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More than a dozen North East manufacturers have been supported with funding to enable them to innovate during the UK lockdown.

Small and medium-sized manufacturing and engineering businesses from across the region have been backed in their plans to pivot during the COVID-19 crisis by the University of Sunderland and ERDF-backed Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM), which exists to support the development of the sector in the North East LEP area. 

Thirteen businesses – including three who used the funding to enable them to adapt to supply vital PPE in the COVID-19 battle – have been successful in accessing financial assistance since March, allowing them to adapt their business in order to grow.

Projects including manufacturers purchasing equipment to bring previously sub-contracted work in-house, purchasing new equipment, adapting production to enable workers to return from furlough and work safely at a distance, and companies piloting cobotics technology as a means to supporting safer social distancing, have all been part-funded by SAM, which offers businesses grants and a range of support to assist with introducing new technology to improve products or processes. 

Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “It’s been encouraging to see that – despite the challenges the UK manufacturing sector has faced - many businesses have been looking to innovate, and find new ways to emerge from this crisis on the front foot. 

“We were absolutely determined that – despite not being able to get the panel physically together to assess applications - we would get together virtually to keep the support flowing when it is so sorely needed.”

The SAM Project provided circa £100,000 in grant support to the businesses that applied, running virtual grant panel meetings every two weeks to ensure that much-needed assistance continued to reach businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic.

“There was a fear that businesses would retreat during the pandemic, and perhaps wouldn’t be minded to save rather than investing in the future, but the fact that we have approved and paid out applications from businesses that have invested in new technology to drive the growth of their business in the long-term and adapt their company to be more resilient to any future impact of the pandemic, demonstrates that there is still a real focus and drive among the region’s manufacturers.”

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing is a £5.1m project to support the implementation of product and process development, and the introduction of technology to the SME manufacturing sector, in the North East LEP area. The project has received £2.6m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the University of Sunderland, who are investing £2.5m and managing the delivery of this project.  It is aimed solely at small and medium-sized manufacturers (under 250 employees), with an annual turnover of less than €50m (c.£45m)

The project 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.

Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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