Manufacturing: Catapulting into a brave new future

Post-COVID, manufacturers will be challenged to show that they can increase UK productivity in ways which are aligned to the government’s environmental goals. Rosa Wilkinson details how the High Value Manufacturing Catapult is ready, willing and able to help firms harness the latest technologies to take on these new challenges and succeed.

The country has begun its journey to recovery after the unprecedented trials of the Coronavirus pandemic.

With the huge achievements of the manufacturing community through the crisis, we do so with a renewed sense of the importance of the sector and the value it contributes both to our economy and our national resilience.

There is little doubt that the manufacturing sector came together to protect and support people up and down the land at the moment they were most needed.

Companies turned their minds and machines to the creation of the PPE our healthcare workers and carers needed to stay safe.


AMRC Cymru producing life-saving ventilators - image 3

Life-saving ventilators being produced at AMRC Cymru


They came together to deliver the tools our clinicians needed to save lives – most notably in the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, led by the HVM Catapult CEO Dick Elsy, which delivered more than 13,000 ventilators into the NHS.

They stepped up and refused to be beaten by the virus. Now, as we look ahead to what we all hope will be a Covid-free future, those same manufacturers have a vital role to play in rebuilding the UK’s economic strength.

As they do, they will also be challenged to show that they can increase the UK’s productive capacity in ways which respect the needs of our environment.

The HVM Catapult is ready, willing and able to help firms harness the latest technologies to take on these new challenges and succeed.

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of The Manufacturer. Click here to subscribe 

Published as the Chancellor announced his ‘Plan for Jobs’, the review of its performance in 2019/20 charts a year in which the Catapult became the most significant advanced manufacturing research body in Europe.

Despite the softening of some markets and the impact of lockdown, the Catapult’s double-digit growth shows a growing recognition of the strength it can bring to manufacturers across the country.

With centres of innovation in every key manufacturing region of the UK, the HVM Catapult has a unique offer for companies of all sizes: open access to cutting-edge technology and the expertise to wield it, right on your doorstep.

With 4,646 projects in 2019/20, almost half of which were with smaller businesses, manufacturers across the country are seizing the opportunity to develop and scale their production lines and supply chains – getting products to market at volume with the shortest lead-times.


Automation offers huge opportunities for firms to improve productivity levels.

Automation offers huge opportunities for firms to improve productivity levels


It is this work that ensures that UK manufacturing is ‘match fit’ both in the short term and for the challenges that lie ahead: maximising productivity, driving down emissions and increasing national resilience.

Looking forward, the HVM Catapult’s ambition for the nation is plain. It will continue to attract valuable inward investment and deliver the transformations in company performance that underlie economic success.

As the review sets out, it will build on this by working with local, regional and national governments in the post-pandemic era to “make sure that UK businesses are ready to rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities our changed world presents”.

Using its resources to spur investment in R&D, it will drive growth and high-quality employment by helping to keep the UK ahead of competitive markets as a leader on the global stage, particularly in the green economy.

It is clear from the case studies featured in the HVM Catapult’s annual review that it is well placed to deliver for the sector and the nation.

CASE STUDIES

Robots secure skilled manufacturing jobs

Automation offers huge opportunities for firms to improve productivity levels. All too often, smaller firms hold back from investigating their potential fearing that benefits will come with a high price tag. Footprint Tools has shown that need not be the case.

The 150-year-old Sheffield firm has been in the Jewitt family for four generations and had enjoyed huge success during the hey-day of coal and steel. But the low-wage economies in the Far East, the collapse of coal and steel and the 2008 crash brought Footprint Tools to the brink of closure.

To fight back they turned to the HVM Catapult’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) near Sheffield. The result is a robot cell producing their staple product – the humble builder’s line pin.

Freeing up two skilled workers for other tasks, the company now fulfils orders three-times faster than before, a massive impact on an SME like Footprint Tools.


A low-cost remanufacturing solution has successfully increased the lifespan of a die by 120%. Image: HVMC

A low-cost remanufacturing solution has successfully increased the lifespan of a die by 120%


Remanufacturing set to make tool and die sector green

Dies are everyday objects for the modern production line, used as specialised tools in forming metal. With the process to forge new dies both energy intensive and expensive, any increase in the lifespan of a die reduces environmental impact and saves a company money.

In collaboration with six other companies, the Catapult’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), part of National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, created a low-cost remanufacturing solution for the tool and die sector, successfully increasing the lifespan of a die by 120%.

The two-year DigiTool project is helping UK manufacturers of all sizes and across various industries to embrace the circular economy, boost sustainability and realise significant financial savings by offsetting the purchase of new dies. A small change is having a big impact.


*All images courtesy of HVM Catapult