Manufacturing: Catapult Centres in the West Midlands receive funding

November 11, 2018

The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced that Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick) has been awarded £100m in Government funding for WMG’s work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

It forms part of a £780 million announcement of which £270.9 million has been awarded to the West Midlands (to WMG and The Manufacturing Technology Centre, below) for their work in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Energy Systems Catapult in Birmingham.


The WMG centre’s HVM Catapult focuses on Low Emission Mobility, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and the supply chain. This is directly aligned to the Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ vision for the transport sector of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion, underpinned by WMG’s digital manufacturing capability that drives improvement in productivity and competitiveness across sectors.

The Warwick press release reports that in their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students. Last year 900 apprentices gained valuable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing at HVM Catapult.

A more cautious account was given last November in The Register, by Andrew Orlowski. Citing a report by Ernst and Young’s Catapult Review Steering Group to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, he summarised some of its conclusions.


The catapult agencies (aka the government’s elite network of Catapult Centres), which are formally private sector “independent research and technology organisations”, hoover up public money via Innovate UK.

The UK government’s network of “Catapult” innovation and technology agencies fall under its R&D spending umbrella – show dubious value for money. Governance structures are unhelpful the report finds. Innovate UK – the operating name of the government’s Technology Strategy Board, is an arms’-length body that falls under the Department for Business. Innovate can’t sit on Catapult boards or recommend appointments because “There are private and public sector clashes e.g. when Catapults are asked to deliver for Government, report on performance, and comply with government accounting rules”.

Orlowski adds that the report suggests the manufacturing and biotech catapults have had a positive economic impact. But the others? Not so much. three of the seven catapults have been put in the Last Chance Saloon: the “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital”.

EY adds: “With the Catapult network’s overall lack of a clearly articulated set of objectives, or a framework for measuring impact, and the current level of operational performance, it is unlikely that the impact of the network overall has been significant so far. . . “

“The “Transport Systems”, “Future Cities” and “Digital” Catapults urgently need to draw up new plans to justify their existence: funding should be halted if they can’t “prove confidence” with a clear new plan”.

Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, has a more positive view:

“In their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate more than £850m world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students, such as at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult where in the last year 900 apprentices have gained invaluable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing.”

 

 

 

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Fracino: five years on

September 30, 2018

Aston coffee machine manufacturer Fracino was first featured on this site in 2012, with two blogs following on in 2013 – one being The ’Made in Britain’ mark: the FT cites Birmingham firm Fracino.

It is good to hear of Fracino’s TV coverage, from a Shirley reader, who comments: “the BBC has caught up!” He sent word that TV news (21st September) had reported from the factory with interviews with the founder’s son and Fracino’s MD, Adrian Maxwell (above), emphasising the “Made in Britain” mark as a selling point. They also interviewed a young (girl) apprentice and another manufacturing boss from other companies who had come in for the item

An online search revealed that a few days earlier the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce reported 17 new appointments, including service engineers, boiler manufacturers and assembly line operatives, increasing Fracino’s ‘multi-award winning team’ to 70, continuing:

“A third production line has been installed to meet increased demand and a multi-million pound investment programme has brought benefits including cutting-edge production and fabrication equipment and modern, energy saving technology”.

The team sells thousands of machines every year to customers including Subway, Patisserie Valerie, Living Ventures Restaurant Group, AMT Coffee and Pathfinder pub chains. The manufacturer also exports to over 70 countries worldwide.

Admirable aspects of its work include:

  • fabricating the majority of the company’s components in-house,
  • placing a high priority on its in-house training certification for engineers, introduced in 2015.

Selected as the nation’s premier coffee equipment and beverage supplier

The first ‘State of the nation’ survey, which targeted over 500 coffee shops, was followed by a ‘Hot to Stock’ study of more than 400 café owners. Fracino emerged as the nation’s premier coffee equipment and beverage supplier.

And last Friday, Catering Insight reported that Fracino was invited by BBC Breakfast to respond to findings by the manufacturer’s organisation, the EEF, on how the UK is the world’s ninth largest industrial nation though most people think it is only ranked 56th.

A BBC crew filmed live from Fracino’s manufacturing facility where 5,000 machines are produced annually – each displaying the Made in Britain marque.

With predictions that the UK will take its place among the world’s five biggest industrial nations by 2021 if current trends continue, Adrian Maxwell says British manufacturing – which makes up 44% of total exports and directly employs 2.6m people – plays a vital role. He added that although the UK market has faced major challenges over the last 12-18 months, mainly due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the manufacturing sector is booming.: “Fracino is proud to be making a key contribution with quality products which are commissioned by global brands.”

 

 

 

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Post-Brexit, with an ageing workforce and a shortage of graduates with science, engineering or mathematics qualifications, effective training is needed for younger and older workers

February 18, 2018

 

In April 2017 an apprenticeship levy was introduced. It requires companies with a £3m payroll or above to pay 0.5% of it to the government in return for vouchers, which smaller companies can also access, to spend on apprenticeships . . .

The EEF’s summary – from the employer’s perspective

The FT’s Business editor writes: “It is now clear that the UK government’s apprenticeship levy simply isn’t working. Apprenticeships fell by more than a quarter in the last three months of 2017 year on year, having fallen by 60% in the previous three months. Since April, when the levy was introduced, there have been just 158,000 apprenticeship starts, compared with 269,000 in the same period a year before”.

Some universities are now offering degree apprenticeships

These offer the opportunity to gain industrial knowledge and practical, relevant experience by combining study with on-the-job training. Leeds Beckett University is one such provider for non-levy and levy paying organisations in Leeds City Region.

And at post-graduate level

The Engineering Integrity Society events have recently included Young Engineers Seminars in January 2018, July 2017, December 2016, for newly qualified engineers from different companies who are encouraged by more senior engineers to attend. EIS is a long established charitable society, which focusses on the areas of fatigue, testing and durability. EIS members have many years of experience in these fields gained through working in some of the best-known companies in the industry.

“The levy has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships” 

This Times leader also points out: “Ofsted cannot cope and the reasons are not complicated. The new apprenticeships target has increased its workload but its budget has been cut by 38% over the last two parliaments: it stood at £200 million in 2011 and will fall to £124 million by 2020. Reversing this cut would be easy to justify if the apprenticeship levy were working, since this would in due course drive up wages and tax revenues as well as skills. But the levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.”

MP Meg Hillier, chairman, adds that parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has found that private providers are paid with taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but that government sometimes fails to monitor the results or penalise those that do not deliver.

A number of private providers have failed – the most widely publicised being First4Skills (funded by the government’s Skills Funding Agency) – and including Talents Training and Shared Educational Services Limited – leaving the apprentices and the institutions which hired them in serious difficulties.

Undeterred, last month the Cabinet Office launched a policy paper: Shared Services strategy for government.

Mission impossible? “The government is seeking to boost the number of apprenticeships at the same time as slashing the budget for Ofsted who are responsible for enforcing quality”

This is the charge made in another Times article, by Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, who has given evidence to the education select committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships.

The FT’s Business editor believes that the need for training and reskilling is imperative at a time when manufacturing is at a turning point, with the industrial internet about to revolutionise processes and business models and the integration and linking of big data, analytical tools and wireless networks with physical and industrial equipment. 

 

 

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Berck of West Bromwich: worker-management co-operation, training and investment

September 26, 2017

Berck Ltd, a family-run company in West Bromwich, founded in 1947, took difficult decisions to weather the downturn following the 2008 economic crisis.

To reduce costs, the company chairman Brian Yates and the management team decided to cut 11 jobs in the firm, which employed 90 people (above). They also asked the remaining employees to cut working hours and they agreed to do this in order to help the company through the crisis. After applying for a bank loan secured against the factory buildings, there was still a question about Berck’s ability to pay its monthly instalments on the loan and the directors were asked to take a salary break of two years, and put in some of their own money.

These measures were successful and in 2015, Berck received a Made in the Midlands’ Manufacturing Achievement Award

Berck produces a wide range of precision components, including cabling and routing, brackets batteries, terminal contacts, in-tank fuel cell sensors, air bag technology, switching for dashboard systems, which are used in the majority of car manufacturing plants in the UK and overseas. Products are exported to China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Egypt, the United States, Dominican Republic and most countries in Europe. components. Berck also serves over twenty other sectors, including domestic appliances, home computers, alternative medicines, i.t networking and solar heating

Like many successful West Midlands companies covered on this website, they invest in training and new machinery.

Above: Joe Hickman, toolroom apprentice – more news of apprentices on their Facebook page.

Last year, Berck invested in a Nikon Metrology iNEXIV VMA-4540 CNC video measuring machine (below) to replace Mitutoyo Quick Vision Ace CNC optical coordinate measuring machine (CMM) and a Kemco manual touch-probe CMM to inspect sheet metal parts and tools. See the Nikon pdf.

The latest widely reported news is that in July this year, Berck acquired Walsall’s Fourjay, specialists in deep drawing. The staff from Fourjay will now move across to West Bromwich to join Berck’s 70-strong workforce. Darren Yates, managing director at Berck, welcomed the addition of people with a variety of new skills to their skilled workforce.

Berck will now be supplying the MoD with vital fuses for Typhoon Eurofighter and F-16 combat jets. May they be used only for defence.  

 

 

 

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Crofts & Assinder

May 29, 2016

crofts logoEarlier this month Pamela Pinski wrote about Crofts & Assinder Limited based in Lombard Street, Digbeth, “the birth place of industry in Birmingham”.

On the company website we read that in 1875 George Crofts and Frederick Assinder started trading as brass founders in Lombard Street, Digbeth (below: the latest premises).

They specialised in the design and manufacture of cabinet handles and fittings and now use a range of materials including: brass, steel, cast Iron, zinc (mazak/zamak) ceramic, glass, acrylic, plastic and wood. Their products have been used in Rolls-Royces, London’s Ritz and Waldorf hotels, the White House in Washington and the Titanic.

crofts factory

Chief executive, Alex Crofts, the great-great grandson of founder George Crofts has pressed for more schools, and more students, to take an interest in manufacturing and engineering when it’s perceived as an undesirable career choice? Changes to educational funding have meant that the teaching of practical skills in some schools and colleges is reducing, meaning that students miss out on the chance to experience new skills and learn about our industry as a career. He writes about this subject which is taken seriously by other producers featured on this site:

”To address the skills gap, we should look closer to home. It’s important that we don’t forget our existing staff and we invest our time and money in order to teach them new skills. Moreover, individuals who have worked in a company for many years possess traditional skills, which are just as important as modern and technically advanced skills”.

“[T]he UK Commission for Employment and Skills 2016 survey revealed that ‘the modest economic growth of the past four years has been met by an unprecedented shortage of skills, leaving thousands of vacancies unfilled’. In my opinion, the lack of skills could be down to the decline in students wishing to pursue a career in manufacturing.

” . . . [I]ndustry must work closely with teachers and career officers in schools and colleges to offer work experience placements and apprenticeships, which provide a true taste of the industry. Whether it’s through career talks and fairs, work experience, workplace day visits or career sessions with motivational speakers, it’s our job to support and inspire the next generation of young people.

In recent years, Brumhour reports, Crofts has made significant investments into their product design range and now offers an exclusive bespoke design service. This has been followed by a 40% rise in export sales across Australia, France, Benelux, Germany, China, North America and Russia.

For more information, see the Crofts & Assinder website here.

 

 


Birmingham-based ADI group

February 3, 2016

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy has said that the only chance of future success is to create wealth and jobs through capital spending – and his vision is for Birmingham to become a city of 1,000 small and medium sized businesses: “Business growth is essential. This is an entrepreneurial city and I am absolutely determined the way we move forward is through economic growth”.

We highlight one of many such businesses now. A link in the Brummie leads to Business Desk’s news of the Birmingham-based ADI group has announced it is planning to create 500 new jobs by 2020, doubling its staff in five years.

adi logoADI Electrical was established in 1990 by Alan Lusty and has grown over the years, the Group now having 15 limited companies with a head office in Kings Norton, Birmingham. It offers building & refurbishment, electrical, engineering compliance management, environmental, maintenance, manufacturing automation & information systems, mechanical, project management, system efficiency, and utilities systems.

adi employeeMore recently, we read, the business has developed a working relationship with North Bromsgrove school and also has an on-going association with Aston University Engineering Academy to help encourage young people into a future career in engineering.

“A skills shortage is an increasing area of concern for many businesses within the engineering sector,” said James Sopwith, group sales & marketing director: “Which is why we have an apprenticeship programme, to encourage and inspire more young people to enter into the sector.”

(Above right: Employee of the Year Winner: Farhaan ‘Faz’ Kazi, Quality & Standards Coordinator)

The business believes in local jobs for local people and in giving back to the community in which it is based.

adi 2 b30It is already part of the Business in the Community (BITC) initiative and works closely with local deprived or homeless people, giving them a business placement. Many gain confidence and some have gone on to gain permanent positions within the business.”

Enda Mullen (Birmingham Post), comments: “As the business continues to grow, adi Group seems well placed to help inspire future generations from across the region and beyond, not only within the engineering sector but also from a business development perspective”.


PPS: re-investment to secure success for the future

August 24, 2015

kirsty 5Following good news from Hydraforce, a press release about their latest investment has been forwarded by managing director, Kirsty Davies-Chinnock of Professional Polishing Services Ltd in Smethwick.

As the first UK free-issue polishing company to process wide sheet and plate via a 2000mm wide dull and satin polishing line, they are expanding this department with the purchase of a new double-headed line from Costa Levigatrici SpA in Italy, which will arrive and be commissioned during December 2015. The new line will polish plates up to 2000mm wide and 20mm thick, with a maximum piece weight of 2 tonne.

Alberto Burtini from Costa explains why their machine was the right choice for Professional Polishing Services:

costa logo“We were proud to demonstrate our build and engineering quality during their visit to our three factories in Italy. The machine is designed by the latest generation 3D Cad Cam technology and the software is uniquely developed by our engineers thus allowing us the control of every single machine function and create also tailor made solutions for special needs.”

Kirsty was impressed with the trials carried out in Italy:

“It’s an exciting period for PPS, this investment is a fantastic opportunity for us to grow to the next level and to cement our position as the UK’s market leader in stainless steel mechanical finishing.”

The investment itself is the largest ever made by Professional Polishing Services in its thirty two year history. This additional capital expansion builds on an ethos of dedicated growth and re-investment to secure success for the future.

tag logoA web search revealed that Kirsty has also been named as executive ambassador for TAG Network Midlands.

TAG is a networking association that celebrates and supports trainees, apprentices, interns and graduate level professionals across all industry sectors.