NAMTEC – the National Metals Technology Centre – has just officially launched its Manufacturing Forum. Andrew Allcock caught up with its chief executive, Dr Alan McLelland, to find out more
The National Metals Technology Centre (www.namtec.co.uk), based in Rotherham, was set up by the then Department of Trade and Industry in 2002, specifically to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the metals and related engineering industries throughout the UK.
It operates nationally, although, when public funding is involved, its activities are sometimes restricted to geographical regions, specifically Yorkshire & Humber – although that region also boasts a particular strength in the metals sector, of course.
Such public funding is either channelled through Yorkshire Forward, one of the soon-to-be-defunct regional development agencies, or direct from the European Regional Development Fund (partial project funding, leveraged by commercial income).
NAMTEC is already a stand-alone commercial organisation, however – it gets no public funding by right; if public funding is involved, it has to be won competitively, stresses Dr Alan McLelland, NAMTEC chief executive (right), who officially took up the role on 1 October, following 18 months at the organisation. Public funding today accounts for 60% of NAMTEC's income, but it will be an increasingly diminishing pot, he says. "Over the coming nine months, that's going to move much more towards the commercial income side."
When initially set up, NAMTEC's focus was on metals producers and those companies that were concerned with material properties, such as forging firms, or those employing exotic materials in their designs and who required technical materials knowledge: so, a technology transfer or technology expertise service. This heritage can be seen in its two special interest groups: the Titanium Information Group (TIG) and the Metals Information for the 21st Century Group (MI21), for example.
NAMTEC, while still offering such support, has for some time also offered commercial services to companies having a technical capability, advising them on how to exploit technical expertise in new markets. The new Manufacturing Forum, therefore, encapsulates a broader offering, which includes a number of previously separate services/activities, such as the two special interest groups mentioned, together with Yorkshire Forward's AEM Yorkshire programme (running for two years) and the Special Metals Forum (running for four years). This is reflective of NAMTEC's wish to offer its individual services, which have been shaped by, and bounded within, individual publicly-funded projects, as a "single coherent offering" that allows companies to engage with NAMTEC more easily from a number of directions and which will give the services "mass".
And it is because the NAMTEC Manufacturing Forum is a bringing together of some existing activities that it was able to kick off its local, unofficial launch, in June, with some 95 fee-paying members, with this now around the 100 mark (not the only kind of membership – see later).
Today, then, NAMTEC sets out to offer support to all companies that are involved in "the production or, largely, the processing of metals". Dr McLelland again: "We feel it is better to have the depth in that industry sector, rather than, for example, trying to represent all possible interests in offshore wind."
However, key, in terms of sensibly benefiting from NAMTEC's services, is that a company's activities deliver high added value. "We are looking to assist companies that have a real differentiation; those organisations that are putting some real added value in to what they are doing," offers NAMTEC's top man. "The way we usually explain this is by saying, we can do very little for a company that is welding up and fabricating garden gates, but we can do a lot for a company that today is supplying into, say, the automotive industry, and which says: 'I've got a lot of skills and attributes, I wonder how I can move myself into aerospace'.
"Such companies tend to have a fairly strong underpinning technology base, and they can make things or process materials that are, in some way, difficult for others to do. And if you're manufacturing in the UK, that's something you really need, otherwise you're competing on cost, and that's not a good place to be."
KEY SECTOR FOCUS
The Manufacturing Forum's activities will predominantly address three key sectors: oil and gas; aerospace and defence; and power generation (nuclear, clean fossil and renewable sources). These, it is believed, offer significant potential for member companies through a continued dominance in the use of high-added- value metal components, together with the prospect of significant future growth. That said, other distinct opportunities for members will also be addressed, it is highlighted.
Of the sort of help that the NAMTEC Manufacturing Forum can give,
Dr McLelland says: "We have done work for Rolls-Royce, in design and modelling activity, through to working with small SMEs, latterly around innovation with regional SMEs – for example, seeing where they might position themselves in new markets. In that case, we are looking at their technology base, their skills and attributes, and how that organisation might transpose itself into working in a new market sector. So, if a company has a certain skill base and production capability, what would that mean, if it tried to generate product for, say, the offshore wind sector – what could a company make? And then it's about helping the company understand, if it is here today, where would it need to be, in order to do that tomorrow?
"Further, we look at how big a market is – what could realistically be expected by a company from that; how the market is structured; what the supply chain looks like; what the timing issues, in terms of what will happen when, are; who the current suppliers are; and who the current customers are. It's a very broad perspective.
"We have come from a technical background, yes, but the reality is we deal with companies that have a strong technical foundation, but which are looking at how they can make and sell more – that's the crux of it for 90% of people."
As for the ambition for the new forum, the chief executive says: "What we are hunting for is a forum of some 250 fee-paying members. And that's because, at that size, we will have sufficient representation and critical mass to deliver synergistic value – members will not only work with NAMTEC on an individual business, but also with each other. That's really the primary target for the Manufacturing Forum. There is some ERDF funding supporting it, so there are activities and targets that we will fulfil, but building a community is our focus."
And by community, that doesn't just mean fee-paying members, Dr McLelland underlines. "Community members sign up, they can become involved, although the level of service and support they obtain will be lower. But they still have the opportunity to attend most of the events. It is really about seeing if we can further generate a community around the metals manufacturing arena." Currently there are some 700 community members involved with NAMTEC as a whole, but the potential community numbers thousands of companies.
But what about other supplier/supply chain support organisations – the Nuclear AMRC, for example, which is just across the M1? The two organisations work co-operatively, Dr McLelland offers. In fact, the operations director of the Nuclear AMRC, Dr Steve Court, was, until recently, operations director of NAMTEC. "In building a community, the last thing you want to do is create confusion. As for the difference, NAMTEC's Manufacturing Forum is about business intelligence – helping companies understand the sector, how the sector is moving, the timings, where opportunities are being created and how to access them. The Nuclear AMRC is much more able to take companies into the detail, with that organisation having good relationships with companies such as EDF and Westinghouse, facilitating those companies in creating a supply chain. Together, we aim to give a clear, coherent message about new civil nuclear."
A similar point is made regarding RenewablesUK, which is involved in wind power supply chain activities, for example. "They tend to work at a strategic level – cultivating the supply chain from a higher level. We are trying to bring people from the supply chain towards those opportunities."
Speakers from both the Nuclear AMRC and RenewablesUK attend NAMTEC events to give presentations, in fact. And in addition to these two organisations, NAMTEC also has a relationship with aerospace, defence and security organisation A¦D¦S.
Summing up, Dr McLelland says of the Manufacturing Forum: "It's very much about providing a good access route into the metals community – particularly SMEs – to make sure they are properly informed, properly involved and then properly supported, if they wish to progress into those sectors."
Membership and events
Costs to become a member of NAMTEC range from £500 (academic, less than £1 million turnover) to £1,750 (£20 million-plus turnover) – "A relatively modest fee that makes us as accessible as possible for industry," Alan McLelland offers. Costs to attend events are equally small, around £45 for a member, but joining as a community member is free, so access is not denied to those wishing to dip their toe in the water.
September saw the inaugural Manufacturing Forum conference and dinner, with speakers at the event drawn from Rolls-Royce, AMEC, Scottish and Southern Electricity, Siemens, Messier-Bugatti-Dowty and David Brown Gear Systems.
Future events will encompass renewable energy, such as wave and tidal, wind and energy from waste, carbon capture and storage, where the UK has a proven capability; oil and gas, and future technology developments such as those included in the upcoming 2nd International Titanium Conference in March 2012.
First published in Machinery, October 2011
Author: Andrew Allcock