DEBATE: Why advanced manufacturing is vital to region

Prof Keith Ridgway, right, leads a tour of the University of Sheffield's Factory 2050. Pictures by Chris Etchells.
Prof Keith Ridgway, right, leads a tour of the University of Sheffield's Factory 2050. Pictures by Chris Etchells.
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Two hi-tech manufacturers are close to announcing they will build factories in the region, a round table discussion heard.

And if Rolls-Royce wins the contract to develop small modular nuclear reactors, it could build three factories here, pumping billions into the economy.

From left: Mike Rigby, Vince Middleton, Andy McGuinness, Mark Webber, Keith Ridgway, Matthew Chenery, Stephen Shaw, David Walsh, David Grey, Adrian France and Gari Harris

From left: Mike Rigby, Vince Middleton, Andy McGuinness, Mark Webber, Keith Ridgway, Matthew Chenery, Stephen Shaw, David Walsh, David Grey, Adrian France and Gari Harris

Meanwhile, smaller firms are using advanced manufacturing to help Sheffield outstrip the rest of the country for productivity in the sector.

The positive picture emerged in a round table staged by The Star, in partnership with Barclays.

It was held in the boardroom of Factory 2050, a new £43 million building that forms part of Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and was attended by chief executives, senior managers, bankers and researchers.

Confidence has recovered after a ‘hiccup’ following the Brexit vote – and possible tariffs are too far away to worry about, the discussion heard. And those that do business in the US have noticed an upturn due to a ‘feelgood’ factor from the Trump presidential election victory.

Prof Keith Ridgway, left, Stephen Shaw of AESSEAL and Matthew Chenery of Barclays. Picture: Chris Etchells

Prof Keith Ridgway, left, Stephen Shaw of AESSEAL and Matthew Chenery of Barclays. Picture: Chris Etchells

Stephen Shaw, engineering director at AESSEAL in Rotherham, showed why it is one of the best mechanical seal makers in the world.

He said: “AES is overly invested. We have spent upwards of £4m on machinery last year that we don’t need. We have 20 per cent of extra capacity in our group that we will need in two years’ time.”

The round table heard that years of work to develop the right environment for big OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) could be about to pay off.

The area now boasts research facilities, a strong supply chain, a skilled workforce and deep collaboration between partners including the university, business, the LEP and local authorities.

The AMRC is a cluster of hi-tech buildings on the Sheffield-Rotherham border which carry out research for industrial partners including Boeing, Rolls Royce, Airbus and BAE Systems.

It also includes a 200-strong apprentice training centre.

Prof Keith Ridgway, AMRC executive dean, said: “Rolls Royce could put three factories in Sheffield if it got the contract to build small modular nuclear reactors that cost £2 billion each. That would be transformational.

“Hinkley Point C is set to cost £26bn but the cost of the money is 40 per cent and the ‘50 per cent British build’ is the concrete. Perhaps Brexit will make us buy British.”

Vince Middleton said: “The biggest thing I have seen since the Brexit vote is a sea-change in the mind of government, which now doesn’t have to buy everything at the lowest possible cost from overseas.

“The MoD is also looking at the tax take and the reduction in welfare costs if the work is done here. It would be a massive change that could have a huge effect on this region.”

Matthew Chenery, relationship director at Barclays in Sheffield, looks after 40 manufacturing clients.

He said: “Firms are showing resilience in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. The outlook is more positive than people were expecting and is more positive than in the South.

“Companies do not fear debt, there has been a shift in thinking away from the things they can’t control, they’re getting on with business.”

THOSE ATTENDING:

Prof Keith Ridgway CBE, executive dean, AMRC with Boeing

Matthew Chenery, relationship director, Barclays corporate banking

Vince Middleton OBE, chairman Newburgh Precision

Mark Webber, managing director, Tinsley Bridge Group

Stephen Shaw, group engineering director AESSEAL

Dr Gari Harris, British Steel R&D manager

David Grey MBE, executive chairman of OSL Group Holdings Ltd

Andy McGuinness, managing director Independent Forgings & Alloys Ltd

Mike Rigby, Barclays UK head of manufacturing transport and logistics

Adrian France, operations manager, Pressure Technologies

David Walsh, business editor, The Star