Tag Archives: Funding

TRL9 SAM Project

Innovation specialist praises manufacturing support programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bignall Group Shildon SAM Project

Big changes at Bignall Group, thanks to SAM expertise

A firm of County Durham engineers has stripped hours from its manufacturing times and is planning to venture into new markets, thanks to an elite team of experts. 

Bignall Group is saving hundreds of manhours, investing in new machinery and already planning the second phase of its project working with a team of specialists from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project. 

SAM – which offers a range of support to SME manufacturing businesses in the North East LEP area – supported the Shildon-based operation following a full survey of Bignall Group’s production and workflow management systems, helping the company pinpoint bottlenecks in the process and then develop a plan for addressing the issues. 

Bignall Group general manager, Mark Coatsworth, said the expertise of the SAM Project team had been vital in helping identify areas where improvements could be made. 

“We were already examining our workflow system and identifying areas where we could eliminate bottlenecks and remove waste from the manufacturing process,” said Mark. “Bringing in the SAM team really helped speed that process up and we benefited from the fresh sets of eyes looking at how we operated. 

“Like all businesses, we are always looking at ways to be more efficient, save on costs and generally just improve the way we do things. SAM really boosted that process, in one instance tackling a challenge in our sawing process that previously took a minute to remedy, but now takes about four seconds. 

“We worked out the machines that were operating over-capacity and we addressed it, quickly speccing up two new pieces of kit that not only alleviated the capacity pressures, but expanded our ability to do more. 

“Projects like SAM are essential to help firms, like ours, take that leap forward and begin operating on another level.” 

Bignall Group is made up of three complimentary businesses, Shildon Manufacturing Company provides CNC machining; Cobtec Cubicle Hardware supplies cubicle ironmongery into construction projects all across Europe; and Masterlube Systems designs, builds and distributes grease and oil lubrication systems worldwide from its facility in Shildon, County Durham. 

SAM support not only helped pinpoint bottlenecks in the company’s systems, but also invest in a new 4-axis CNC machine and CNC lathe. 

For over 40 years Bignall Group has been designing and developing light engineered products, with a manufacturing facility and multiple product groups. Selling in 20 countries across multiple industries, the company puts design and innovation at the core of everything it does. It currently employs 32 people, who work across all three businesses. 

“Working with the SAM team last summer was an excellent experience and one that I’m very much looking forward to again, with the beginning of phase II of the project,” added Mark. “To be able to tap into that industry expertise has been invaluable for us. 

“I’d absolutely recommend SAM to any SME looking to make efficiencies or improvements.” 

Shildon Manufacturing Company remained open throughout the pandemic, with its clients providing items used in the NHS and the company even ventured into the world of PPE production at one point, designing, manufacturing and donating equipment to frontline workers.

Neil Taylor, automation and robotics specialist for the SAM Project, said: “Bignall Group is a fantastic cluster of businesses, each of which is really blazing a trail in its respective sector. It is a fantastic example of a company that has harnessed our region’s traditional industrial strengths and married them with leading-edge innovation. 

“I look forward to continuing the great experience of working with the team at Bignall Group.” 

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £10.9m collaboration between the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the University of Sunderland and the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, supporting the implementation of product and process development and the introduction of technology within the SME manufacturing base in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP) area. 

SAM offers four key support functions to businesses gearing up to grow, including access to technical expertise, with industrial specialists using their skill and expertise to guide businesses through the process of understanding and implementing technology; R&D, with a team of researchers able to support with the development of new products and processes; factories and facilities, including access to £1m of industry-leading advanced technology and equipment; and its grants scheme, that offers financial assistance to qualifying businesses. 

Carl Gregg Additive Manufacturing

Meet the Experts: Carl Gregg, Product and Process Design Specialist

Carl Gregg, product and process design specialist, has helped open the eyes of hundreds of SME manufacturers to the potential of additive manufacturing.

In its earliest form, Additive Manufacturing (AM) – or 3D printing as it is often referred to – has been with us since the early 80s and it should be no surprise that the technology has evolved significantly since then.

We are now at a stage where functional parts can be produced that can potentially outperform those which are conventionally manufactured. Prototyping remains a major use for additive manufacturing, however the days that 3D printing’s sole use was to produce non-functional prototype parts is over and increasingly, there is a trend emerging within the industry where additive manufacturing is being used for far more impactful means.

Our Prototype and Innovation Factory is home to a range of 3D printers that range from very basic (but still very useful) to advanced industrial machines. We even have a large format 3D printer that has a print area of 1mx1mx0.7m that can rapidly produce large parts that would usually need to be split apart to print on numerous printers.

In terms of advanced materials, we also boast two printers from market-leading 3D Printer manufacturer MarkForged (Metal X and Mark Two). The Metal X is able to print metal parts in a range of materials such as stainless steel, tools steels, Inconel and copper. This same printer was recently utilised for a project to produce an alternative to a cast part that was needed for testing. The lead time to produce the initial casting was six weeks compared to the production time on the Metal X which was just a few days.

We have had similar successes with the Mark Two system, which allows us to produce composite reinforced parts. The printer is fantastic for producing components that require highly functional parts such as machining fixtures or end of arm tools. The printer achieves this in two ways. Firstly, the material that is used to produce the parts is a blend of nylon and chopped carbon fibre, however the feature that sets this printer apart is its ability to inlay continuous fibre reinforcement such as carbon fibre or Kevlar. This fibre reinforcement allows us to produce plastic parts that have a similar functional strength to 6061 aluminium.

For higher volumes of production, we have an HP Multi Jet machine that can produce accurate, highly detailed parts in batches in an overnight run. Increasingly, companies are seeing this as a viable alternative to injection moulding for shorter runs of under 10k. The printed parts from the HP machine are air and watertight and some interesting case uses have been found to exploit this, such as, incorporating vacuum lines into end of arm tooling to produce a part that cuts out numerous assembly steps.

A common trait that we do see is that the 3D printing can increase the band width of conventional machines. For example, the printers need very little oversight when compared to CNC machining and they’re very easy and quick set up. Typically, a machine could be set up with a “digital warehouse” of jigs, fixtures, end of arm tooling, etc. and they can be called off with only a button press. This can reduce lead time and cost for any production change over and to ensure your machines keep running.

Roger Thomas SAM Project University of Sunderland

Meet our AR and VR Expert

Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) are mature technologies that are quickly moving from ‘proof of concept’ to being widely adopted across the industry.

However, while there’s been strong take up by large manufacturers, particularly those in aerospace and automotive, adoption by smaller UK companies has been less widespread.

It can often be difficult for small companies to identify where such technology can add value to their operations and identify a potential return on investment.

Through my role, I help the region’s SME manufacturers to understand how VR/AR and other digital technology can help overcome business challenges, improve onboarding, staff training and also corporate decision making.

For those unfamiliar with VR, it is an immersive experience delivered via headset and is increasingly being used to accelerate employee training; setting completion tasks against virtual scenarios i.e. by re-creating technically involved or hazardous scenarios in which an apprentice or similar can undergo training ‘risk free’. It is also increasingly being used for remote design review and collaboration, meaning users in different parts of the world can enter the same ‘virtual’ space, in real time, to discuss CAD design iteration, factory layout and a whole host of other actions.

AR essentially uses devices to ‘overlay’ digital content into the real world, this can be CAD, simulation/ animation, video, audio, and documentation (such as PDFs).  This type of ‘digital twinning’ (utilising Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices) is giving rise to ever more effective application scenarios; such as maintenance monitoring, remote inspection, asset tracking, field servicing and predictive maintenance (using live sensor data), guided training/ instruction, and job completion tracking.

As the cost of both VR and AR technology continues to fall, they are beginning to bring clear value to company’s core operations by making them more sustainable and scalable. There are many systems to choose from and SAM can support in identifying the right solutions. A company can also visit our Digital Factory at the University of Sunderland and directly experience using the technology first-hand.

Facilities include different VR headsets, Microsoft HoloLens 1 & 2, large area scanning to produce point cloud and thermal analysis (i.e., of factory environments), tablet devices, 3D scanning for part analysis and commercially available software authoring environments. 

Alongside our specialist support, the facilities also provide a no-risk opportunity to explore the potential that a range of digital technologies might bring to your operation and establish a roadmap for timely and cost-effective adoption. Visit us today to find out how your business could benefit.

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.”

Hundreds of firms have secured grant funding from SAM, could you be next?

Since 2018, the SAM Project has helped over 200 North East businesses become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance products, processes and technology.

Central to this success has been its incredibly popular Grant Funding scheme, providing matched-funding grants of up to £50,000* for manufacturing projects that support the growth of new products and processes.

This encompasses funding towards new to firm production technology; new product validation (tests/ consultancy); process improvement capital investment; structure to support research and development implementation; external consultancy on a time limited basis linked to a manufacturing/ production project and other product and process development costs.

During the first phase of the SAM Project, spanning 2018 – 2020, this saw the Project distribute over £1million in matched-funding grants, helping add £41.7 million in GVA to the North East businesses that engaged with the programme, creating 290 direct jobs and leading to a 30.1% rise in sales.

And the team at SAM are confident that, following its three year extension to 2023, it will have an even larger impact on the sector going forward, after it saw its grant pot double in size – by a further £1 million – and its technical team at the University of Sunderland continue to grow.

Speaking about the grant funding, Claire Darling-Cooper, compliance officer at the SAM Project, said: “The Grant Funding scheme proved incredibly popular with the region’s SME manufacturing base during phase one of the project, so we were delighted when we received confirmation that it had been extended for a further two years until 2023.

“Not only did it help create jobs, but it also helped safeguard many more and as we look to re-emerge from the pandemic, business support initiatives such as this will be key to ensuring the region’s manufacturers have all the tools they need to compete on the global stage and continue to innovate and grow.

The grants are restricted for small to medium sized (SME) business in the North East Local Enterprise (LEP) area – spanning Northumberland, County Durham and Tyne & Wear – and are also accompanied by 10-15 days’ worth of fully-funded technical support from the SAM Project’s team of eight manufacturing experts, who combined, boast over 250 years’ experience working across the industry in a number of senior roles.

Claire added: “We know how much of a leap of faith it can be when investing in new capital equipment, which is why we provide the technical expertise required to really understand the technology and all of its pros and cons, ensuring we help de-risk each and every investment we underpin.”

One such company to benefit from the SAM Project’s Capital Grant scheme is Vixen Surface Treatments Ltd, a market-leading manufacturer of industrial wet and dry blast cleaning cabinets.

After engaging with the SAM Project, the company was able to receive an in-depth demonstration of how 3D CAD visualisation software could help improve both its design and sales processes, as well as securing the funding required to invest in state-of-the-art software from Solidworks to implement the technology into its business model.

Aidan Mallon, managing director of Vixen Surface Treatments, said: “The first project we completed after the investment saw us test the Solidworks software on a live project that we won. 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.

“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.”

Another company to benefit from the grant scheme is Chester-le-Street architectural metalwork specialist, Steelcraft Ltd. Since engaging with the SAM Project and securing a five-figure funding grant, the company has expanded its product offering and launched a new brand, Forjj, allowing it to diversify and sell its products directly to consumers across the globe.

“The team at SAM were absolutely amazing,” Liam Armstrong, operations manager at Steelcraft said. “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 grants are accessible by all manufacturing SMEs, who can also still engage separately in a technical project with SAM (this can often support or identify the need for a grant application or helps to specify their precise needs and focus on the benefit and returns). The grant award is 25% matched funding available to those in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and 35% for those in County Durham. The grants can also be used to support the purchase of second-hand equipment, as well as brand new machinery kit and software, and can even be used for specialist services or testing needs that may be holding a company back.

Claire added: “Vixen and Steelcraft are just two of scores of success stories we’ve recorded through the Project’s journey so far and are evident of the impact this support can have.

“Not only do the grants help break down the barriers to investing in new technology but they also help eliminate other financial inhibitors to driving strategic development of both product and process.

“The only drawback for us is that we only have £1 million to give away. While it may sound like a lot, the first phase of the SAM Project proved so popular that the grant pot was empty well in advance of the project’s end date, therefore we’d recommend any manufacturer reading this who thinks they may be eligible to get in touch with us and find out more.”

Interested in finding out more about the SAM Capital Grant scheme? Visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/grant-support-helps-sustain-growth-for-vixen/ or email: sam.project@sunderland.ac.uk

Manufacturers across the North East are being urged to tap into grant funding and fully-funded technical support to help their businesses innovate and grow.

North East manufacturers urged to tap into support before it’s too late

Manufacturers across the North East are being urged to tap into grant funding and fully-funded technical support to help their businesses innovate and grow.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM) was launched in 2018 to help businesses become more productive and sustainable by supporting projects that enhance their products, processes and technology.

Since then, the programme – which was originally due to end in December 2020 – has proved a huge success, providing over £1 million 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 five distinct 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 has also seen SAM’s Technical Research and Development team grow, to offer even greater specialist industry support to companies.

Roger O’Brien, Research and Technical Lead at the SAM Project, said: “The first phase of the SAM Project was a huge success and we were delighted when we heard that the project was to be extended. Over the last two years, we’ve provided funding and support to hundreds 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 impact it has had on the nation’s manufacturing sector has been catastrophic. However, it has also 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 re-emerge from this crisis and keep Britain’s economy moving.”

In phase one, the SAM Project 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 has continued in phase two, with an additional £1 million 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).

An independent report commissioned to explore the impact of phase one also revealed that the programme helped create 270 jobs and added over £47 million in gross value to the regional economy. It was also revealed that SAM’s impact on innovation and new product development meant that the average TRL (Technology Readiness Level) – the scale on how new products are measured as being close to market launch – was a staggering 3.9 steps, with some clients jumping from Stage 2 up to Stage 9 due to SAM support.

“Our fully-funded technical advice and support is what really makes the SAM Project stand out from your traditional business support schemes,” Roger adds. “While there are many other grant funds out there to help businesses grow, there are very few – if any – which offer the intensive, personalised technical support that we do.

“Combined, our nine experts boast over 250 years’ experience working for an array of businesses, from blue-chip manufacturers to start-ups, with each of them specialising in their own individual disciplines, from additive manufacturing to automation and robotics, AR/ VR, electronics and process improvement, to name just a few.”

Roger concluded: “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 to 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.

“There is only a set amount of money and technical support available, therefore – following the huge success of phase one – early registration is highly recommended.”

For more information on the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/

Heliguy SAM Project support

Tech investment leaves Heliguy flying high

A North East drone specialist is scaling new heights after investing heavily in its own manufacturing facility.

heliguy™, based in North Shields, has established itself as a go-to drone supplier for clients across the globe since its launch in 2006.

The company started life as a retailer of remote-controlled helicopters but has since grown into a full-service drone specialist, providing drones, bespoke accessories, servicing, repairs, custom integrations, product development, drone pilot training and end-to-end workflow support.

Over the past two years, this diversification has seen the company secure contracts with 38 police forces across the country, as well as the London Fire Brigade, Port of Tyne and a host of personal and commercial clients.

One recent project, for a police force in the South East of England, saw the company’s design experts produce a bespoke drone mount, allowing officers to test mobile phone and radio signal strength in hard-to-reach areas such as farms and rural roads.

Another design and manufacture project, working with a commercial client – Aerial Ashes – resulted in the team developing a safe, sensitive way of scattering ashes at beautiful and memorable locations, such as out at sea or on mountain peaks.

This expansion of its services – and the establishing of a dedicated manufacturing hub at its Orion Business Park base – has not only led to the company onboarding more clients, but also more staff, with its headcount in North Shields now at 28.

Ross Embleton, custom integration specialist at heliguy™, said: “We identified a gap in the market – quite early on – when the drone market was just maturing and swiftly established ourselves as one of the UK’s leading independent providers of drones and accessories.

“Since then, we’ve continued to invest in the business year-on-year, ensuring we continue to service our clients to the highest possible standard and continuing to create job opportunities for local people.”

Central to bringing product development and manufacturing in-house and growing the business has been a suite of state-of-the-art 3D printers that has allowed heliguy™ to design and produce parts at its North Shields facility, helping to slash lead and prototype times while reducing costs.

Ross Embleton from Heliguy based in North Shields has purchased equipment with support from SAM project. Photo with Carl Gregg (SAM Project)

The company purchased the printers after receiving technical support and a grant from the £10.9 million Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, which is a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), University of Sunderland, the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes.

The funding supported the purchase of a market leading Markforged X7 3D printer, which allows the company to print parts in reinforced carbon fibre and Kevlar and will work alongside its selective laser sintering (SLS) machine and a Formlabs Fuse 1 3D printer.

The firm also purchased a Form 3L SLA 3D printer in November and aims to acquire a number of surface finishing machines over the coming months as it continues to invest in its design and manufacturing capabilities.

Ross added: “Bringing the production of our components in-house was key to us broadening our horizons and expanding into new markets and the support we received from SAM has been key to helping us do that.

“Carl [Gregg] was fantastic as he really bought into the concept. After working with him to identify which areas of our business could benefit from additive manufacturing and which 3D printers would be best suited to our needs, we went on to buy a state-of-the-art Markforged composite printer that has helped us significantly slash costs and lead times.

“It has massively reduced design times too. Now, if the managing director or a client has an idea, we can create a physical, working prototype within a week as there’s no waiting around for third party suppliers.

“Aviation parts also need to be strong and light, therefore being able to print parts in carbon fibre and kevlar on the Markforged printer is a huge benefit to us. It’s really helped us to step our business up a gear and we can’t thank Carl and the team enough for all of their support.”

Carl Gregg, product and process design specialist at the SAM Project, said: “As a team of engineers who thrive upon helping businesses overcome challenges to growth, it was fantastic to work with heliguy™ and to become so involved in helping them plan for the future as they continue to innovate and grow and create jobs here in the North East.

“The SAM Project was set up to help the region’s SME manufacturing base improve products and processes by adopting new technologies such as additive manufacturing and heliguy™ is a prime example of just how much of a positive impact the project can have.”