UK commitment more than hot air for offshore wind Tier 1s

Mark Knowlton, specialist at the GROW:OffshoreWind service, explains why a commitment to the UK is more than empty marketing rhetoric from developers and Tier 1s.

GROW OffshoreWind delivers £7m boost to the offshore wind sector
GROW:OffshoreWind delivered a £7m boost to the sector in 2014.

There has been a fair amount of criticism from some commentators about how seriously offshore wind developers and their Tier 1 contractors are when it comes to engaging with the UK manufacturing community.

Historically, this may be true but there are some examples of good practice now emerging and we are playing our part at GROW to build greater collaboration between SMEs and larger enterprises.

A number of supply chain development activities are well underway, with key players in the sector, such as Alstom; MHI Vestas; Siemens; A2SEA; Statoil; Vattenfall, and Navitus Bay, taking part.

Much of this work is not widely documented, largely due to the fact that in this competitive environment these types of projects are protected through Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

Meet the buyer events – led by developers – are one example and give Tier One contractors and UK manufacturers the chance to be in the same room at the same time.

As well as the formal presentations there is always a valuable opportunity for manufacturers to speak with the buyers face-to-face over lunch and at their stands during the open networking sessions. A perfect example of this was a supplier day to showcase the £1.5bn Dudgeon Wind Farm.

GROW:OffshoreWind PQMore than 150 firms attended from the supply chain and were given advice on tendering for the products and services required by the Tier 1s.

Connecting

One of the biggest issues we face is making sure that suppliers know about the opportunities and ensuring relevant connections are made.

This is another area I’m pleased to say we are making progress in. A number of Tier 1 suppliers have provided us with a detailed list of structural elements and commodities they require and it is our job to match them with companies who can meet their requirements.

Fabrication and steel structures are a good example of this in action. GROW has successfully established a detailed list of UK SMEs who excel in this work, many of whom are already building for the oil and gas/marine sectors.

These are now being given to the major developers and Tier 1s so they can make informed decisions.

However, the smaller manufacturers also need to understand there is work to do on their part and should be prepared to research the market and see where their processes and products could be utilised.

There are over 600 parts that can be used in the maintenance of a turbine, but all we think about are the blades, the motor and the metal structure.

Admittedly, some of these components are very technical and only available from the OEM, but there is a long list of parts that local suppliers can fulfil.

GrowOffshore PQ2Again our advisors are helping in this field by detailing the specification and performance criteria of each part and then inviting suppliers on our database to tender for it. We’re even supporting them on how to bid for work.

So while the marketing rhetoric may be strong, there is little doubt that there is substance behind the words…it’s now up the smaller manufacturers to take their share of the opportunity.

GROW:OffshoreWind has been very active in the North East of England, providing support and funding to more than 15 companies. One of these firms is Metaltech in County Durham, which is also benefitting from its relationship with the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS).

A leading North East heat treatment specialist is targeting growth in aerospace, defence and offshore wind after securing a major national accreditation and funding to boost its capacity.

Metaltech Ltd, which employs 24 people at its County Durham facility, has become one of the first firms in its field to be awarded the SC21 Bronze Award, highlighting a commitment to world class quality, delivery performance and continuous improvement.

Supported by the Business Growth Service’s Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), the company took just eighteen months to go through the rigorous process and expects to use the standard to be in with a chance of supplying more components to the MoD and next generation aircraft.

It comes just a few weeks after it received £50,000 of GROW:OffshoreWind funding towards the purchase of a specialist Bogie Hearth furnace (aimed principally for post weld heat treatment cycles) and additional, larger sealed quench facilities, including marquenching for distortion control.

Image L to R Dr Graeme Forster (Metaltech), Alan Whittaker and Jim Barr (both MAS).
Image L to R: Dr Graeme Forster (Metaltech), Alan Whittaker and Jim Barr (both MAS).

“SC21 is a major achievement for our business and I believe we’re one of the smallest firms to go for and successfully secure the Bronze award,” explained Dr Graeme Forster, managing director.

“A lot of the major Tier 1s and primes will only consider you if you have this accreditation and we saw it as a natural progression from the AS9100 standard we already held.”

He continued: “It’s a long and demanding journey, but it provides you with a great continuous improvement framework that delivers better communication, efficiency gains and cross functional working within the workplace.

“The support has been tremendous and it wouldn’t have been possible without the knowledge and patience of advisors Alan Whittaker and Jim Barr. They understand our business, got the timing spot on and then delivered the external assistance required to get us ready for approval.

“This included an automated spreadsheet system to allow us to closely monitor both quality and delivery performance – two of the key SC21 metrics. We are now in a much better position to win new work in the aerospace, defence and security sectors.”

The Manufacturing Advisory Service has worked with Metaltech for more than five years and recently advised it on a successful application to the GROW:OffshoreWind Enabling Fund.

Nearly £50,000 has been secured to go towards the acquisition of new furnaces and quenching capabilities that will increase its capability from one tonne to four tonne payloads – essential when providing key thermal processing for the larger components demanded in these sectors.

“We were pointed in the direction of GROW:OffshoreWind as a mechanism to gain some additional funding towards our investment plans. It didn’t stop there as we received help to put together the bid and are just about to start production with the larger Bogie Hearth furnace.”

GROW:OffshoreWind LinkHe added: “I fully expect offshore wind and marine to be our biggest growth markets in 2015.” GROW:OffshoreWind is delivered by Grant Thornton and programme partners the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), Renewable UK and the University of Sheffield.