Greater collaboration called for in specialised metals industry

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




(2004), "Greater collaboration called for in specialised metals industry", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 76 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Greater collaboration called for in specialised metals industry

Greater collaboration called for in specialised metals industry

Keywords: Metals, Metalworking industry, UK

Greater collaboration between companies is needed if South Yorkshire's specialised metals industry is to survive the threat of global competition, a new report commissioned by Yorkshire Forward and the DTI has warned.

The report – which was discussed at a meeting of key industry experts and politicians at a recent conference in Sheffield, UK – says more also needs to be done to boost research and development and address potential skills shortages.

UK Trade Minister Jacqui Smith MP; Helen Jackson MP; Steve Garwood, Director of Materials at Rolls Royce and Prof John King, Director of Corus Automotive were among the speakers discussing the report by Hatch Beddows at the High Performance Metals Conference at The Source, Meadowhall, Sheffield, UK.

The report highlights the need for one of Yorkshire Forward's pioneering new initiatives – Virtual Enterprise Networks (VENs) – which enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to work together to compete for high- value contracts.

Hatch Beddows says South Yorkshire can still be considered a leader in the special steels and metals sector – a key part of Yorkshire Forward's advanced engineering and metals (AEM) cluster, although the industry has altered radically over the last 100 years. The special metals sector supports around 20,000 jobs and contributes around £800 m to the £5 billion AEM cluster.

It says whilst there is no doubt that South Yorkshire can supply significant quantities of the entire product spectrum of special metals, the regional supply base is fragmented – with the European market shares of individual players typically much lower than 10 per cent.

“Simply put, the Sheffield region is capable of making the entire innards of either a gas (jet or industrial) or steam turbine based on forged steel shafts and bearings, steel or titanium turbine compressor blading, nickel turbine blading in addition to all the rings, disks and casings also manufactured in the Sheffield region.

It is clear that the medium to long-term demand side for nearly all special metals is an exciting story with much dynamism and growth and is probably the most potentially rewarding amongst all the metal sectors”.

However the report says there have been fundamental changes over the past 20 years and further change is inevitable. It says there are immediate issues which need to be addressed including enhanced access to metals technology advice, knowledge and R&D infrastructure and better regional co-ordination and co-operation between players and teamwork.

VENs are ideally placed to meet the challenges of the sector, offering pre-qualified networks which are characterised by genuine co-operation and enforced with clear ground rules about obligations and rewards.

Similarly, Yorkshire Forward's Advanced Manufacturing Park at Rotherham, a joint venture with UK COAL to create a high-technology hub for the Advanced Engineering and Metals cluster and the presence of TWI are seen as key regional strengths.

But the report highlights an “anti-cluster” mentality amongst firms.

“It is clearly apparent that almost no recognition whatsoever of a special metals 'cluster' is apparent on either the supply or demand side. Most companies saw few synergistic 'cluster' benefits in the region apart from a pool of skilled metal technicians and operatives perhaps available at a lower cost than in other regions in the UK”.

It identifies the need for suppliers to work more closely with major aerospace, automotive and companies such as Rolls Royce, BAE Systems and Boeing.

“All the end consuming sectors of special metals have undergone consolidation where each sector is now dominated by 2-3 huge, global, multi-billion dollar corporations. Such power obviously changes the dynamics of the supply chain and without question continuously marginalises the fragmented nature of the metals melting and processing industry”.

The report concludes that there is a major opportunity for regional players to work more closely together to create a regional cluster to supply the major global, aerospace, power generation and other original equipment manufacturers.

“The process of generating a cluster will need multiple and incremental steps to develop progressive alignment, trust and co-operation between the regional players. These attributes are seen as essential for this mechanism to be successful. They do not appear to be present at this stage”, it warns.

Susan Johnson, Yorkshire Forward's Business Development Director said Yorkshire Forward's investment in the AEM cluster had already begun to generate results.

“The Advanced Manufacturing Park has the opportunity to form the basis of a global special metals cluster, especially on co-ordinated knowledge and R&D activities. The delivery of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing, NAMTEC and TWI and Corus' R&D can create a vital and supportive R&D and knowledge base for the regional industry. In addition, VENs are one of the projects that Yorkshire Forward is supporting to drive innovation, productivity and competitiveness in partnership with our key businesses in our region – the goal is for our regional businesses to be major players in a global knowledge economy”.

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