From fishing to fibreglass: Hull embraces blade production

Opened in late 2016, Siemens Gamesa’s giant wind turbine blade factory has brought state-of-the-art composite manufacturing to the UK’s east coast.

Turbine wind mould at the Siemens blade factory in Hull.
Turbine wind mould at the Siemens blade factory in Hull.

The company has invested £160m in the Green Port Hull facility, part of a £310m combined investment with Associated British Ports that has created over 1,000 jobs.

At the 54-hectare dockside site, the company also assembles turbine blades, towers and nacelles for delivery by dedicated installation vessels. The first Hull blade left on the Sea Installer in July 2017, bound for Ørsted’s Race Bank project off the North Norfolk coast. Turbines for Statoil’s Dudgeon farm soon followed.

Jobs and training

“During the summer build-out of projects, we had well over 1,000 people on site,” says Ray Thompson, Head of Business Development at Siemens Gamesa. “We have over 800 direct employees and we’re still recruiting.”

There were 26,000 applications for those 800 posts. Almost all from the Humber area, the new recruits undergo a two-year apprenticeship. There’s strong community engagement and a Pathway Plus collaboration to help those with special needs enter work.

In 2015, the company awarded a £1m contract to Hull College to run its two-year training programme. This helped to fund the college’s new Composites Training Centre, something it plans to expand into a centre of excellence for composite manufacturing.

“Because the layup is a manual process and not too complex, we didn’t need a big workforce with existing skills,” says Thompson. “So, we could recruit on attitude and ability.”

The factory only makes one product, the B75 blade. Each one is a huge structure, 75m long and weighing 28 tons. It’s cast in one piece rather than the “clamshell” designs favoured by many other manufacturers. Several hundred have already been produced and the factory is nearly at its 450 blade annual capacity.

“Because we only make one product there, that’s really helped us with efficiency,” says Thompson. “We’ve been able to get up to speed very quickly.”

This article first appeared in the April issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Brexit spoiler?

It’s perhaps ironic that a British/ German/Spanish-owned company is creating hundreds of new jobs in a Brexit-voting city is ironic, but future EU tariffs could spoil the joke.

Thompson says that his company expects to export to projects in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark but, “clearly, high tariffs would be a concern.”

There’s little to worry about at the moment: Ørsted’s Hornsea Project One alone will demand 522 blades, and with larger Round 3 projects still to come, supplying just the UK’s needs should keep Hull working at full capacity.