A new Furness of industry

Fred Tongue visited the new Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Centre at Furness College in Cumbria to see the new facilities training the next generation of manufacturers.

Barrow–in–Furness, Cumbria, is famously home to BAE Systems’ submarine headquarters, as well as several other global marques, including Kimberly Clarke, GSK, Siemens and their local suppliers. In short, the area is something of a manufacturing hub.

The facility cost £4m and features some of the most cutting-edge technology currently available – image courtesy of Furness College.
The facility cost £4m and features some of the most cutting-edge technology currently available – image courtesy of Furness College.

To support local industry, Furness College has opened a new Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Centre to be used by Cumbria’s largest manufacturing companies, tipped to transform the way students and apprentices gain qualifications.

The facility cost £4m and features some of the most cutting-edge technology currently available. The centre is jointly funded by the college and through the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

George Beveridge, chairman of the Cumbria LEP explained what the college is set to offer, “It will focus on science, technology, engineering and maths-related [STEM] subjects and skills.

“Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and partners, such as Furness College, will continue to help accelerate economic growth in the county by ensuring that its workforce has the skills to meet future employer needs. This new centre will certainly help us do that.”

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The site has a vast flexible space that can be altered to accommodate a host of projects, including an area to complete work on large boats and wind turbines. There is classroom space for 450 students and up to 1,150 apprentices, all of whom will have access to machining and design tools, alongside 3D printers, alongside a state–of–the–art facility which recreates cramped submarine conditions.

Ted Creighton, head of UK early careers and skills at BAE was at the launch of the new centre and believes it is a great step for the local area, “BAE Systems really welcomes the investment the college has made in the higher level apprentices of the future.

“The fact they can witness and stand in front of these pieces of kit is really helpful for us because it really reinforces their learning.”

The head of engineering and advance manufacturing at the college, Steve McAloone, showed me around. He explained that the students would work on real-life projects for companies, usually SMEs, that might not have the bandwidth or facilities to complete the project on their own.

McAloone went on to describe the substantial growth in the area as a reason for the new college, with BAE working to deliver the Successor programme, GSK developing a new biopharmaceutical facility, and a recruitment drive at the Sellafield nuclear site.

The new centre reflects the changing landscape of British manufacturing. The advances in technology that the sector has seen are fantastic, but ultimately pointless if no one is trained to use them properly. This centre helps to guarantee the sector in the Barrow area will continue to be at the forefront of British manufacturing.