A year of growth, innovation and recognition: celebrating 20 years of Bloc

This year we’ve been celebrating 20 years of Bloc – 20 years of pushing the boundaries; 20 years since the Bloc vision was first brought to life.

And despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year Bloc Digital has gone from strength to strength. Working remotely and continuing to deliver, we transitioned to the virtual normal without a break in operations and have been supporting others to do the same.

Sticking to our core values of creativity, team work, knowledge sharing and skills development, we’ve seen outstanding growth, innovation and talent, and achieved a number of huge milestones throughout the year.

So as our anniversary draws to a close we’re exploring the positives in what has been a year of global uncertainty – but one matched with resilience, determination and hard work. We share highlights and best bits from ‘20 in 2020’ and dive into our building ‘Bloc’s for 2021.

Growth in capabilities: launching the Bloc Family of companies

One of the biggest turning points of 2020 was the formation of the Bloc Family of companies. A group rebrand brought together ourselves, Bloc Arch Viz (architectural and property sectors) and Bloc Creative (branding and marketing) as well as new public-facing company Bloc Media, and paved the way in creating a digital visualisation and interactive content powerhouse.

It was at the heart of Directors Chris and Keith’s vision to “provide our clients with a full digital journey” and with the Bloc Family complete, that vision was realised. The companies have since been harnessing state-of-the art technology and creative expertise to deliver marketing, operational and digital visualisation support – giving clients across sectors a competitive edge and enabling them to grow and adapt.

But the forward thinking and ambition doesn’t stop there – we’re continuing to look to new horizons…

Growth in business: a larger headquarters and US presence

Responding to this growth in our workforce and services and bringing our divisions together into a larger purpose built location, we began a move to the University of Derby’s Enterprise Centre earlier this year.

The move would also strengthen our collaborative research partnerships with the University of Derby, placing Bloc in a strategic position to continue innovation and investment in R&D. Yet that wasn’t the only ‘office’ news in 2020.

University of Derby Enterprise Centre
University of Derby's Enterprise Centre.

After significant international growth in the manufacturing and technology sectors, this year saw Bloc Digital establish a North American presence and appoint its first permanent US member of staff. It was an important milestone and a ‘logical next step’ in the company’s development and has enabled us to support a growing portfolio of international clients to adapt and react to the new normal.

Growth in research, innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing

Investment in innovation, research and development has been integral to Bloc Digital’s recent growth success – and it is this investment that is advancing our international reputation in digital visualisation and immersive technology.

As well as our three Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) with the University of Derby, which are continuing to create a pipeline of immersive solutions, a new collaborative project with the University of Leicester will see us develop and share knowledge in the space industry. The project will capture and benefit a wider audience and bring data to our fingertips, harnessing digital twin technology to reduce the time and cost of satellite development.

Innovating cutting-edge solutions for new markets and using technology to drive R&D creativity is enabling us to deliver real-world benefits within the industry.

digital twin
Space industry digital twin project with University of Leicester and funding by SPRINT.

Pioneering and harnessing new technology

“We get early access and are often asked to review tech before it’s out in the real world.” When technology hits the mainstream the chances are our team have already tested it out, adopting it to create industry-leading applications.

This year we had the early opportunity to test and play with new VR and AR headsets including the Pimax 8K and, despite being typically hard to get hold of, the Microsoft HoloLens 2. We’ve been exploring their benefits in delivering high quality, more realistic visuals and better user experiences to workers and consumers, previously being one of the first companies in Europe to use Microsoft HoloLens in industry.

Constant horizon-scanning has also seen us explore and harness new technologies and softwares to improve processes. Investigating the benefits of real time rendering to create animations and cinematics, our team has been able to dramatically increase output speed and ‘create once, maximise use’. We’ve continued to utilise exciting techniques like photogrammetry to produce technically-accurate models from photographic images and our new motion capture capabilities are enabling us to create incredibly realistic character animations with natural movements.

BMW cinematics

Supporting resilience and recovery

Supporting organisations and businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a key focus for Bloc in 2020. While the shift to the ‘digital world’ was a natural progression for large global clients, for other smaller businesses it wasn’t a priority – until it was. Supporting these businesses to stay connected and resilient through a free advice service, we helped rapidly reposition communications, information sharing and skills training to digital platforms and supported those affected to work smarter and deliver greater impact.

With wide scale disruption to the events calendar we’ve also been developing new ways for clients to reach customers in the socially-distanced, new ‘virtual’ normal. As the international showcase 2020 Farnborough Airshow was cancelled in July our virtual solutions enabled global client General Dynamics to connect with customers through deeper interaction and connectivity.

Unlocking the ability for customers to engage with a concept or product in a 3D capacity, Bloc’s industry-leading events are reaching global audiences, increasing accessibility, improving sustainability and providing real benefits over video calling.

Our General Dynamics Virtual Event.

Directly supporting the fight against the virus, we also volunteered services to a GlobalVent project set up to support scientists develop emergency ventilators and save lives across the globe. Our animation skills helped to bring the project’s vision to life by explaining the workings of the low-cost, easy to assemble ventilator, with the project’s ultimate goal to help countries with lower-funded health systems than the UK.

Volunteering skills

From branding and print to modelling and even painting, the Bloc family have also been working with a number of local charity projects and organisations to volunteer skills – continuing a skills sharing focus that has always been at the heart of Bloc.

Bringing together science, community, vision and learning, we helped to breathe life into the new Sherwood Observatory vision by creating ‘out of this world’ CGIs, animations, and a new brand identity.

Sherwood Observatory CGI and new brand identity
Sherwood Observatory CGI and new brand identity.

We helped Treetops Hospice make the most of the season of giving with Director Keith Cox volunteering artistic skills to paint a colourful mural and Bloc Creative creating the charity’s 2020 Christmas campaigns.

We’ve also been supporting Parkinson’s UK Derby Branch and Boxing for Parkinson’s Derby – volunteering design and print services from Bloc Creative and soon sponsoring their hoodies. Working with local charities to offer skills and enable them to continue to make a difference during times of funding uncertainty is now more important than ever.

Growth in talent and inspiring the next generation

Now employing nearly 50 people, the Bloc team has doubled in size in the last two years – but as well as attracting, appointing and developing top talent, we’ve been investing in developing skills by welcoming work experience students, apprentices, interns and graduates. We’re going beyond the classroom into the working world of STEM.

One such team member is Ranica Brown, who recently enrolled on the first Digital UX Degree Apprenticeship course in the UK. She has been a finalist for Apprentice of the Year in both the East Midlands Chamber Business Awards and the Enterprising Women Awards and continues to demonstrate how apprenticeships are a vital route to industry.

Inspiring young minds through next generation events and delivering school demonstration days is integral to Bloc’s purpose and drive, and this year has been no different. Despite the shift to virtual we joined Teen Tech in an AR/VR Innovation at Home session – asking students how they’d harness immersive tech to solve real world problems. We explored pioneering approaches to design, development, simulation and training, and set students a virtual challenge too!

Teen Tech Innovation at Home session
Teen Tech AR/VR Innovation at Home session.

Recognition and reflection

With Bloc Digital placed in the top 10 of Midlands technology companies, receiving Mainframe Derby and East Midlands Chamber Awards, and Bloc Family work featured on BBC news twice in two weeks – this year has been one for reflection and fantastic recognition.

To see our hard work in growth, innovation, talent and collaboration culminate in public acknowledgement for our achievements makes us extremely proud.

As our bold vision and ability to disrupt continues, it’s reaffirming our vision for the future and forming our building ‘Bloc’s for next year. We look forward to continuing to grow, innovate, and collaborate in 2021!