Tag Archives: 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. 

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.”

Robotics Specialist

Breaking down the barriers to robotics

Neil Taylor, Automation & Robotics Specialist, explains why embracing robotics is key to ensuring SME manufacturers remain competitive.

When I was first appointed Robotics Programmer at the then Tallent Engineering, back in the early 1980s, the technology was often seen as somewhat of a threat to jobs, and a far-fetched concept by many others.

Based out of Aycliffe Business Park, in County Durham, Tallent Engineering, now Gestamp, was one of the first non-OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to embrace robotics, and as a result grew from being a multi-product manufacturer with just a single site, which had a handful of robots, into one of the world’s leading automotive Tier One suppliers, specialising in specifically in chassis and suspension products in just a matter of years.

Having started out as a welder, my role as robotics programmer initially saw the company invest in 10 robots, which at that time, none of the staff had even heard of and saw productivity increase significantly, helping us ramp up the output of parts we were producing for the Ford Sierra, improving quality and drastically reducing lead times.

Fast-forward 40 years and Gestamp now has over 1,200 robots operating at its Newton Aycliffe site alone, (the largest none OEM population of robots on one site in Europe), with tens of thousands more in operation across the globe – ranging from robotic welding, both MIG & Spot, machine tending, bushing, inspection and palletising. Robots have been key to that growth and success, along with challenging the norms of traditional production.

However, despite the rapid advancement of robotic technology over the last few decades and the heightened adoption of automated processes by the majority of automotive OEMs and Tier One suppliers, many manufacturing SMEs are still yet to harness and embrace the potential of robotics within their operations, often believing them to be out of reach price wise or technologically challenging.

For many, their reservations are predisposed to thinking that they would unable to afford the technology, that the costs will far outweigh the business benefits, or that the skills required are out of reach, however this couldn’t be further from the truth in the majority of cases, especially with the emergence of technology such as collaborative robots (cobots).

Here at the ERDF-funded Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, we have a team of technical experts working shoulder-to-shoulder with the region’s SME manufacturers to help break down the barriers to embracing new technology and improving processes.

One such company to benefit from the support is Almet.  The Washington-based specialist fabrication business is set to increase its factory size by 12,000 sq  ft over the coming months as it invests in robotic technology in a bid to enhance its processes. Working with the team at SAM, Almet was able to explore how the use of robotic welding technology could benefit its business, as well as tapping into the funding required to support the purchase of its new equipment. It was also able to weigh up the various alternative and benefits of deploying either cobots or traditional industrial robots based upon their specific applications, needs, volumes and repeat orders.

Another success story to arise from SAM’s fully-funded support is Pilgrim Spirit. Based in Alnwick, the premium brand gin producer was able to receive an in-person proof of concept demonstration of state-of-the-art cobot technology. This demonstrated that manual handling errors could be significantly reduced and even eliminated by using an automate process, whilst allowing them to increase productivity and utilise what would otherwise be downtime by extending operations to a 24 hour basis. This is subsequently to be deployed in their facilities following on from the engagement with the SAM Project. Initially they had paid a visit to our home at the University of Sunderland’s Industry Centre to find out more about 3D printing, but following on from this and seeing the potential after paying a visit to our six specialist factory areas, which have seen over £1m invested in new technology, they broadened their thinking and looked at how automation could benefit them.

Boasting everything from robotic welding cells to palletising robotics, collaborative robots, sensors and automation, latest virtual/augmented reality technology, sophisticated 3D printers, including metal printers, plus much more, the factories provide the region’s SMEs with an opportunity to test out advancements in their sector prior to making substantial financial investment and has been well received by the industry since its launch in 2018. 

Not only do these facilities allow companies to fully-understand how the technology works and how it is relevant but, similar to Almet, it also allows the companies to access matched-funding grants to support the purchase and installation of these technologies for their business.

Recent independent reports show that companies who engaged in the first phase of the SAM Project reported significant growth and improvements, including such things as improved layout, increased productivity, being more competitive through adoption of latest technology and increases in quality.

Companies such as Almet and Pilgrim Spirit have seen business skyrocket, creating new jobs and winning numerous new clients or opening up new markets as a result of technology adoption, and specially robotics and automation.

Yet, despite a recent report by the British Automation & Robotics Association (BARA) revealing that UK industrial robot sales were up 7.5% in 2020 on the previous year, there are still scores of manufacturing SMEs across the North East that are yet to have their eyes opened to the huge, somewhat untapped potential of robotic technology and the support on offer to help them steal a lead on the competition.

While it’s pleasing and reassuring to see sales of industrial robotics increase, we must continue encouraging more of the region’s manufacturers, particularly our SMEs, to explore all of the avenues of support available to them as we look to step out from the pandemic on the strongest possible footing and ensure UK manufacturing becomes more and continues to remain competitive on the global stage.

It is significant to note that the UK lags behind other major manufacturing economies in its use of robotics, so not only can SMEs increase local market share, but they can also explore wider markets and bigger potential that have previously been untapped.

Not only do robotics help significantly improve productivity, but they can also lead to reduced operating costs, improved quality and less material waste and in order to further build on this heightened demand for industrial automation, we must continue to champion projects such as SAM.

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 the support could benefit your business.

It could be just the push you need to step your business up a gear, be that via automation or any of the other technologies or product and process design support on offer from within the SAM team…