Event review: Global Manufacturing Festival 2012

Posted on 4 Apr 2012

For companies of any size looking to access markets that need special materials, including; aerospace, nuclear power, oil and gas and medical products, the GMF in Sheffield was the place to be in March. Will Stirling was there to soak up the knowledge.

They put on a good show in Sheffield. Company directors, metallurgists, nuclear engineers, blade-makers, systems integration specialists, medical product manufacturers, skills practitioners, academics, students and more descended on the Sheffield City Hall on March 21 for the convention part of the two-day Global Manufacturing Festival (GMF).

The first day of the event, the ‘Get Up to Speed’ youth engagement day hosted at the Ekspan Centre, featured the world’s fastest sailing boat, a Vulcan bomber and bobsleigh technology. Over 1,000 schoolchildren and young people visited the event to get handson experience of engineering, impressive on a school day in a city of Sheffield’s size.

Sir Roger Bone, president of Boeing UK, gave the University of Sheffield Business School management lecture that evening. Boeing has a surprisingly deep supply chain in the UK, with 250 UK suppliers, and now employs over 1,200 people here. While the 787 Dreamliner has the highest number of UK-derived componentry of any Boeing aircraft, in fact Boeing Defence UK is the high growth branch of the company.

Minister Jeremy Browne MP
Minister Jeremy Browne MP

Over 340 delegates attended the main event, the convention. About 30 local businesses as well as sponsors Nabarro, NatWest, Siemens, both city universities and more, hosted stands and foreign delegates representing countries including Brazil, China and Macedonia attended the festival to explore business opportunities. The high-level speaker programme delivered on its aim of showcasing the South Yorkshire region as an epicentre of special materials engineering expertise. Organiser and executive director of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, Richard Wright, aims to become one of the top five centres worldwide in this field. The programme covered three main streams:

Markets and opportunities

EEF’s chief economist Lee Hopley started the festival with an overview of the manufacturing economy. Like the curate’s egg, it has both good and bad parts. The strong theme was that, owing in part to EU uncertainty, manufacturers are looking further afield for business, into the BRIC group and beyond. EEF’s chart of the make-up of overseas markets for UK-manufactured goods showed that by 2030, the US, EU, China and the rest of the world each made up between one-fifth and one-sixth of the total, a stark change on 2010 which is dominated by the EU and US. Ms Hopley expects the recovery momentum in manufacturing to pick up.

World Nuclear Picture – Chris Squires of power utility EDF Energy promoted the virtues of the UK’s new nuclear build programme to UK manufacturers. Some in industry had felt that, as a French company, large tracts of any contract given to EDF for commissioning a nuclear power station would go to French companies. Mr Squires’ message was clear: the prime contractors, including Roll-Royce and Areva, would take the responsibility for the high level technical systems. But between 60%-80% of a power station’s value will be subcontracted to manufacturers in the open market. The next big stage for UK new nuclear build comes in December, when a decision on planning permission for Hinckley Point will be made. So confident is EDF that planning will be approved that it has begun to remove 3.5m cubic metres of material from the site – which it must replace if planning fails.

Andrew Peters of Siemens VAI gave an enlightening talk on the six new age capabilities that he thinks means the UK manufacturing has a bright future. Details of his presentation are available on the online version of this article at www. themanufacturer.com.

Technology and enterprise

A senior line-up articulated just how vital special materials are to a high value manufacturing sector.

Retired chief executive of Smith & Nephew, Sir Chris O’Donnell, explained emphatically the importance of innovation in the global medical products sector. His case study was the company’s proprietary material for replacement bone joints, Oxinium. S&N took 15-years to develop the advanced material, which has several big advantages over traditional joint materials like titanium in ease of machining, wear properties but crucially, in patient comfort. Half of the development time was devoted to creating and perfecting the manufacturing process.

How do you drill holes in 304-grade stainless steel that have a 500 x hole diameter ratio? Any engineer will tell you that that number is near mythical. But it’s what the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Centre at the AMP in Rotherham is now working on, since it took delivery of the extraordinary £2 million, 27-metre horizontal hole drilling machine made by TBT in March (Read more about this technology in the May issue of ). Professor Keith Ridgway, executive dean of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute of which the NAMRC forms a major part, explained the challenges involved in drilling small holes eight metres deep that defy the laws of physics. Next door, the AMRC with Boeing has worked on novel machining technologies to reduce the cost and lead time of a large milling and boring machine by a multiple factor, showing the research of these High Value Manufacturing centres can develop new machines in the process of manufacturing parts of the demanding aerospace sector.

“With our hollow titanium fan blades, we are exploring variations which have a viscous medium inside to reduce vibration” – Prof Ric Parker, Director of Research and Technology, Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce is a tier one partner of the AMRC with Boeing in Rotherham. Director of Research and Technology at Rolls-Royce, Professor Ric Parker, told the festival that his company invested £908 million into R&D in 2011, some 7.6% of group turnover, and two thirds of which had the objective of further improving the environmental performance of its products. His talk emphasised the long term dedication to improving manufacturing techniques to achieve key performance targets. Perhaps one of the best is Rolls’ development of the high temperature technique for making titanium fan blades. “In applying our revolutionary hollow titanium fan blade technology to the Joint Strike Fighter (F35) aircraft, we are exploring variations which have a viscous medium inside to reduce vibration,” Prof Parker, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sheffield in 2010. “Much of the early work on vibration damping was led by Professor Geoff Tomlinson of Sheffield University.”

In addition to the Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future at the AMRC, two of the company’s 19 University Technology Centres are based at Sheffield University, one in Electrical Systems and one in Controls and Electronics.

Brendan Moffett and Richard Wright
Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne MP, Brendan Moffett and Richard Wright

UK strategy and support

In the afternoon, four different presentations expanded the scope of the festival into new areas; the scarcity of essential materials, intellectual property rights, the advantages of being an SME in a global market and the UK’s foreign trade challenge.

Alan McLelland of the National Metals Technology Centre, also based in South Yorkshire, gave a rather ominous talk about the scarcity of, and high demand for, rare earth metals. Exotic sounding alloys like neodymium and tellurium are essential components of commonplace applications like wind turbines, solar panels and even mobile phones. China has no less than 97% of the world’s resources of these metals, making both their consumption – with high domestic demand from a growing China – and availability to the world a serious risk to manufacturers.

Harry Hutchinson of patent attorneys Harrison Goddard Foote spelt out how bad the British are at protecting their intellectual property. The UK files one fifth the number of patents as Germany, and proportionate to the size of the economy, less even than The Netherlands.

Orthopaedic parts manufacturer JRI’s Dr Edward Draper gave an illuminating talk on the development of his company from a designer and assembler of replacement body joints to a developer of cutting edge regenerative medical techniques to accelerate healing of wounds.

And Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Jeremy Browne MP told the audience that despite its reputation as a trading partner, globalisation was making the UK shrink on the international stage more quickly than we might think. The challenge is to identify and take trade opportunities in a truly level playing field.