SME Growth Summit 2022 preview: Professor Andrew Schofield, North West Aerospace Alliance

Posted on 3 Nov 2022 by James Devonshire

Ahead of SME Growth Summit 2022 (16-17 November), The Manufacturer caught up with Professor Andrew Schofield, Chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance, to learn what attendess can expect from his keynote speech at this year's event and find out a little more about the organisation he heads up.

SME Growth Summit is the must-attend industry event for manufacturing professionals working at organisations with a turnover of up to £100m.

Over the course of two days, more than 150 experienced industry leaders will come together to deliver keynote presentations, host discussion tables and take part in panel debates. In addition to sharing their experiences and current plans, these individuals will also listen to your current challenges and answer any questions you have.

Professor Andrew Schofield is the chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA)
Professor Andrew Schofield is the chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA)

Professor Andrew Schofield is the chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA), a not-for-profit organisation that represents, supports and unites aerospace companies in the North West of England. On the second day of SME Growth Summit 2022 (17 November), Andrew – a The Manufacturer Top 100 alumni – will be delivering a keynote speech on the Lancashire Watchtower Initiative.

I recently sat down with Andrew to find out more about NWAA and obtain some insights into what we can expect from his keynote speech at this year’s SME Growth Summit.

Tell us more about NWAA

AS: The North West Aerospace Alliance was established in 1994. It’s a not-for-profit organisation that was set up to drive the sustainability and growth of the North West aerospace industry supply chain.

One of a number of regional alliances in the UK that all link together, NWAA supports the biggest cluster of UK aerospace companies: those located in the North West of England, which have a combined turnover in excess of £7bn and account for approximately a quarter of the UK aerospace industry.

How about your own background, Andrew?

I’ve been in industry for over 40 years, my most recent position being Director of Manufacturing Technology at BAE Systems. In January 2022, I became the Chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance, so it’s a role that’s still relatively new to me, but one that allows me to continue my involvement in an industry I’m passionate about.

The UK future combat aircraft that was unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow in 2018. It will be built in the North West and involve the local supply chain.

The UK future combat aircraft was unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow in 2018. It will be built in the North West and involve the local supply chain.

What can people expect from your SME Growth Summit keynote?

I’ll start by giving a quick overview of NWAA, including the ways in which we help the region’s aerospace companies. But the main focus of my keynote presentation will be the Lancashire Watchtower Initiative.

In 2020, when the pandemic really started to bite, the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership – which is one of a number of LEPs in the country – recognised that the North West aerospace industry was being severely impacted. The reduction in build rate we witnessed at the time was unprecedented and companies needed support. A task force was put together, led by the Chair of the Lancashire LEP, to analyse the situation. The outcome was basically that intervention was needed to help the advanced engineering and manufacturing industry, particularly the aerospace sector and its supply chain.

SME Growth Summit would like to thank:

  • Co-organiser Autodesk;
  • Knowledge partner Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge;
  • Sponsors Michael Page, Made Smarter, DXC Technology, EDGE Digital Manufacturing, Epicor, ERA Foundation, Innovate UK KTN, Institute for Export & International Trade, and Verve4Growth.

As a result, Lancashire County Council launched the £1m Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing (AEM) Watchtower project, part of the county council’s wider £12.8m Lancashire Economic Recovery and Growth Fund.

Fast forward to today, however, and the challenges have changed. What we’re now seeing is increased production levels that have never been seen before. Instead of job losses, there is massive recruitment activity going on in the North West. There’s also been heavy research, development and innovation investment in the region, a perfect example being AMRC North West. But Lancashire County Council realised that the supply chain, particularly SMEs, struggle to get access to them.

So during my keynote, I’ll talk about the challenges at the time and go over how they’ve now shifted to include factors like the energy crisis, sustainability and the drive to Net Zero. I’ll also talk about the constructs of the Watchtower Project, which is basically split into five sections, three of which I’ll look at further:

  • How do we measure how innovative companies are and how do we align them with the innovation centers that have been set up, so they can they can start to get some value out of them?
  • How do companies become more diverse? For example, if there’s an organisation that’s been heavily involved with aerospace, they might want to diversify into nuclear, automotive, electrification or defence. So, what are the barriers to overcome to facilitate that diversification into different sectors?
  • The final one is around skills. So how can companies ensure they are deveoping the skills future advanced engineering and manufacturing sector needs.

I’ll close by explaining how organisations can find out more about the programme, including the main contacts in addition to NWAA.

Anything else?

Given that I’ll be delivering my keynote at SME Growth Summit in Liverpool, there will inevitably be companies present that are not based in Lancashire. These organisations might wonder how they can benefit from the Watchtower Project. While they can’t if they’re not based in Lancashire, I’m hoping that the positive work being done will encourage other regions to set up similar initiatives.

Take Liverpool, for example, which is now home to the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) Liverpool, part of the wider Coventry-headquartered organisation. There’s arguably a lot of scope for a similar programme to be created there which could help SMEs start taking advantage of the innovation in the region.

The final consideration is what happens after the Watchtower Project finishes? It’s a two-year initiative and we’re currently around six months in. The follow-on piece is pointing companies in the right direction for the next part of their journeys, which could involve working with another research centre or a cluster of companies to work towards solving a common challenge.

Professor Andrew Schofield will be delivering his SME Growth Summit keynote presentation on 17 November (the second day of the event). If you’d like to be in attendance, then secure your place now:


*Tickets are for manufacturers only.

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