Above: EDM engineers simultaneously work on multiple door trainer types for a variety of airline clients. (Credit: At Work, taken by Steve Morgan at EDM Ltd in Manchester. Highly Commended in the Professional
The North-West region, with its two powerhouse centres of Manchester and Liverpool, continues to lead the way for UK manufacturing and is determined to build on its proud heritage. By Mark Venables
Diverse manufacturing base
BAE Systems recently announced Its aerospace bases at Warton, where parts for the Typhoon are made and assembled, and Samlesbury in Lancashire, which together employ 10,000 people, will see 750 job losses, twice as many as in 2015. Despite this the aerospace sector in the region continues to thrive.
The aerospace and defence sector contributes a third of the total UK value from companies located in the North West, such as BAE, APPH and Airbus. Although the last is just over the border into Wales, the hundreds of North West companies in the supply chain continue to manufacture sophisticated, premium components to a market where quality cannot be compromised.
Manufacturing success is often based on export potential and there is no better example of that than the Range Rover Evoque, which sees a model rolling off the assembly line every 70 seconds. The story at Bentley in Crewe is similarly impressive with key markets in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC).
Another sector that continues to defy a sluggish economy is food and drink. Kellogg’s has just celebrated 75 years manufacturing at Tra ord Park where they still employ over 700 people. Many of Heinz’ famous 57 varieties are produced by the 1,000-strong workforce in Wigan. Drinks companies such as Halewood International, JW Lees and Thwaites all contribute to the estimated £9.5bn value to the economy.
The rail industry in the region received a huge boost when Alstom opened the biggest and most sophisticated centre for train modernisation ever in the UK in summer 2017. With over 13,000 square metres of space, the facility at Widnes, on the north bank of the Mersey, a few miles south east of Liverpool, will be the largest rolling stock modernisation facility in the UK. It already has a £28 million contract to re-paint the 56-strong fleet of Class 390 ‘tilting’ Pendolino trains, used by Virgin on the West Coast Main Line. Industry 4.0 features of the contract include innovative Virtual Reality painting simulators that the team will be trained on and will use to validate the work.
Liverpool City Region (LCR) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has aspirations to bring rail manufacturing back to Saint Helens, the birthplace of the railway industry in the UK.
The Manchester effect
According to Tim Newns, chief executive, MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, Greater Manchester attracts the UK’s second highest amount of FDI, with manufacturing being one of the strongest sectors, worth £7.7bn.
“As we operate internationally, this has increased competition with other high-calibre cities,” he says. “The uncertainty of Brexit has added to these challenges as companies have chosen to invest in non-UK locations.”
Greater Manchester is a long-established manufacuturing centre and some companies operate in aged facilities that are not fit for purpose – but there are simply not enough new premises to relocate them. There is also the issue of cost – modern premises are more expensive than older facilities.
“Manchester is driving a strong programme of innovation to play to our strengths in talent and property, and being at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse is advantageous as we are the gateway to national and international markets,” Newns adds. “To complement this, we have changed our strategic approach by increasing our presence in market and target sector-specific events and arrange meetings with key decision makers seeking potential investment opportunities.”
Greater Manchester has Europe’s largest centre for advanced materials and employs 114,000 people in manufacturing and engineering. Its access to talent and the supply chains has attracted major companies including BAE Systems, Kellogg’s, PZ Cussons, Procter & Gamble, McVities and Cargill. More recently BOC, the UK and Ireland’s largest industrial gas supplier, invested £10m to open a purification plant at Cargill’s existing site in autumn 2017.
“The region continues to set new standards for UK manufacturing in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, chemicals and bio manufacturing. It produces nine per cent of the UK’s total exports,” Samantha Nicholson, head of manufacturing, Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub explains. The region-within-a-region has no less than five Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). “We have a clear vision to create a more progressive and innovative mind-set with businesses across all manufacturing SMEs in the North West and support them with funding and access to our expert advisors, which will undoubtedly help enhance their productivity and growth.”
The Mersey Beat
“In the LCR, a car is made every 80 seconds and we have the largest bio-manufacturing cluster in Europe,” Simon Reid, sector manager for advanced manufacturing at the Liverpool City Region LEP, says. “In the Materials Innovation Factory (a joint venture between Unilever and the University of Liverpool) the LCR will have the highest concentration of robotics for materials science in the World. On top of this we have a whole host of innovative, high growth SMEs pushing the boundaries of additive manufacture, composites, robotics, big data analytics and the industrial internet of things.”
Already one of the world’s most modern shipping terminals, expansion is continuing at the Port of Liverpool. Peel Ports Group, owner of the Port of Liverpool is to invest in equipment and port infrastructure works to expand the terminal and introduce further leading-edge port technology solutions at Liverpool2, the deep water container facility. This latest phase will include the installation of a further three-ship-to-shore cranes (STS) and ten cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes (CRMG). These will add to the existing five STS cranes and 12 CRMG cranes installed as part of Phase 1, which was opened in November last year. Liverpool2 will have the capacity to manage the unloading of two 380m vessels simultaneously.
In an attempt to drive innovation into the manufacturing sector, the Liverpool LEP has launched LCR 4.0, the first Industrial Digitisation business support programme in the UK. The plan is for small and medium manufacturing companies to have innovation involving digital manufacturing implemented into their business; it is fully funded by ERDF.
“The LEP’s role in this is to provide comprehensive business intelligence to partners, using the bespoke knowledge the advanced manufacturing team have acquired of the regional manufacturing business scope,” Reid says. “The academic institutions involved all bring unique skill sets in computing, digital design, hardware, software, robotics, materials, AI and sensory systems, allowing a strong, client-specific package of innovation to be constructed. At both the entry and exit point of the programme, the LEP’s ‘Growth Hub’ initiative, which runs parallel to the sector development duties of the LEP, will log the details of a client business’ journey; from an initial diagnostic of what may be suitable for the business and brokering the right support, to analysing the management cultural change required for adopting automation, to signposting and facilitating future opportunities for collaboration with academia and established big-name players in manufacturing”.
Mark Venables is a publisher, writer and editor with over 20 years of experience. He specialises in areas including design, manufacturing, sustainability and the built environment.