Design Network North Members- AME Group are celebrating their 20th anniversary
The business was founded in 1997 after the managing director Ian Jones - a mechanical engineering graduate, who cut his teeth working at the Selby coalfield - was made redundant from his job with British Coal.
Ian spotted an opportunity to launch an engineering consultancy and set up an office in a concrete outbuilding at his home in Rotherham. Keen to meet new contacts and attract new business, he visited a trade show at the NEC in Birmingham.
What he saw that day changed everything.
“It was my first experience of 3D printing,” says Ian. “An American company were exhibiting a machine that worked like an inkjet printer but printed wax models, layer by layer. This meant that foundries, for example, could make sacrificial wax models to cast metal parts from. I just remember thinking ‘this is the future!’.”
Seeing the potential of this technology for prototyping, Ian drew up a business plan and raised enough money to buy the machine.
“When it arrived, it was absolutely rubbish,” he recalls. “I am not sure it managed to produce one successful part. It was very slow and, in retrospect, had been launched too early. The positive side was that it opened a lot of doors to prospective clients and ultimately led me to discover other more reliable technologies and partners that were already using them.”
One of AME Group’s first clients was Stanley Tools, working in partnership with the in-house design team to develop a range of tools. The success of this contract gave Ian the confidence to expand the team, invest in a laser printing machine and move the business to new premises in Sheffield.
“This was the moment at which I knew the business had real potential. Having this second machine in-house gave us the capacity to grow and the confidence to get out there and develop client relationships,” he says.
“We were small but lean and keen. Customers liked the energy and dynamism that we brought to their product development.”
By now, AME Group was carving out a reputation for its work in the aerospace sector and to strengthen the team further, Ian’s long-standing friend and MBA qualified manager Paul Howell joined the business as joint managing director and co-owner.
“We had become highly skilled at prototyping but we knew there was an opportunity to move upstream and get closer to our clients by using our expertise in product design. Securing work from globally renowned manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble showed that our approach was right,” says Ian.
AME's current Dinnington headquarters were built on the site of a former South Yorkshire colliery in 2006. These premises house a growing design team and state-of-the-art prototyping workshop.
Over the years, they have incubated several innovative start-up businesses, helping them to turn their ideas into commercially successful and market leading products. One such company is Sheffield-based Connexion2, which makes communication devices for lone workers.
AME were initially approached by an electronics partner with the concept of an ID badge that doubles up as a discreet, mobile communications device. The solution, Identicom, was designed and developed in partnership with AME, and after SoloProtect was set up as a new company in AME’s premises, the Identicom has gone on to become one of the most widely used dedicated lone worker devices.
SoloProtect was acquired by US-based emergency communications company Kings III in a multi-million pound deal in 2013.
“This is a great example of what we do at AME Group,” says Ian. “We are not just drawing pretty pictures. We have designed and developed a product that led to the creation of a successful business and important regional employer.”
More recently, AME Group has carved out a reputation for helping university spin-out companies to turn their concepts into commercially viable products that are ready for volume manufacture.
Having started out as a prototyping specialist, the future for AME Group is focused on developing its product design business.
“We want to increase our design revenues over the next three to five years,” says Ian “and continue to deliver the very best in innovative product design services, developing market leading products solutions for our clients, helping their businesses experience commercial success.
The quality of their design offering was evidenced this year, when we won a Red Dot Award - the most prestigious international honour for product design.
The international jury selected AME Group for our work on the JigTech Pro - an innovative device that enables door handles to be fitted in minutes - which it developed in partnership with Ossett-based Dale Hardware. They developed JigTech Pro from concept through to prototyping, testing and volume manufacturing.
While this points to a successful future for the business, their 20th anniversary also provides an opportunity to reflect on the first two decades.
“I’m proud of the fact that we have traded very successfully throughout the ups and downs of a changing economy but, most of all, I’m proud of the way the business has developed its staff,” says Ian. “Several people have been with us for more than 15 years. Paul and I are not micro managers. We give freedom to the team to grow.
“We are not a massive company but we have a highly credible and experienced team that inspires confidence from a diverse portfolio of clients that see us as a strategic product development partner.”
Today, they work in partnership with happy customers including Dyson, B&Q, LG Harris, Morphy Richards, Unilever and Hornby.
AME Group offer an end-to-end solution for any industrial design challenge. They are proud of the long-term relationships that they have built, based on trust, straight-talking and a great service offering.
Here’s to the next 20 years!
AME Group is a valued members of Design Network North. Design Network North is part of RTC’s new programme called ‘Designing Better Business’ – launched in 2016 - which will provide support for north east businesses looking to continue to innovate and design better world leading products.
RTC was founded in 1989 with the sole purpose of helping businesses innovate and create new higher value products. Today, the business operates out of offices in Sunderland, Gateshead, Leeds and Daresbury and specialises in helping companies develop new products, embed new skills through training and access funding for innovation.
‘Designing Better Business’ is part funded by European Regional Development Fund, as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.