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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.

SAM Innovation and Growth

SAM Features in The Journal

The SAM Project featured in The Journal, published in Newcastle in a special feature in March 2022.

The article covers all of the areas of expertise offered by the the project with an introduction to the Technical Team, alongside case-studies featuring companies who have received support.  There is also information about the grant funding the project offers.

The full supplement can be downloaded here.

Creative design studio a cut above the rest

Creative design studio a cut above the rest

A North East creative design studio is cutting a path to success after investing in new equipment to expand capabilities and explore new markets.

Cabinet of Curiosity Studio, which specialises in public art commissions for the arts and heritage sector, worked with the team at the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, to engage with technical experts and upgrade its cutting machinery, enabling the business to unlock new opportunities and support batch production.

Based in South Shields, the studio was established in 2010 by designer maker Caroline Collinge and architect Edmond Salter, after they were selected as finalists for a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) competition, which was exhibited at the National Theatre in London.

Since then, Cabinet of Curiosity Studio has worked with museums such as the V&A, arts and heritage organisations such as the Thames Festival Trust, as well as local authorities and universities across the UK to create art exhibitions, installations and participatory activities, with a focus on architectural themes and nature inspired design using materials such as paper and wood.

Working with technical experts and academics at the SAM Project, Cabinet of Curiosity Studio attended a digital manufacturing course to find out more about the skills and knowledge needed to manufacture products on a larger scale, before tapping into grant funding to invest in a CNC Router and additional accessories for its laser cutting machine.

Caroline said: “We have worked on some fantastic projects over the years, helping our clients engage with a wider audience through arts and design. All elements of the design and making is carried out at our studio, using laser cutting fabrication techniques and CAD software.

“Before the pandemic, I attended a business event in Durham to find out about the support we could tap into, which is how I came across the SAM Project. We wanted to ensure Cabinet of Curiosity Studio was one step ahead, and the digital course and funding has enabled us to invest in equipment to craft more detailed designs, use a wider range of materials and recycled materials, as well as explore new income streams and batch production.”

Caroline and Edmond are currently working on two projects with local authorities. One is supported by a grant from Durham County Council, fabricating laser cut kits for families to take away and build their own miniature market gardens to grow fresh produce, and the other in Milton Keynes, using laser cutting equipment and wood materials to create a nature themed art trail along cycleways.

She added: “Cabinet of Curiosity will continue to work on arts and heritage projects, but we’re also looking to move our business towards creating products for people to purchase. Supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic, and more and more people are wanting to support UK and regionally made products and businesses.

“With the help of the SAM Project, we decided to innovate and continue to adapt the business, and we hope to translate some of the work we’ve previously produced into beautifully decorative wooden items for the home.”

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 SME manufacturers in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP) area to improve their products or processes and introduce new technology.

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Caroline and Edmond to explore the next steps for their business and invest in the equipment needed to continue innovating and creating unique and bespoke products. 

“The SAM Project was launched to support the region’s SME manufacturers and help them innovate and grow, and It’s fantastic to see Cabinet of Curiosity taking advantage of new opportunities and embracing new technologies to improve their processes and outcomes.”

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/

Steelcraft and SAM

Steelcraft shows true mettle to diversify and grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The team at SAM were absolutely amazing,” he added. “Prior to engaging with them, our factory hadn’t changed in 20 years and we were struggling to see how we could scale up our operations while keeping costs and disruption at an absolute minimum.

“Using simulation software, they were able to create an identical, computerised model of our workshop and working closely with our production manager, identify which machines and processes could be altered and moved to make space for the new machinery and improved workflow.

“We’d never have even thought about using digital twin software to visualise and improve our shop floor and – as a family-business – we could never have accessed something like this without the support of SAM.”

The tube bending machine allowed Steelcraft to not only create jobs and increase output, but also bring the production of its bent metal components in-house, which the company previously had to outsource, leading to increased costs and lead times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Teears SAM Project Manager

Multi-million-pound boost for North East manufacturing

MANUFACTURERS across the North East are set to receive a major boost, after one of the region’s largest investment programmes secured a further £6 million in funding.

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

Since then, the programme – which was due to end in December 2020 – has proved a huge success, providing £800,000 in matched-funding – as well as practical and research support to over 200 SMEs across the region – and is set to continue supporting the sector after securing a further £6 million, taking it to June 2023.

The pioneering initiative was originally part-funded by ERDF – with a £2.6m commitment – and the University of Sunderland and industry, which invested £2.5m, and is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees) based in the North East LEP area, with an annual turnover of less than €50m (£45m approx.)

The project offers a range of assistance – tapping into significant academic resources, a team of industrial specialists and a number of factories with more than £1m worth of equipment – to offer both practical and research support, ensuring businesses can access a knowledge bank comprising some of the industry’s brightest brains and most advanced technology. This extension will see the Technical Research and Development team grow, to offer even greater specialist industry support to companies.

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “We are absolutely delighted to announce that the project has been extended until June 2023. Over the last two years, we’ve provided funding and support to scores of businesses and have witnessed first-hand the impact this has had, from safeguarding and creating jobs to transforming entire production lines.

“Since the pandemic hit the UK in March, the impact it has had on the nation’s manufacturing sector has been catastrophic. However, it has provided opportunities such as re-shoring and bringing back in-house previously sub-contracted works, as well as business diversification. Now, more than ever, manufacturers need our support and this funding boost will go a long way to helping many of the region’s SMEs adapt and grow as we look to get through this crisis and keep Britain’s economy moving.”

In phase 1, SAM provided matched-funded grants of up to £50,000 to SMEs across the North East LEP area for capital, product validation, equipment and other financial inhibitors to drive the strategic development of both product and process. This will continue in phase two, with an additional £1Million being put into the grant pot, together with some tweaks to the intervention rates (now at 25% in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and 35% in County Durham).

Teears added: “This latest expansion means the project is now fully-funded until June 2023, however we can’t recommend early engagement enough. Our fully funded technical research and development support and grant fund are seeing a strong increase in interest as companies look to diversify, adapt and innovate. We have moved to monthly grant panels as we foresee the additional £1 million being very popular.

“If you’re an SME manufacturer, then the engineers, researchers, grants and access to capital are here to help you adapt to the inevitable process changes facing us post-pandemic and help take your business to the next level.

“Programmes like this are pivotal to ensuring the North East continues to lead the way in product, process and technology innovation – and we can’t stress enough how important it is that manufacturers get on board.”

AGMA Family owned business

Capital investment pays off as AGMA helps clean up

A FAMILY-OWNED manufacturer of cleaning and hygiene solutions has revealed how major investment in new machinery helped it step up to the fight against Coronavirus.

AGMA Ltd, based in the rural town of Haltwhistle, Northumberland, designs and manufactures sterile and non-sterile cleaning and biocidal products, which it exports to customers in over 30 different countries.

Serving a broad range of industries – from the NHS to major global blue-chip pharmaceutical, biotechnology and oil companies – the company, like most others in its sector, saw its order book swell during the Coronavirus outbreak, with production lines running at full capacity while staff adhered to social distancing measures.

However, despite growing demand from its client base during what has been an incredibly testing period for the industry, the company was still able to join the global fight against Covid-19, thanks to grant funding and expert advice from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project.

The support helped AGMA – a Royal Warrant holder – identify areas of the business that could be improved through automation – such as the production of its triggered sprays – and invest in the machinery required to automate the process, safeguarding 30 jobs while increasing output, reducing lead-times and increasing sales.

John Taylor, finance director at AGMA Ltd, said: “Our sanitisers and hand gels have become extremely popular both abroad and domestically over recent months due to the pandemic. However, as a family company that is deep-rooted in Haltwhistle, we’ve continued to stand-by our commitment to give back to the community that’s served us incredibly well over 52 years, by continuing to donate products locally. We also supply the NHS and various other organisations – while fulfilling orders for clients.

“This would not have been possible had it not been for the support we received from the SAM Project last year. The funding and support was crucial to help us understand how automation can benefit our business and allow us to invest in new machinery, introduce new procedures and make us more competitive, while reducing production costs, expanding into new areas and safeguarding jobs.

“As a company, the majority of our competitors are multi-global organisations that – for the past 50 years – we’ve had to really punch above our weight to compete with. This support has allowed us to tap into R&D expertise, previously out of reach, and invest in state-of-the-art machinery that will help us compete for years to come. We can’t thank the team enough for all of its support.”

Having seen output double and a significant rise in sales over the last 2-3 years, AGMA is now looking to the future as it continues investing in new machinery and processes, as well as ramping up its R&D activity as it uses its increased manpower to brings new innovations to market.

John added: “Looking forward, we’re hoping to continue growing and exploring how we can continue to embrace new technologies. The support from SAM has really opened our eyes to the potential of industry 4.0 and how processes such as automation can help us grow as a business, and we’re aiming to continue investing in new technologies as a result of this over the next 12 months.

“As an export nation, our manufacturing sector is vital to our economic success and projects such as SAM will play a pivotal role if manufacturing companies such as AGMA are to continue competing on the global stage long into the future.”

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

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The SAM Project was launched in a bid to help manufacturers in the North East LEP area lead the way in product, process and technology innovation – and AGMA Ltd is a perfect example of this in action.

“The company is a fantastic case study of how manufacturers can innovate and grow by embracing new technologies and processes. Not only has investing in automation helped the company increase output and sales but it has also helped safeguard 30 jobs and maximise the potential of its workforce.

“However, the support on offer from SAM is only available for a limited time, therefore I’d recommend any SME manufacturer in the North East LEP area that has plans to grow over the next few months, or that is having to adapt due to the pandemic, to get in contact with us to find out if they’re eligible to tap into the support on offer.”

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing is a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and University of Sunderland, that was set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes.  It was funded with a £2.6m commitment from ERDF and £2.5m from the University of Sunderland, and is aimed solely at small and medium sized manufacturers (under 250 employees), with an annual turnover of less than €50m (£45m approx.)