Tag Archives: Manufacturing growth

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.”

Ashgarth Engineering

Investment gives engineering firm the tools to grow

A COUNTY DURHAM precision engineering specialist is proving it has the talent to turn tools into takings, and grow the business.

Ashgarth Engineering, a subcontract precision engineering specialist based in Consett, has reported a 40% increase in turnover over the past year after seeing demand for its services skyrocket.

Ashgarth Engineering has continued to grow, invest in new capital equipment and created skilled jobs despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The company, which supplies high volume precision machined components to customers across the UK, has benefited from a surge in orders from the automotive and medical industries following fresh investment into the business over the past 12 months.

The investment, which included funding from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project at University of Sunderland, saw the company relocate to a new, larger workshop in February and invest in the machinery required to ramp up output and cater for the increase in demand for its services.

Co-founder and director, Niall Ash, said: “We’ve grown year-on-year since our launch in 2017 and we’re delighted that – despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic – we’ve been able to continue on this upwards trajectory over the past 12 months.

“Central to this has been the move to our new premises in February, which gave us the capacity required to really ramp up production supported by the investment we secured from the SAM Project.

“After engaging with the programme, we were able to secure a five-figure matched funding grant towards a 3 axis vertical machining centre with a 4th Axis attachment. This allowed us to offer an additional process to our current clients and also branch out into new markets, which previously we’d never have been able to cater for.”

Over the past year, this continued investment has directly led to the creation of three jobs – taking the company’s headcount to nine – and will see the company continue to invest in its team over the coming months.

“We’ve taken on two new skilled machinists on the shop floor as well as a sales specialist to help with business development and if all goes well, we’ll be recruiting for another two roles over the coming months,” Niall added.

“While the past 12 months has undoubtedly thrown up challenges, we’re delighted to be re-emerging from the crisis on such a strong footing and we can’t thank the team at SAM – as well as Business Durham which introduced us to the initiative – enough for their support.

“Although our business growth has been organic over the past four years, we would never have been able to scale at this rate of pace had it not been for funding schemes such as this and I’d urge any business going for growth to see how they could benefit.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £10.9 million business support programme led by the University of Sunderland and backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 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.

Ken Teears, project manager at the SAM Project, said: “It’s fantastic to see innovative, forward-thinking businesses such as Ashgarth Engineering continuing to invest in new technologies and creating highly skilled jobs in the region.

“SAM Project’s objective is to support  the region’s SME manufacturers to increase productivity, automation, diversification and resilience through our fully funded technical support and large grant fund. Ashgarth Engineering are a great example of a ‘SAM SME’ that is  scaling up their operations following our support. We urge other manufacturers to do the same. We’re delighted to have supported Ashgarth on its journey and would like to wish them the best of luck for the future.”