UWE launches £1m scheme for Bristol small firms to plug into the power of robotics

February 1, 2019
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Small and medium-sized firms thinking of incorporating robotics and smart automation in their business have the opportunity to try out their ideas under a £1m scheme launched by UWE Bristol.

The SABRE Programme, which is based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) on UWE’s Frenchay Campus, will link businesses with most appropriate robotic equipment for their organisation, enabling them to trial, adopt and develop new techniques. 

The programme is suitable for any type of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – from start-ups and sole traders to more established companies. They can either attend free workshops or apply to receive free or subsidised technical support.

BRL director Prof Chris Melhuish said: “We are very excited about the opportunities this new initiative presents for BRL to support a diverse range of innovative businesses.

“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).”

SABRE will harness a range of cutting-edge technical equipment and leading engineering expertise in the BRL’s RIFBristol innovation facility, which has a successful track-record of delivering industrial research and consultancy projects since it opened in 2013.

RIFBristol director and associate professor for knowledge exchange in manufacturing Farid Dailami said: “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. 

“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.

Farid Dailami added: “Our TDPs are awarded on a competitive basis, following the submission of applications that are reviewed by an assessment panel.

“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.”

The Sabre Programme recognises the essential role that robotics and automation are already playing in the UK’s innovation landscape as they become increasing important to SMEs in sectors not traditionally associated with industrial hardware.

UWE vice-chancellor Prof Steve West said the adoption of these technologies was key for future economic growth.

“They feature prominently in the UK’s Industrial Strategy and are championed by important local bodies such as West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).”

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.

“We really welcome this,” added Prof West. “It fits the ethos of the BRL, which focuses on innovation, collaboration and inter-disciplinary working. It also builds on UWE Bristol’s wider commitment to supporting business partnerships across multiple sectors.”

The SABRE Programme is part-financed through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It forms part of UWE Bristol’s portfolio of ERDF-funded initiatives, which incorporates the Launch Space graduate start-up incubator, the Health Tech Hub innovation facility, the Scale Up 4 Growth project and the Network for Creative Enterprise.

Potential applicants can register an interest online at www.rifbristol.com/sabre, or contact the dedicated SABRE team on 0117 3283296 or at RIFBristol@brl.ac.uk

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