Robotics and automation support for West of England SMEs

Media Relations Team, 31 January 2019

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Man and woman stood either side of a large, white robotic arm.

Businesses and entrepreneurs across the West of England will be given an opportunity to trial, adopt and develop robotics and smart automation solutions, thanks to a new £1 million initiative from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The SABRE Programme, based in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), will help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from any sector to explore the benefits of these technologies, and to identify the most appropriate robotic equipment for their organisation.

All types of SME – from start-ups and sole traders, to more established companies – can access SABRE's assistance, either through attending free workshops, or by applying to receive free or subsidised technical support.

“We are very excited about the opportunities this new initiative presents for BRL to support a diverse range of innovative businesses,” says Professor Chris Melhuish, Director of BRL.

“It complements our existing business portfolio, including our Hardware Incubator (desk-space and support for early-stage tech businesses) and the West of England Robotics Network (an open access community offering networking and events to anyone interested in robotics).”

Located in BRL's RIFBristol innovation facility, which has a successful track-record of delivering industrial research and consultancy projects since its formation in 2013, SABRE will utilise a range of cutting-edge technical equipment and leading engineering expertise.

“SABRE will work with SMEs from across Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire – providing them with hands-on assistance, tailored to their individual research and development challenges,” says Farid Dailami, Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing and Director of RIFBristol.

“Our free two-day workshops provide a safe and supportive environment in which participants can learn the practical basics of operating robots. They also help to de-risk the purchase and integration of equipment by ensuring SMEs can make informed investment decisions.”

For SMEs researching and innovating new products or services, SABRE's Technical Development Projects (TDPs) offer more in-depth support, facilitating collaborations with talented engineers and helping them to develop, prototype, test and validate concepts.

“Our TDPs are awarded on a competitive basis, following the submission of applications that are reviewed by an assessment panel,” continues Dailami. “They can have durations ranging from five days to 12 weeks, and are tailored to the particular needs of individual businesses.

“Successful applicants can undertake their TDP in our workspace in UWE Bristol's University Enterprise Zone, where they will be supported by professionals with knowledge and skills in disciplines such as robotics, mechanics, electronics, mechatronics and control systems.”

Robotics and automation already have an essential role to play in the UK's innovation landscape, and are becoming increasing important to SMEs in sectors not traditionally associated with industrial hardware.

“The adoption of these technologies is key for future economic growth,” comments Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol. “They feature prominently in the UK's Industrial Strategy, and are championed by important local bodies such as WECA and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership.”

Early indications suggest entrepreneurs from a wide variety of fields – in particular the creative and digital industries – are interested in engaging with the SABRE initiative to use robotics in innovative ways.

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