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Latest news from SAM

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.”

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/

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…

Ken Teears Project Manager for SAM Project

Manufacturers urged to ‘think local’

A TEAM of industry experts is urging regional manufacturers to prioritise localising supply chains, to minimise the impact of future crises on the sector.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project, a £10.9million initiative set up to provide expert advice and funding to North East SME manufacturers, issued the rallying call after witnessing first-hand how travel restrictions have affected the sector over recent months.

When national lockdowns were imposed in March last year due to the pandemic, entire supply chains were brought to a halt almost overnight, highlighting the extreme fragility of extended global supply chains, as firms the world-over were unable to import key components and materials.

Scores of small to medium sized manufacturers from across the North East have since approached the team at SAM – comprising academics from University of Sunderland and industry leading experts – for advice on securing and safeguarding their supply chains, as they look to minimise the impact of future crises.

Ken Teears, Project Manager of the SAM Project, said: “British manufacturing has been dealt blow after blow by the pandemic and establishing sustainable, localised supply chains is key to safeguarding the industry’s future.

“This was not only a challenge for the large Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), SME manufacturers were also left high and dry as suppliers in mainland Europe closed temporarily and imports ceased.

“The SAM Project was able to advise companies on how they could bring production in-house and identify the manufacturing equipment required to do so.

“Companies saw that, while the unit price of making components in-house was slightly higher, the reduced risk, increased resilience and ability for staff to move onto this equipment if supply chains were disrupted again, meant they were good investments to make.

“Over the past 40 years we have seen a huge shift in the number of western manufacturers setting up facilities and sourcing parts from suppliers in low-wage economies, while failing to heed the advice of the many industry-experts and academics urging companies to establish more localised, sustainable supply chains.

“While there is no hiding from the fact that the production of materials and parts overseas can be – at times – significantly cheaper for manufacturers, the pandemic acted as a stark reminder that the ever-growing trend of manufacturers relying upon imports can also be hugely damaging to the industry’s supply chains.                                                          

“Jaguar Land Rover was a great example of this. When Chinese factories and ports were forced to close in February last year due to the pandemic, the automotive giant’s global supply chain almost ground to a halt and the company made headlines the world-over after being forced to fly-in vital components via suitcases.”

Another example was the UK’s reliance upon imported PPE, the majority of which failed to meet the standards set by Public Health England (PHE) and forced a valiant effort from UK manufacturers to diversify and begin producing PPE of their own to support the fight against the virus.

Within weeks, millions of items of PPE were produced by UK manufacturers – many of which were from the North East – meeting the highest of industry standards and ensuring the safety of our key workers.

As well as quality and economic benefits, the reshoring of manufacturing and localising of supply chains also has huge environmental advantages, helping companies slash their carbon footprint and support the UK’s fight to cap greenhouse emissions.

“Many materials and parts are transported halfway around the world before the final product is even sold.” Teears said. “By sourcing goods locally, we can effectively eradicate the need for unnecessary transport, helping firms reduce their carbon footprint and providing a huge shot in the arm to their local economies.”

The SAM Project 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.

“If we can encourage more manufacturers to source parts locally, bringing production back to the North East that was previously outsourced and/or re-shore a larger proportion of their components, then this will prove a huge boost to the region and the resilience of the sector going forward,” Teears added.

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, manufacturers of all kinds have contacted us for support and we have witnessed lots of companies looking to think local and make their supply chains more sustainable.

“If we can be certain of one thing as we look to 2021, it’s that there will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead for the sector as we look to bounce back from the pandemic and adjust to the new trading conditions brought about by Brexit.

“However it’s important to remember that support is available for those affected, from both the SAM Project and other programmes in the region, whom we work closely with, and we’d urge any company seeking advice and guidance to contact us for support and guidance.”

For more information on the SAM Project, visit: https://samprojectuos.co.uk/

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.)

Surgeon in PPE

Breaking down the UK Government’s new PPE Strategy

The UK Government has outlined how it aims to ensure the UK is prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 by investing further in UK PPE production and the supply and logistics for its distribution.

The strategy – released today (28 Sep) – sets out how the government is moving beyond the emergency COVID-19 response to help stabilise the nation and build resilience.It details how government is preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 or concurrent pandemic alongside usual seasonal pressures; how it is ensuring the UK has enough PPE to last through winter and making sure the nation has the processes and logistics in place to distribute PPE to those most in need.

Ken Teears, Project Manager at SAM, said: “The remarkable efforts by UK manufacturers to step up to the challenge of re-shoring PPE manufacture and production in the UK is to be commended, including that of companies in the North East.

“This strategy also highlights opportunities for manufacturers to innovate and support the ongoing PPE supply whilst looking at more sustainable solutions to the single-use challenge. SAM is here to support manufacturing SMEs in the North East and work with regional and national partners to identify further opportunities.”

The response of UK manufacturers to the crisis has been a significant achievement with, on average, UK based supply anticipated to meet 70% of forecasted demand in England in December for all categories of PPE excluding gloves.

However, to ensure the nation can respond rapidly to future demand surges, the Government are hoping to build a strategic stockpile and is calling on UK manufacturers to support its efforts.

Below, we break down each of the strategy’s key focus areas and how UK manufacturers can support the production of each of the key areas:

Plastic films

• UK Make capacity is now available for aprons. Pre-COVID-19 this manufacturing capability did not exist in the UK.

• Key barriers are the availability and cost of the machines to produce aprons for different care settings however the government is now investigating alternative materials to reduce unit costs and exploring environmentally sustainable materials.

Eye protection

• Market research suggests the UK has the capability to both design and manufacture eye protection to meet normal and COVID-19 volumes.

• Eye protection lends itself to the development of a reusable product which could also be fully recyclable.

Masks

• UK capacity is available for FFP3 masks with a large proportion of demand met by UK Make.

• Challenges remain around global availability and escalation of costs.

• R&D exploring the decontamination of single-use FFP3s could also allow such items to be reused.

Gloves

• There are currently no existing manufacturers in the UK as raw materials are not available in Britain.

• However manufacturers could benefit from opportunities to re-engineer glove packaging to reduce wastage and to reduce glove usage where possible to avoid hand health issues.

Gowns

• UK manufacturing and raw material is available from the UK textile industry by re-purposing fashion or furnishings factories.

• Certification process for small UK manufactures presents a barrier to entry but the Government is working with regulators to simplify the process.

• The Government wants to increase reusable sterile and non-sterile gowns with a potential to develop gowns as a service e.g. a comprehensive business model for the user including laundry. It is now working with UK Textile industry and leading universities on raw materials innovation i.e. graphene to address this.

Chemicals

• Strong UK capacity with potential to secure 100% of demand from UK based supply in 2021.

For more information on the support on offer from the SAM Project, click here.

Grant support helps sustain growth for Vixen

A NORTH East manufacturer of industrial cleaning machinery and equipment has revealed how a business support programme helped it through the pandemic and prepare for life post-Coronavirus.

Founded in 1990 by managing director Aidan Mallon, Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments is a market leader in the production of wet and dry blast cleaning cabinets, degreasing machines and phosphating equipment.

Manufacturing both off-the-shelf and bespoke machinery, the company exports 40% of its products overseas to customers in the nuclear, engineering, healthcare, automotive and aerospace industries, meaning it is often required to maintain close and constant dialogue with clients.

Thanks to a capital expenditure grant obtained last year from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project – which offers a range of support to the region’s SME manufacturing businesses – Aidan and the team were able to mitigate the impact of social distancing and travel bans throughout the pandemic, by purchasing state-of-the-art 3D CAD visualisation software.

The installation of ‘Solidworks’ software means Vixen is able to provide 3D demonstrations of its products to clients, allowing them to visualise how products will look and work once complete.

Aidan said: “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.”

Vixen began producing 3D virtualisations just under a year ago and it has already enabled the company to secure a major export order from a German aerospace business, as well as helping keep its order book filled during the pandemic, which brought manufacturing supply chains to a halt across the globe.

“The first project we completed after the investment saw us test the Solidworks software on a live project that we won,” he added. “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.

“It also helped us share up-to date designs and updates with clients during the pandemic, meaning we could still fulfil orders despite travel bans. That’s not to say we weren’t impacted by the pandemic – as we were functioning with just 25% of our workforce at one stage – but it certainly helped us to continue operating and servicing clients.

“We’re now have almost everyone back at work and the continuity of interest means our order book remains heavy. Now, looking to the future, we’re confident that we can continue building on this.”

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: “Vixen Surface Technologies is a fine example of how visualisation through 3D technologies such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)can help businesses innovate and grow, even during the most challenging of conditions.

“Millions of manufacturers across the world are reeling from this crisis and wondering how they can improve business continuity strategies in the event of such disasters going forward. Technologies such as Solidworks and other CAD, CAM that can also be pulled into Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will play a huge role in helping businesses minimise downtime in the future. It’s been a pleasure working with Aidan and the team and we’re excited to see what the future holds for them.”

Image shows: Aidan Mallon, managing director of Thornaby-based Vixen Surface Treatments.

April’s cover story in Machinery Magazine features SAM Project

SAM collaborative project for Dyer Engineering

April’s cover story in Machinery Magazine features SAM Project

Dyer Engineering was supported by SAM to investigate the use of VR, 3D scanning and 360 immersive videos within their workshops.The collaborative project between SAM Project and SynergiVR is this months cover story in Machinery Magazine.

To read the whole story click here.

360 virtual tour of Dyer Engineering