Global Manufacturing Festival: Sheffield 2012

Posted on 23 Mar 2012

For companies of any size wanting to access markets that need advanced 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, industrial blade-makers, medical product manufacturers, skills practitioners, academics, students and more descended on 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 held 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 hands-on 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 UK-derived component of any Boeing aircraft, in fact Boeing Defence UK is the high growth branch of the company.

Throughout the day, 340 delegates attended the main event, the convention. About 30 local businesses as well as sponsors Nabarro, NatWest, Siemens, both city universities and others 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, which 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.

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 promoted the virtues of the UK’s new nuclear build programme to 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 engineering companies. Mr Squires’ message was clear: the prime contractors, including but not only 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.
[STOP PRESS: EDF may speak at MACH 2012, April 16-20, on nuclear supply chain opportunities.]

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 will follow soon on

Master Cutler Pam Liversidge OBE talking up South Yorkshire's strengths

Vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield Prof Keith Burnett introduced a senior line-up of technical speakers, who articulated 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.

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 defies 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.

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 a high temperature technique for making titanium fan blades for aeroengines. “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,” said 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.

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 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 such 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 rapid growth in China, and availability to the rest of the world a serious risk to manufacturers.

Harry Hutchinson of patent attorneys Harrison Goodard 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. He underlined the sheer capital value of IPRs, or intellectual property rights. In 2010, IBM needed to raise capital, so it ‘switched on’ a series of patents by putting them on the market and raised its IPR earnings from about $750,000 to over $1.1bn in a year.

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 solid reputation as a trading partner, globalisation was making the UK shrink on the international stage more quickly than we might think. He said Britain needs to “raise its game” to make sure it is not left behind by emerging markets, as by 2014 Asia will contribute more than half the GDP in the global economy. The challenge is to identify and grasp trade opportunities in a truly level global playing field.

“Our economy will grow, but we’ll be getting richer at a slower rate than other areas of the world,” Mr Browne said. The UK and Europe’s share of the global economy will be smaller. We are not seizing the opportunities which exist, we need to look globally and encourage more countries to be open to British investment.

Despite being a little down on the expected number of visitors, the Global Manufacturing Festival stepped up a gear from the debut event last year. Given time, and more support from both UK and overseas companies interested in tapping materials engineering expertise, the GMF is on track to become not just a good showcase of this sector but a genuine global business-to-business trade show.

Festival opens up the nuclear agenda

”The festival was a very positive endorsement of what the Sheffield City Region has to offer,” says Martin McKervey (pictured), a partner at law firm Nabarro LLP which sponsored the Festival. His special interest is the UK nuclear new build programme and the role that the Sheffield region can play in this important industrial programme.

“In the Nuclear AMRC, the region, indeed the entire UK, has a world-class facility that is the hub for the new build nuclear supply chain in the UK. The presentation from Chris Squires of EDF Energy on the world nuclear picture set out very clearly the opportunities presented by the nuclear sector.

“However, the gauntlet was thrown down, the dynamics of the supply chain are changing. Yes, they involve quality, safety and cost but also the need for innovation in terms of approach and the ability for companies to collaborate and work in joint venture structures. This is not without its challenges but, the rewards are potentially very substantial. Is the UK supply chain, ready to meet the challenges and realise the opportunities of new nuclear?”

A fuller account of the convention at the Global Manufacturing Festival in Sheffield will follow on