In conversation with Rachel Chambers, Chief Operating Officer of Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres – North East, at Newcastle University

Rachel Chambers COO DER-IC - North East
Rachel Chambers, Chief Operating Officer of Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres (DER-IC)

Rachel Chambers, Chief Operating Officer of Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres (DER-IC) speaks to Invest North East England about the programme and how it provides a UK network of open access facilities, growing world class design, manufacturing, test and validation capabilities; and work with industrial partners to develop UK supply chains, accelerating delivery of PEMD solutions to global markets

What are the Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre’s (DER-IC)?

Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre’s – or DER-IC as we often refer to them – was born out of the Driving the Electric Revolution challenge.

Back in 2018, Innovate UK committed £80 million to support this area of work. One strand of funding was an open call allocating £33m to establish a UK wide network of Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD) capability operating from regional centres. It was this competition we bid into and won.

There are four centres in the UK: Scotland, North East, Midlands, and South West & Wales. The rationale for the centres being located where they are is to allow more access to industry clusters, deployment of recognised PEMD industrialisation expertise and capability and to facilitate access to regional and devolved funding for industry.

The centres are technology focused, supporting multiple sectors. They also act as enablers to address some of the global challenges we’re facing today, like reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero.

Our vision is to help make the UK globally recognised as the centre of excellence in the manufacturing of Power Electronics, Machines and Drives.

Our mission is to provide a UK network of facilities that are open access, and to grow world-class design for manufacturing, and test and validation capability. Ultimately, it’s to accelerate the growth in the UK supply chain in PEMD.

How can DER-IC support businesses in North East England?

There are many ways. Firstly, it’s around capability, which is either the use of the equipment and/or the use of expertise.

We understand what industry needs and we understand the void that exists in the UK. What we’re trying to do is fill that void with new equipment and capability, and to support companies accelerating and improving their manufacturing process. We do need more investment, but this is just the start of our journey.

Having the regional centres allows us to evolve a closer relationship with industry and support them on more of a one-to-one basis. It enables us to connect the dots as well, so if you’re an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) but you need a supply chain partner in another area, we will work across our DER-IC network to make the connections.

The other support we provide is to leverage funding, whether that is national or regional or devolved funding. And by working closely with our regional partner network we build a stronger collaborative approach…. and with successful collaboration comes making better use of government investments as well as more project activity with our industry partners.

Why is the North East special? What sets us apart from other locations?

The North East is leading the way in the electrification agenda, being one of the most established manufacturing clusters around electric vehicles in the world. The region also has leading research capability that sits within our universities as well as the Research and Technology organisations (RTOs).

The North East has also had a significant amount of investment.  The recent announcement about Nissan and Envision’s large investment, plus the investment from Britishvolt and Turntide Technologies. It’s no secret why they chose to invest in our region. We also have a rich cluster of expertise within our industry partners as well as the infrastructure around the ports.  The North East also has extremely supportive government bodies in the councils, the North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority to name a few.

For businesses located in North East England, what specific opportunities exist around Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres?

There is a cluster effect that emerges with an innovation centre, it operates very much like bees to a honeypot. What you get is industry surrounding locations where it has access to innovation and technologies that support its work. And that’s what we have in the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) in Sunderland.

Ultimately, it’s an enabler to grow supply chains as well as being an incubator for industry to access world class capability and expertise from the DER-IC network which will help industry to become more globally competitive.

In the North East we also have access to Enterprise Zones, the support of the councils, as well as really strong links with the government bodies like Department for International Trade and Department for Transport. Sunderland Council, as an example, has strong links with Japan as well, and that’s hugely beneficial for the North East when we think of the amount of companies in the region that have headquarters in Japan, like Nissan and Komatsu.

Any businesses that would like to know more about the work we do, or how they can work in partnership with us, can email rachel.chambers@newcastle.ac.uk or visit the website www.der-ic.org.uk

Why is North East England a great place to locate a business?

One of our greatest strengths in the North East is relationship building; people genuinely want to help you. And I think it creates a natural partnership approach and collaboration in the region.

Even if you look at the cluster organisations in the region, whether that’s the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), NOF, or the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) – they work hard to support industry and also work really well together, they’re complimentary.

And the same can be said about the region’s colleges and universities too. The partners I have within Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre – North East are testament to that working across the regional universities and RTOs in a truly collaborative way.

When industry partners have a challenge, people genuinely want to help. It’s always about ‘how do we shape this’, ‘how do we get more investment in the region’.

The Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre in the North East is actually a great example of how well the region has worked together to make it a success. These organisations invested because they were passionate about wanting to do the best for the region.

The North East centre and the drive for electrification is a testament to the incredible people, businesses and networks within this region.

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