Manufacturers keen to go green, Great Northern Conference hears

Manufacturers are asking for ‘green’ innovations despite them potentially costing more, a debate at the Great Northern Conference heard.

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 4:41 pm

In a big shift in attitude, companies are no longer putting cost first, according to Steve Foxley, executive director of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

It was just one sign that manufacturers are playing their part in the UK’s ambition to be net carbon zero by 2050, he said.

Mr Foxley spoke at a session titled ‘Manufacturing Innovation in the North: powering a green recovery’, sponsored by the AMRC, part of the University of Sheffield.

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Steve Foxley, executive director of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, at the Great Northern Conference.

The Great Northern Conference - organised by JPIMedia and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership - was a virtual day-long event that united northern leaders in discussion about how to drive the region forward.

The AMRC employs more than 700 on research projects for paying industrial partners including Boeing, McLaren and Rolls-Royce.

Mr Foxley said: “We need innovation around getting demand down and getting it greener. Lock in some of the carbon benefits in the design process. It’s about performance and efficiency but also re-use of materials and decommissioning.

“A lot of companies are making bold statements on carbon zero goals. I feel positive because we have 120 industrial partners who, in the past, were looking for cost savings. Now they say, ‘if you come to us with a carbon reduction, or circular economy principle, we are willing to invest in it’. It’s always difficult to be a first mover, but they also know there will be a carbon tax in future.”

Ruth Nic Aoidh, executive director of purchasing, commercial, government affairs and legal at McLaren Automotive

Ruth Nic Aoidh, executive director of purchasing, commercial, government affairs and legal at McLaren Automotive, said batteries were the future and they expected them to be good enough, in terms of performance and weight, to go into their supercars ‘within a decade’.

The firm is rolling out a hybrid range from next year. The chassis will be built at its factory in Rotherham, helping to secure its future and scores of jobs.

Juergen Maier, CBE, chair of the Digital Catapult, co-chair of the Made Smarter manufacturing programme, board member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and former CEO of Siemens UK, said the pandemic had focused people’s minds on local communities and the future of the planet.

The government, which is pumping billions into the economy, also saw it as an opportunity to invest in sustainability.

Mr Maier also said the UK needed a full industrial strategy in line with ‘all industrial nations’. Without one the country was at a disadvantage.

On a local level, such as in Sheffield and Manchester, there were ‘amazing eco-systems’ and models like the AMRC that should be replicated across the North, he added.

Ms Nic Aoidh said the firm’s comeback from temporary closure due to the pandemic, and the ventilator challenge, showed how responsive British industry could be. But they needed certainty, especially on Brexit.

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