Tag Archives: County Durham

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. 

RIchard-Eynon-AMAP

Meet our Electronics and Industry 4.0 Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artech Lighting

Capital investment leaves manufacturer beaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The project is a collaboration between the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the University of Sunderland and the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, supporting the implementation of product and process development and the introduction of technology within the SME manufacturing base in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP) area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How tech can help plug the manufacturing skills gap

How tech can plug the manufacturing skills gap

Much has been made of the skills gap in the UK manufacturing industry in recent years and there are a number of factors contributing to this, including a lack of investment in new technology.

The manufacturing industry is heavily influenced by evolving technologies and new techniques are constantly helping to improve processes and the quality of end-products. There’s also no hiding from the increasing amount of computerisation involved in production processes, as well as the need for bespoke software solutions to meet growing demand, utilise different materials and manage workload.

As someone who has spent over 30 years’ in the industry, I’ve witnessed this first-hand. After working at one of the earliest adopters of industrial robots in the UK, Tallent Engineering (now Gestamp), I have seen the first robots they installed in the early 1980s grow to a robot population of over 1,200 at its Aycliffe site, with the pioneering technology helping bring continued success to the company and making it more competitive on the global stage.

Fast-forward 30 years and we have seen many more of the region’s manufacturers invest in emerging and mature technologies, such as AR/VR, which has been embraced by the likes of Caterpillar in Peterlee.  However, technology advancement isn’t unique to large companies, despite the many pre-conceptions of such technologies being too expensive. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Recently, we have worked with scores of North East SMEs to help them embrace new technologies, including companies such as Kail &Co, Heliguy, and AR Controls. Additive manufacturing in particular is increasingly competing with traditional manufacturing techniques even outside of prototyping and is a fundamental part of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

This is why, when reading the latest ‘Addressing skills and labour shortages post-Brexit’ report by the CIPD, I was surprised to see that only 9% of UK businesses plan to invest in technology as a way of addressing skill or labour shortages over the coming years. Technology is such a key driver within industry, which is why it’s now as important as ever to support businesses and employers to increase the adoption of new technology and support the skills development of staff.

Many SME manufactures are facing staff shortages and short-term interventions are needed in the way of quality business support and funding to overcome this crisis, making the investment in skills and technology more manageable and paving the way for long-term success. This support is exactly what the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is here to provide, by helping SME manufacturers to innovate, grow and diversify.

Backed by ERDF, the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and the University of Sunderland, the SAM Project has a team of dedicated technical experts who work alongside the region’s SME manufacturers to support the implementation of product and process development, as well as the introduction of technology, at absolutely no cost to businesses. We also have matched-funding grants to help make the investment in new technology as affordable as possible.

Over the past few years, I have seen with my own eyes the many benefits that investing in technology can have on SMEs through some of the incredible projects we have been a part of, helping manufacturers embrace new technologies such as robotics, automation, design software, 3D printing and augmented and virtual reality. It’s technologies like these that open new doors for businesses and provide their employees with the capability to build upon their skills and ensure they are employable for years to come.

One such business that we were proud to support is specialist metal fabricators, Almet, who we helped explore the use of robotic welding technology through live demonstrations, showcasing to the team what they could achieve with this type of machinery based upon their specific needs. The Washington-based company has now increased its factory size by 12,000 sq ft and is investing in the technology itself to enhance processes. Not only did this safeguard jobs, but it will also create a number of highly skilled roles.

Another company we supported was precision engineering specialist, Ashgarth Engineering, providing funding to help with the purchase of a 3 axis vertical machining centre with a 4th axis attachment. This allowed the company to branch out into new markets and offer their current clients additional processes, leading to an increase in turnover and the creation of jobs.

However, tackling the skills and labour shortages post-Brexit and post-pandemic will take time and will also need to filter down to education, increasing awareness in schools about careers in manufacturing and increasing the number of manufacturing apprenticeships to help bridge the skills gap.

The manufacturing industry can provide employees with limitless potential to grow and learn as technology continues to advance. After all, just because someone lacks a certain skill, or the knowledge to operate new machinery, doesn’t mean they won’t pick it up quickly. If you have the willingness to learn and explore the opportunities in front of you, the skills shortage can be reduced, and your business can thrive.

For the SAM Project, we will continue to encourage the regions SME manufacturers to explore the support on offer and get in touch to find out how we can help. Our objective has always been the same, to build resilience among the region’s SME manufacturers, increase productivity and help not only safeguard, but also create jobs for the generations to follow.