators sought to help unblock UK sewerage systems

Forward-thinking businesses and individuals from across the North East are being urged to join a design sprint aimed at solving the UK’s waste blockage crisis.

Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) and the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project are urging businesses and experts from all sectors to work with them to help reduce UK sewer blockages.

NWG alone experiences over 10,000 sewer blockages per year, causing sewer flooding to homes, businesses, and outdoor areas, as well as odour problems and environmental pollution.

Companies participating in the sprint – which is being held as part of the annual NWG Innovation festival – will receive fully-funded support from a team of technical experts and will be able to tap into grant funding to further their idea, should they be chosen to submit it for proof of concept trials.

The NWG Innovation Festival is returning for its fourth year – from 14-18 September – however this will be the first time the event has been held digitally, with attendees able to tune in to a series of presentations, masterclasses, key speakers and pitching competitions.

Adrian Lee, technical policy manager at NWG, said: “The Innovation Festival offers a unique and exciting opportunity where we can gather together some of the best and most innovative minds from business, science, technology, engineering, utilities and customer services to tackle real life problems.

The problem of sewer blockages is significant and can lead to issues which are both upsetting and distressing for our customers, as well being potentially harmful and damaging to the environment.  Our vision is to prevent sewer blockages within our network or to identify them before there is an impact to customers or on the environment.

“In recent months we have launched our “Bin the Wipe” campaign, which has seen great success, helping to reduce sewer blockages associated with wet wipes, but there is still a lot more we can all do.  No matter how big or how small your idea might be, please sign up for our sprint where you will be part of an amazing team working together to make a real difference to the planet.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project was set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The North East is home to some of the UK’s most innovative businesses and expert thinkers and this is a great opportunity to once again show the world what we’re capable of achieving when we put our minds together.

“UK sewer waste is growing year-on-year, causing blockages that are extremely damaging not only to the environment, but also to public health.  If this trend continues, water companies across the country are going to require new infrastructure and equipment capable of unblocking such waste streams and hopefully this sprint can help kick start a new revolution in the waste industry.

“Participating companies will not only get to work with a team of academics and experts from SAM and NWG, but any ideas that are viable will also be put forward as concept trials. Funding will also be available to help bring successful innovations to market. I’d urge any company that thinks they have the expertise to get involved, it’s a great opportunity with huge potential.”

For more information on the NWG Innovation Festival, visit:

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 or contact

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