The ambitiously named Global Manufacturing Festival in Sheffield in April networked small companies with global OEMs and showcased the Catapult model. But more work is needed to achieve its aims of linking South Yorkshire businesses to the world.
Round three of the Global Manufacturing Festival (GMF) in Sheffield was a step up from the first two years. Over 700 visitors walked through the doors and 70 companies took exhibition stands, filling two large marquees – which nearly blew away on in a ferocious overnight storm before the exhibition – at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing near Rotherham. Boeing was one of four global OEMs present to talk to visiting companies about supply chain opportunities, which is precisely what the Festival was established to do.
The conference presentations were high quality and, in some cases, refreshingly open. Andy Page from Rolls-Royce and Simon Booth from Firth Rixson gave frank, detailed talks on how their companies work together and select suppliers. Andy Page highlighted the gaps in Rolls-Royce’s procurement patterns, where often British suppliers (which form about one third of its global suppliers, to the value of £1 billion) often score better quality ratings than suppliers in Europe, but regularly exhibit poorer delivery than suppliers in Germany. He was really clear on Rolls-Royce’s procurement criteria – the kind of visibility this event seeks to provide.
In the Renewable energy stream, Siemens and large scale fabricator MTL gave the audience a welcome reminder of the size of the offshore wind turbine prize. Never mind construction of the vast wind turbine factory in Hull, that Juergen Maier said Siemens is “still completely committed to”, the opportunities for downstream suppliers are also massive.
MTL’s Dave Oswin repeated figures from DECC which say the UK could have 18GW offshore wind deployed by 2020. For MTL Group alone this means fabricating for up to 8,000 turbines and 12,000 boat landing systems. In both the renewable and nuclear streams, however, the spectre of prevarication hovered. Inertia in both new nuclear build and offshore wind turbine ramp up shows no sign of changing until government can negotiate the elusive but crucial strike purchase price.
The AMRC Training Centre’s Alison Bettac told a large audience about her centre’s apprentice programmes, as well as the new Commercial Engineering Apprenticeship developed with the Manufacturing Technologies.
The Festival, or GMF, also connected more SMEs from across the UK with other local SMEs and global companies than the previous events had done.
To go global and establish itself as an international event, however, the Festival needs to do attract more foreign companies to Yorkshire. Why would they come? To learn and buy, but probably mostly to sell. Here the GMF has a conundrum because attracting foreign companies to find out more about the AMRC Catapult Centre, and to learn more about the procurement criteria of big primes, could rob local and UK companies of opportunities.
Putting the questionable ‘globalness’ of GMF aside however, the event, and others like it, serve an important purpose. Lord Heseltine’s report, No stone unturned, advocates regional growth and decentralisation of power. It was widely publicised and well received. The GMF absolutely showcases how regions with a strong manufacturing base, like South Yorkshire, are economically independent of London and the South East, with a string of high export companies operating locally – AESSEAL, Tata Speciality Steels, Firth Rixson, JRI Orthopaedics, Sheffield Forgemasters, ITM Power and more.
Perhaps rather than stating an ambition to be global in companies the GMF pulls in from abroad to affect business connections. The event should act as an exemplar for the Heseltine’s strategy of devolution. The rise of other national and regional show franchises – like Made in the Midlands – shows a zeitgeist of interest and pride in manufacture in the UK. GMF can capitalise on this and become a model for others to follow. A network of regional manufacturing festivals may have a greater cumulative effect on manufacturing GDP than a single event with global markets in its sights.