EU investment supports SMEs

A new £500,000 investment from the European Union is to help 65 design and manufacturing firms to generate new business through digital engineering technologies.

A new £500,000 investment from the European Union (EU) is to help 65 design and manufacturing firms to generate new business through digital engineering technologies.




Sunderland University has secured the contribution from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2007-13 to extend Digital Factory, the training and technology transfer project delivered by the Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP).



The project is assisting design, engineering and manufacturing firms with innovative processes and facilities and equipment to increase productivity and win new business.



‘The team at AMAP allows companies access to advanced software applications to accelerate the design stages of their work,’ said Digital Factory project leader, Alan Stafford. ‘This increases their capabilities and enables them to exploit new business opportunities.



‘Investment in these types of technologies gives smaller companies a greater chance to succeed and grow. We can give them access to expensive software technologies used by larger firms, which SMEs need to break into new markets, gain customers and move up into more lucrative areas of the supply chain.’



Companies supported will receive advice in developing a digital business strategy, capitalising on the opportunities presented by digitisation, globalisation and deregulation and using technologies to improve customer service. Smaller businesses will also be provided with opportunities to find other regional SMEs with which to collaborate and trade.



One company that has already benefited from the Digital Factory is Roman, a bathroom fixtures and fittings company based in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Chris Ward, Roman’s design manager, said: ‘Our market is extremely fashion driven, which means we must be able to respond promptly to ever-changing market trends.



‘By moving to 3D design and visualisation we have been able to compress our product design cycles by an average of 50 per cent and can create multiple product-design configurations from a single model extremely quickly. Secondly, it has enabled us to deliver a unique bespoke service that is consistently inundated with enquiries and orders, and has subsequently become a division in its own right.’



The broader £6m project is being financed by Sunderland University, regional development agency One North East, the European Union’s ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-13 and private sector investment. The ERDF element of the project will support 65 new SMEs, help create five others, and create and safeguard 20 jobs.