Pride and passion making a difference

By Ged Henderson

02 Oct 2023

Kula Human Robot

Andy Schofield leaves no-one in any doubt when it comes to the part Lancashire’s manufacturing an engineering supply chains play in both the county and the nation’s economic wellbeing. The chair of the North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA) declares: “Advanced engineering and manufacturing are absolutely vital.”

The figures certainly back him up. Manufacturing accounts for around 20 per cent of the county’s GVA – around £6.5bn - and provides 80,000 jobs.

Andy says: “Add on Tempest and the Global Combat Air Programme and what that means for levelling up and to jobs and skills development and the export market. It’s massive for the UK economy.”

He adds: “There is fantastic pride and passion in what we do. Lancashire is a centre of manufacturing and that is not going away. There are great opportunities in aerospace and defence and in space and energy and automotive.”

To that end he says that Lancashire’s Watchtower initiative is now focusing on issues like innovation and diversification. ESG, sustainability and digital transformation are also high on the agenda as the project moves forward, with the possibility of a further phase.

Launched last year, the programme was created to support development and growth in aerospace, advanced engineering and manufacturing across the county. Born out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Watchtower is a collaboration between Lancashire County Council and NWAA and includes big hitters such as BAE Systems, Safran Nacelles and Rolls-Royce.

Andy says: “Over the last three months a number of people have been looking at global trends and what they mean to the region. Out of that have come a series of proposals we want to take forward.

“As well as ESG and sustainability, there is getting better at what we do and also the digital transformation journey. There’s also a skills element in there and a security element.

“There is a lot going on, the challenge for us is how we bring all that together. There is great investment in the region we need to use it.”

Melissa Conlon, commercial director of AMRC North West which is also based in Samlesbury, also points out the role the supply chain plays in promoting inward investment. She says a number of companies currently “want to land” in Lancashire. She says: “There’s inward investment there in terms of job and wealth creation, creating those high value advanced manufacturing jobs within the region.

“A lot of our larger manufacturers, potentially if they don’t have that evolving supply chain with the skills, the expertise and technology they need, could actually move their manufacturing facilities elsewhere.”

She adds: “We are a county of manufacturers and we are seeing a lot of innovations coming through with low carbon technologies that can make a difference. We need to really nurture these. We need to make sure these companies have that funding and support and then we can land that manufacturing capability within Lancashire.”

Charlie Rooke is business development manager at Senior Aerospace Weston. Based in Barnoldswick, the business is a leading supplier of a wide range of complex precision machined components, and sub-assemblies for OEMS, predominantly in the commercial aviation market.

He says: “Supply chains for us are absolutely critical, whether that is materials coming into the business from upstream or work from suppliers downstream.” And he points out the role of institutions like the AMRC and NWAA, adding: “The support that is available for manufacturing in Lancashire is fantastic.”

Austin Cook, defence giant BAE Systems’ principal technologist in emerging technologies and systems, also believes the importance of the supply chain cannot be underestimated. The business has 22,400 workers in the North West – many in its aerospace facilities in Warton and Samlesbury - and last year spent £450m with more than 750 suppliers in the region.

Austin says: “We have an international supply chain but a significant amount of what we produce is provided by companies in the UK.

“Well over 50 per cent of what we make comes from the supply chain. In the UK it also drives a need for high value jobs and that drives the skills market. Ultimately as we move into some of the opportunities going forward there is a driving force there for a lot of new technologies and capabilities.

“Those technologies, some being developed in UK universities and research centres ultimately have further capabilities for the UK as they move across into different sectors.”

Supply chain companies are investing as they look to the future and the development of projects such as Tempest and sharing in the benefits of the work to deliver the sixth generation fighter, with its planned entry into service by 2035.

Wayne Richardson, commercial director of Preesall based A&G Precision and Sons, reveals that the family business has invested a six figure sum in 3D printing machinery in anticipation of future Tempest work.

He says: “With Tempest in mind we got a heads up about the amount of additive manufacturing that will be used in its production.

“In the past we would never spend that sort of money without an order book but we realised if we didn’t get on the journey at the start we’d miss it. “Now, 12 months on, we’re still waiting for that first job but we know it will be there. Long-term investment is key to our business going forward.”

Barnoldswick based Buoyancy Aerospace is another supply chain company that is building its business strategy on technological advancements and the changing face of aerospace. Sam Butterworth, integration engineer, says historically the business concentrated on soft metal machining but is now moving into hard materials such as titanium.

He says: “With Tempest and additive manufacturing we believe that is where the future will be, especially in defence and civilian aerospace.

“However, that comes at a cost. Each machine we are talking about costs between £400,000 and £700,000. Usually, an investment like that would take place once you have the contracts in place.

“We are going about it in a different way. We are investing anyway because the demand is out there and we strongly believe the next step for us is to move into the more modern materials.”

Gini Cooper, partner at MHA Moore and Smalley, says that when it comes to speculative expenditure, timing is important as businesses need to be aware of any potential tax incentives.

Paul Nicholls, relationship manager at Barclays, works with a range of manufacturing businesses in the county and believes the sector in Lancashire holds an advantage through resources such as the AMRC North West.

He says: “I had a client looking to set up a programme with cobots and robots. He bought the equipment but didn’t know how to piece them together. To be able to get him over to the AMRC to talk to people there about making it work was invaluable. It is great for Lancashire.”

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