Defence secretary visits Sheffield firm whose work saved lives in Afghanistan

Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon with Tinsley Bridge Group managing director Mark Webber during a tour of the firm's facilities in Sheffield
Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon with Tinsley Bridge Group managing director Mark Webber during a tour of the firm's facilities in Sheffield
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A Sheffield firm whose cutting edge research saved British lives overseas has hailed a ‘renaissance’ in Sheffield’s manufacturing industry.

The Tinsley Bridge Group (TBG) of engineering businesses developed a super-strength steel which helped protect armoured vehicles from bombs used by insurgents in Afghanistan.

One of the British Army Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, on which the Tinsley Bridge Group in Sheffield worked

One of the British Army Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles, on which the Tinsley Bridge Group in Sheffield worked

The company recently expanded, building a new factory and creating 40 jobs, and has just secured its first contract in the lucrative nuclear sector.

Speaking during a visit by defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon on Friday, managing director Mark Webber spoke of a bright future for steel and the wider engineering industry in Sheffield, where the firm began life more than 150 years ago.

"There's the opportunity to develop this advanced manufacturing cluster around this side of Sheffield, which I think bodes very well for the future of manufacturing in Sheffield," he said,

"Things certainly look a lot more positive for the steel industry than they did six months ago."

The firm's commercial manager Martin Filleul was even more effusive about the prospects for engineering in Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

"The manufacturing industry in Sheffield is undergoing a real renaissance," he said.

"It's a great place to be an engineering company. People talk about engineering being part of the city’s history but it’s very much part of the present."

Mr Filleul added that British firms could not compete on price with China and other countries, which is why he said it was vital to focus on the kind of technical innovation at which it excels and for TBG to harness the resources of the ‘world class’ universities on its doorstep.

TBG received a £100,000 research grant from the Government’s Innovate UK Smart scheme to develop the super-strength steel Extralite for use by the Army, and has received further research grants totalling more than £170,000.

Yorkshire is home to over 600 suppliers with more than £185 million worth of defence contracts between them, and the Ministry of Defence has launched a new Innovation Fund worth £800 million over the next decade.

Speaking after a tour of the facilities, Sir Michael said of TBG’s work on armoured vehicles: "That kind of rapid response and innovation undoubtedly saved lives in Afghanistan.

"We now want to see the same innovation helping us to keep ahead of our rivals, giving our armed forces the very best equipment."

He said it was more important than ever, with Britain due to leave the European Union, for UK firms to work on innovation and cutting-edge technology which could be exported to the rest of the world.

TBG, which employs around 210 staff and has a £20 million turnover, won the outstanding business of the year and excellence in manufacturing gongs at The Star's Sheffield Business Awards this month.

Mr Webber claimed having worked on life-saving equipment 'meant a hell of a lot' to staff at the firm.

"It makes a big difference to people when you're flagging on a night shift in the cold and you know some of the things we're doing are saving lives," he said.

He also told how after 15-20 years with little investment in British engineering and apprenticeships, the Government now appreciated the industry's value to the economy and things were looking up.

"There's a lot of talk about whether the workforce is over-ready for work, but I have to say that certainly since the university fees went up the quality of apprentices we're seeing has improved significantly, and the Sheffield universities produce very good graduates," he said.

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