Dominic Brown, Head of GROW:OffshoreWind, talks opportunities and the need for small manufacturers to act now to take advantage of an £80bn future market.
If you read the business headlines you would think that the recent economic recovery has been single-handedly driven by the automotive industry.
Thousands of column inches have been dedicated to Jaguar Land Rover’s growth and significant investment from global manufacturers, such as BMW, Nissan and Toyota.
With the media seemingly obsessed with all things ‘motors’, the offshore wind sector has continued to grow quietly in the background. Yet the market opportunity is huge for small manufacturers, with 40 projects – worth between £80 and £100bn – set to be rolled out shortly.
The potential has been on the boil for a while and there is no doubting that the recent £310m investment by Siemens and the UK’s associated British Ports in East Yorkshire was a welcome confidence boost and should hopefully kick-start future developments.
And the good news for small and medium sized manufacturers is that this isn’t just about wind turbines, there’s a whole host of content that is covered by what we know as offshore wind, from supplying toughened glass for maintenance boats to specialist electronics for power management devices.
The challenge is convincing this part of the manufacturing base that these opportunities are obtainable and that’s where the GROW:OffshoreWind service comes into its own.
Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Grant Thornton, the programme is committed to matching companies with tier 1s and the major contractors and ensuring they are equipped to meet industry requirements for quality and volumes.
Dominic Brown, head of GROW, picked up the story: “We’ve already assisted 500 firms and have got about £5.5m of grant funding pending.
“The support has been based on providing one-to-one mentoring and coaching, not to mention giving SMEs access to grants that can be used to develop new technologies, install new pieces of kit or maximise R&D.”
He continued: “A lot of the time firms just need someone to talk to them so they understand how their traditional expertise can be used to break into the sector. Like most industries, it is all about the best possible quality and security of supply.
“One of the biggest lessons we’re delivering to management teams is that they need to go into it with their eyes open as not many of them fully understand the level of opportunity out there.
“Just take the last few grants we’ve given out. One has been to a fabricator in the North East to move to larger premises to build the parts, the other one is to part fund a new maintenance boat for a firm in Kent.”
One of the biggest issues Brown and his team face is making sure that suppliers know about the opportunities and ensuring relevant connections are made.
This is another area GROW is making progress in. A number of Tier 1 suppliers have provided a detailed list of structural elements and commodities they require and it is the service’s job to match them with companies who can meet their requirements.
“Fabrication and steel structures are a good example of this in action. We have 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,” continued Brown.
“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 thousands of 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 fulfill.”
Again GROW’s advisors are helping in this field by detailing the specification and performance criteria of each part and then inviting suppliers on its database to tender for it. There’s even support when it comes to bidding for the work.
So whilst the marketing rhetoric may be strong, there is little doubt that there is substance behind the words… The likes of DONG Energy, Statoil, Vattenfall, Navitas and E.On are all committed to UK content so it’s now up to the smaller manufacturers to act and take their share of the opportunity.