Steel and so much more

Yorkshire and Humber has retained its status as one of the UK’s engineering heartlands by playing to the strengths of its formidable industrial and academic base

Yorkshire and Humber has built on its traditional industries of metal processing and textiles to remain one of the key manufacturing regions in the UK. The sector accounts for almost 18 per cent of the region’s employment, against a national average of 14 per cent.

Robin Watson, regional director for the Yorkshire and Humber Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), said: ‘The region is traditionally a very strong manufacturing centre and it’s still the most important sector to the local economy. What has changed is the decline of a number of traditional industries, particularly heavy steel, in south Yorkshire and to some extent in the north Humber region. In West Yorkshire there was a strong base of textiles, and that has changed too.’

According to regional development agency (RDA) Yorkshire Forward, the key clusters for the region are advanced engineering and metals, food and drink, environmental technology, healthcare, digital and new media. The engineering and metals cluster is flourishing, accounting for 35-40 per cent of the region’s gross value added in manufacturing. Key local companies include Sheffield Forgemasters, Frith Rixson and Corus, whose Swinden Technology Centre is in Rotherham.

Watson said: ‘We’ve seen a strong move to support the aerospace industry in this region. This has been supported by spin-out knowledge from the universities in materials and machining technology. As new composite materials are being used in aerospace, we’re seeing specialist textile manufacturers that previously wouldn’t have seen an opening supplying high-end textiles that can form the basis of composites.’

The region boasts a world-class centre of excellence for materials and production technologies in the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) which builds on the expertise and innovation within Sheffield University’s engineering faculty in close partnership with some of the sector’s biggest names.

AMRC focuses on machining and cutting and areas such as nanotech and surface engineering. Partner companies include Boeing, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems.
The organisation houses one of the UK’s most significant manufacturing research centres in the form of the Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future. This will bring together research and application with the aim of developing advanced, sustainable manufacturing technologies and processes. Jim Farmery, Yorkshire Forward’s head of innovation, said AMRC is an excellent example of how the region is building on its existing strengths.

The RDA’s wider strategy is based around developing Centres of Industrial Collaboration — centres of excellence that combine established university research strengths with a strong commercial focus designed to offer benefits to companies in the region and beyond. Each CIC has a commercial manager to link the research base in that sector to industry. Yorkshire Forward has accredited 10 of them.

The healthcare sector is key to the region, and the NHS is its largest single employer.More than 100 bioscience companies are based there, which together employ more than 8,000. Johnson & Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever, and heart valve manufacturer Koehler have a presence. The region is also host to several large chemical firms including Syngenta, BP and Novartis, and is responsible for some 10 per cent of the UK’s chemical output.

Yorkshire Forward funds CATCH, a unique chemicals industry training facility in Stallinborough near Grimsby. It carries out normal chemical plant procedures but without any hazardous materials. This prevents manufacturers having to take part of the site out of commission when training staff. BP and other companies around the Humber use it, tying in with programmes at local colleges.

The UK’s first food robotics and information centre, CENFRA, has been established in Doncaster, in partnership with Salford University It researches innovative food technologies with giants such as Greencore, Manor Bakeries, Coca-Cola, Youngs, Blue Crest, Cranswick and KP, and also benefits smaller SMEs.

There are nine universities in the region. Prof Brian Hoyle, who holds the Yorkshire Forward chair in electronic sensors and instrumentation systems at Leeds, is also the RDA’s Knowledge Transfer Champion for the Digital Industries sector.

Leeds also has knowledge transfers within each faculty, and Hoyle is the engineering representative. Six of the regional CICs are based in Leeds, four of them in the faculty of engineering. ‘We have them in particle science, tissue engineering for biomedical applications and wireless technology. Leeds is a leader in microwave systems, and one of the largest spin-outs in the UK is Filtronic, which produces microwave filter devices,’ said Hoyle.

Berenice Baker