The country may be famous for its peaks and valleys, but Welsh manufacturing has had its own fair share of ups and downs. Currently, things are very much on the up.
What springs to mind when you think of Wales? Stunning scenery? Rugby? A strong national identity?
What about Welsh industry? At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the country’s rich mineral deposits and the development of the mining and metal working industries transformed Wales from an agricultural society into an industrial hotbed.
Two hundred years later and many still associate the country with heavy industry, particularly steel, coal and shipbuilding, despite much of it having declined or disappeared outright.
Today, tourism and public services comprise the bulk of the Welsh economy; however, manufacturing still plays a vital role.
The shift from heavy to lighter industry has seen the country become a leading global player in high-value sectors including electronics, technology, aerospace, automotive and healthcare.
For those unfamiliar with the rise of advanced manufacturing in Wales, below are just 10 examples, many of them recently announced, which equate to many millions of pounds worth of investment, thousands of new jobs and will go a long way towards future-proofing the Welsh and UK economy.
1. Aston Martin
In December 2019, the doors opened at Aston Martin Lagonda’s new manufacturing facility at St Athan, South Wales. The 90-acre site is the home of Aston Martin’s first SUV, the DBX, and has created up to 750 new highly-skilled jobs at peak production.
Image: Aston Martin
Officially opened in 1938, RAF St Athan was home to 14,000 personnel during World War II and was used for training for both ground and air crew. After the war, St Athan continued primarily as a training facility and also the major RAF maintenance base for aircraft including Vulcan, Phantom, Harrier, Tornado and Hawk.
The last aircraft to be serviced there departed the site in February 2012, and since 2016, St Athan has undergone a three-year transformation from Royal Air Force base to a cutting-edge centre of manufacturing excellence.
Just around the corner, Britishvolt has announced that its ‘GigaPlant’ – the UK’s first – will also be located at the base, subject to planning permission. The plant is expected to manufacture lithium-ion battery technology for the automotive and renewable energy sectors, as well as serve as a major R&D centre.
The site was chosen over more than 40 locations reportedly due to its import/export accessibility, availability of labour and skilled staff, as well as convenient geographical proximity to customers and local industrial companies.
Should the green light be granted, the development would represent one of the UK’s largest-ever industrial investments – the initial wave of £1.2bn is forecast to create around 3,500 jobs – and will go a long way towards establishing the UK as the dominant global player in battery technology.
3. Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult
Travel 40 miles North East of St Athan and you’ll arrive at the Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult in Newport, which is focused on helping UK industry exploit this crucial technology of the future.
The centre, which received £51m in grant funding as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, is part of the UK’s Catapult network and though it employs 76 direct employees, it is forecast to help create and safeguard up to 4,770 jobs as a result of advances in compound semiconductor applications.
As of September 2020, the CSA Catapult is involved in projects worth a total £140m with a pipeline of a further £177m. It is currently working with 42 Tier 1 and 45 SME manufacturers and nine international partners, all of which are benefiting from the CSA team’s more than 700 years’ worth of semiconductor experience.
4. Ortho Clinical Diagnostics
A new diagnostic test designed for the rapid detection of COVID-19 is being produced by Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (OCD) at two of its state-of-the-art facilities – one in Rochester, New York, the other in Pencoed, Bridgend.
OCD’s Pencoed site employs more than 500 people and produces many millions of tests each week for a wide range of disease states and medical conditions for distribution globally.
The US-based company, which has had a presence in Wales for more than 40 years, was formerly a division of pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, with Pencoed currently its only European manufacturing facility.
OCD is a key player in the Welsh Life Sciences sector, a rapidly growing market that has been nurtured via strategic government investment over the past decade to now employ 11,000 skilled individuals across more than 360 companies. It annually injects £2bn into the Welsh economy.
5. Sony UK Technology Centre
Also in Pencoed you’ll find the 30,000 sq ft Sony UK Technology Centre (UK TEC), the company’s manufacturing and customer service centre for the UK and home to more than 30 related start-ups.
The centre employs more than 700 people and has developed something of a reputation for manufacturing excellence.
It has been recognised with no less than four Queen’s Awards for Export, as well as the Queen’s Award for the Environment.
The site manufactures cutting-edge professional audio and video products, including the latest 4K broadcasting systems, which are being used to film sporting events around the world.
Seven years ago, Sony UK TEC’s contract manufacturing was approached to make 10,000 Raspberry Pi units a year.
Today, one of 11 different models of Raspberry Pi comes off the production line every 3.5 seconds, and the 20 millionth Raspberry Pi in the UK came off the line in 2019.
Heavy engineering specialist Cyrus-Bradford officially unveiled its new 3,500 sq ft production site in Briton Ferry, South Wales in September 2020, through its venture Engineering Precise Solutions (EPS).
The company already operates two established facilities in Bradford (46,000 sq ft) and Durham (10,000 sq ft) and has more than 100 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of bespoke hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders, transmissions, gearboxes and all associated equipment.
The Briton Ferry site employs nine highly skilled workers, as well as an apprentice, and with a strong order pipeline already secured, Cyrus-Bradford is planning to recruit a number of additional staff and has plans for further expansion.
7. Deeside Enterprise Zone
The almost 5,000 acre Deeside Enterprise Zone in North East Wales has risen to become a hub of advanced manufacturing across a diversity of sectors – from aerospace and electronics to pharmaceuticals and sustainable energy.
The zone is also home to several world-class facilities including the Advanced Composites Research, Training and Development Centre, the Advanced Manufacturing Skills & Technology Centre, the Renewable Energy Park and the Toyota Lean Manufacturing Centre that sits within Toyota’s Deeside engine plant.
8. Dynamic Integration of Automation with LOGistic
Dialog is one of 14 projects to recently receive backing through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, which sees the UK government invest £147m, backed by further funding from industry, to support businesses to implement new technology.
The project, based at Deeside Industrial Park (part of the Deeside Enterprise Zone), is led by Atlas Copco and aims to combine affordable autonomous mobile robots with logistics capabilities to improve manufacturing productivity and agility.
9. Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru
Staying with the Deeside Enterprise Zone, the AMRC Cymru officially opened its doors in November 2019 and has been hailed as a ‘game changer’ for the North Wales economy.
Situated close to the Airbus wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton, the centre builds on the region’s strong industrial base and focuses on advanced manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automotive, nuclear and food.
Image: AMRC Cymru
Backed by £20m from the Welsh Government, AMRC Cymru is the first High Value Manufacturing Catapult location opened in Wales and is forecast to deliver a £4bn boost to the Welsh economy over the next 20 years by fostering innovation, commercialisation and skills development.
Only months after opening its doors, AMRC Cymru started playing an essential role in an unfamiliar game, helping save lives in the fight against COVID-19 as a production facility for thousands of vital medical ventilators as part of VentilatorChallengeUK.
10. Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre
The food and beverage sector is a rising star in the Welsh economy, with the latest figures showing the Welsh supply chain provides almost 230,000 jobs and has an annual turnover of £22bn.
The sector is set to receive a productivity and sustainability boost following a £2m award by the Welsh Government to build a Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre.
AMRC Cymru has secured the BITES (Business, Innovation and Tourism Escalator Scheme) funding to accelerate the adoption of waste-reducing eco-innovations by integrating advanced technologies in the packaging industry.
Image: AMRC Cymru
The £2m funding will be used in two key areas at AMRC Cymru: the development of an emerging technology demonstrator that comprises a re-configurable, modular system for prototyping production processes; and equipment infrastructure that supports the progress of new designs, materials and processes.
*Header image courtesy of Shutterstock