By Guy Currey, Director of Invest North East England
Building on heritage and moving to an exciting future
Advanced manufacturing is sometimes viewed as the poor cousin to consumer-facing innovative digital technology companies in areas such as gaming and immersive technology that are often hitting the headlines.
But, without doubt, North East England’s advanced manufacturing sector is exceptional. Our region was built on coal, shipbuilding and engineering, and this industrial heritage created a lasting legacy. On the surface, advanced manufacturing represents a relatively small percentage of the region’s economy, however, it is a sector that employs more than 116,000 people and makes a significant contribution to regional GVA (Gross Value Added).
With an industrial history steeped in innovation and inventiveness, much of our advanced manufacturing today is now underpinned by digital technology. In 2020, our region was successful in a bid to deliver three high potential opportunity (HPO) projects to support inward investment opportunities into North East England, based on our niche specialisms. The fact that the immersive tech sector here is of national and international significance is due, in part, to digital innovation in manufacturing, with most advanced manufacturing companies now adopting I4.0 – the digital transformation of industry. University and SME collaboration, R&D assets and a skilled talent pool are also key to the success of advanced manufacturing in the North East.
Inward investment successes
We’ve seen many successful inward investments in advanced manufacturing over the last year. In the green energy sector, subsea cable supplier JDR Cable Systems has started construction of a new state of the art subsea cable manufacturing facility at Cambois in Northumberland. The £130million facility, which will supply into the offshore wind sector, is due to be up and running by 2024 and is set to create hundreds of new jobs.
We’re currently dealing with another offshore wind supply chain company which, if it invests on the Tyne, would bring with it the largest industrial robot ever installed in the UK.
North East England is a powerhouse for innovation and quality in advanced materials. Pragmatic is an amazing success story in County Durham, raising $90million dollars to build the first large scale UK semiconductor facility in decades. Pragmatic is part of an emerging advanced materials cluster that will support current and future needs in technology that includes Coherent Corp, (previously II VI) and rising star, INEX Microtechnology.
The North East is the centre of the UK’s electrification revolution. The recent announcement that Australian company Recharge is to develop the former BV gigafactory site in Cambois creating thousands of green jobs is extremely welcome news. In Sunderland, Nissan continues to shine with its new EV model due to be in production soon. Envision AESC’s huge new battery gigafactory is also taking shape before our eyes on the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), which is set to boost North East England’s position as a high quality, strategic employment site for advanced manufacturing.
Rolls Royce has shortlisted IAMP as a location for its state-of-the-art high precision manufacturing facility for making key components for its small modular reactors programme as part of UK’s important drive to net zero. We are working hard with business leaders to convince them that the North East region is the best place to site this ground-breaking, high technology manufacturing plant.
The space and satellite sector continues to grow in the region with over 50 space sector companies located in the North East employing more than 1,400 people. This trend is set to continue with global aerospace and satellite company Lockheed Martin eyeing up a couple sites south of the River Tyne on which to build its first satellite manufacturing facility in the UK.
Fueling the future
Of course, crucial to this developing advanced manufacturing sector is skills, and as a Chair of Governors of a secondary school in North East England, I know the real importance of ensuring our young people are informed of, and excited by, careers in engineering and manufacturing.
Our skills sector has been innovative in its response to the needs of industry, we have seen the university and college sector come together to form the Institute of Technology, as well as partners working collaboratively on the creation of T-levels for the industrial roles of the future. The technical skills delivered in both Further and Higher Education in the North East will continue to fuel our advanced manufacturing capability with over half of students taking STEM subjects.
The supply of skills is an age-old issue that companies in the region are tackling head on – just look at the apprenticeships currently available at Nissan, for example, or the high-precision welding roles that will be required at Rolls Royce, space satellite engineers for Lockheed Martin, and the thousands of new manufacturing jobs across the electrification sector. Last year, Lockheed Martin, along with the UK’s Space Agency, ran a space academy to enthuse the next generation of rocket scientists in the North East – and this is exactly what we need if we are to launch our region’s advanced manufacturing sector into its next successful, innovative orbit.