Archives for category: Manufacturing

Evac+Chair International  has been manufacturing in Sparkhill, since 1985, constructing evacuation chairs for stairway descent during an emergency.

The Sparkhill company has 43 employees and Evac+Chair has also expanded nationally and internationally, building a worldwide distribution network.

It is recommended that high-rise buildings have temporary places of refuge in each stairwell and evacuation chairs so that elderly people and those with disabilities or mobility difficulties can be safely removed if fire breaks out.

Evac+Chair sells to large and small venues, corporations, residential buildings, hotels, sports stadia, hospitals, outdoor clothing and equipment retailers, office buildings, schools, assisted living facilities, residential and commercial high-rise buildings.

Storage lockers used in a sports stadium 

Its customers include the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Cotswold Outdoors and Bristol Water.

Everton football club, which has future plans to relocate to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the Liverpool waterfront, has invested in four 300H Evac+Chairs evacuation chairs, bringing the total number of evacuation chairs up to 16 to make the stadium fully compliant.

Royal Caribbean takes safety very seriously and is now equipping their vessels with the Evac+Chair Power 800 (above, centre), so they are ready for any eventuality.

Exhibiting at the NEC’s annual Health & Safety Events, Evac+Chair demonstrations attract large crowds and in 2015 the company won an award for ‘Most Interactive Stand’.

First published on West Midlands Producers

 

 

 

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For an analysis of the current position of the UK’s car industry, the range of pressures and issues it faces and its likely shape after any form of Brexit from a range of perspectives, turn to Keeping the Wheels on the Road, the third in the Bite-Sized Brexit books, edited by Professor David Bailey, the foremost commentator on the UK auto industry, Professor Alex De Ruyter, at the Centre for Brexit Studies, Birmingham City University, Neil Fowler and John Mair.

In a major contribution to the Brexit debate, seasoned industry experts, observers, commentators and representatives of the industry’s unions, provide arguments for cautious optimism through to rather shocked pessimism.

From Chapter 5: Just-in-time listening required

Co-authored by Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Motor Group and David Bailey, Professor of Industrial Strategy at the Aston Business School.

They have no doubt that the future of automotive does not lie with internal combustion engines – whether diesel or petrol – and stress the vital importance of effective management of the transition

Their counter-intuitive assertion that decimating the market for new diesel engines has brought with it damaging if unintended consequences to the protection of the planet – contributing to the first aggregate rise in the greenhouse gases produced by new cars in more than a decade – sent the writer to search for an explanation online:

Ministerial mixed messages over diesel has undermined the capacity of manufacturers to manage that transition.

The industrial impact of failing to manage the transition threatens to be severe too, with UK engine plants of manufacturers like BMW, Ford and JLR all currently heavily dependent on diesel production.

Messages from ministers have been mixed: recent reductions in plug-in car grants standing in stark contrast to the incentives offered to motorists to buy zero-emission vehicles in counties like Norway. But efforts are now being made by the Government to mandate the expansion of the UK’s vehicle charging infrastructure which should include      on-street charging and monitoring of the performance of public charging points. The authors emphasise:

“A successful transition requires more clarity from the Government in support of both the production and take up of the electric and other alternatively powered vehicles that will be the future of the sector.”

The fact that a number of major manufacturers have yet to confirm plans to build in the UK the next generations of models sends out serious warnings signals that would be foolish in the extreme to ignore.

Ministers could show they are listening:

  • by reducing Brexit uncertainty through ruling out no deal,
  • ending mixed messages over modern diesel
  • and showing much more dynamism in supporting the transition to a connected, autonomous and alternatively powered automotive future,

Burden & Bailey insist that the innovative capacity and diversity that has made the UK automotive sector the success story it has become over the past decade remain in place and David Bailey, in his second chapter, asks for an upgrading in how the UK develops its future manufacturing plans:

“There is a strong case for UK industrial strategy to be afforded an institutional status similar to both UK monetary and fiscal policies. At the very least, it should be the subject of regular strategic long-term reviews. By giving it that sort of priority, the new government would send out the kind of powerful message that British industry and foreign investors need to hear given recent uncertainty.”

 

 

 

 

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ART (the Aston Reinvestment Trust) has been providing finance for small and medium businesses and social enterprises for over 20 years in situations where the banks have been unable to meet the full loan needs of their customers.

In this video, Dr Steve Walker, chief executive, draws attention to the latest opportunity to invest in its new Community Shares Offer to help ART Business Loans to support more businesses across the West Midlands.

ART currently lends around £2.5m a year but there is a demand for more, so it is looking to raise an additional £500,000.

Why invest in the local economy? Because putting your money to work, helping businesses to access the finance they need to survive and grow, protect and create jobs has to be good for the long-term future of those who live and work in the region.

Investments in ART also qualify for Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR), which offers 5% per annum of the sum invested in tax relief (on income tax or corporation tax liabilities) over five years. At the end of that time, investors can choose to withdraw their money or reinvest in ART.

  • ART now has a strong track record and balance sheet and has lent over £25m to date;
  • ART has an existing loan portfolio in excess of £5.5m, original social share investors’ share funds are still safe and for over eight years ART has generated sufficient income to cover all overheads;
  • Through the British Business Bank ART now has a public sector guarantee that can cover bad debt cover of up to 15% of the loans made;
  • ART now lends throughout the entire West Midlands, although it still targets underserved sectors and communities;
  • With substantial regulation introduced to protect investors, ART’s new offer is made through the social investment platform ETHEX.

Full details of ART’s Community Share Offer, which closes on 24th March, can be found at www.ethex.org.uk/ART2019

 

 

 

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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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The People’s Weapons Inspectors blockaded the gates of Anglo-French arms manufacturer Roxel in the West Midlands on 7 April. The company makes and supplies several countries with propulsion systems and related equipments for all types of rockets and tactical and cruise missiles for air, sea and ground forces. 

The protestors attempted to inspect the Hartlebury site because they believe it is supplying weapons components, including the Brimstone air-to-surface missile, to be used by the Saudi Arabian military in its war in Yemen.

Some protestors blocked the gates by locking their arms together inside fortified drainage pipes and one who entered the site despite the large police presence, aiming to question Roxel’s directors, said:

‘By licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the British government is escalating the conflict. ‘We felt compelled to act. We call upon the British government to refuse applications to licence further arms sales to Saudi Arabia.’

Wyre Forest Labour’s Stephen Brown, known for his voluntary work in Birmingham, visited the site during the protest and backed the group’s actions. He said:

“The protestors raised a very important issue that deserves wider attention. Labour has called for the U.K. Government to be held accountable as it is supplying arms and personnel helping the Saudis. We have seen civilian infrastructure hit resulting in thousands dead and injured including children. This is morally reprehensible and many view it as war crimes.”

 

Main source: http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/16152530.Anti_war_demonstrators_blockade_Hartlebury_rocket_factory/

 

 

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“Is it possible, for example, to have a city where potholes get fixed autonomously, before they become dangerous and expensive?”

In the Financial Times* Mark Miodownik, a professor of materials and society at University College London, asks this question. He reports on research which aims to create materials and engineering systems so complex that they can sense when they are damaged and are able to repair themselves. His article is summarised here.

The main drivers of such self-healing technology are economic and environmental.

The 20th century saw the invention of “smart” materials that could respond to changes in their environment. For example, shape memory alloys were discovered that respond to heat by changing shape. These are used in many walks of life, from windows that open automatically when a building gets too hot, to surgical operations where heat expands the shape of an implant so it fits exactly.

The aerospace industry has been developing self-healing composites to deal with microscopic cracks that grow in aircraft fuselages. Such self-healing materials improve safety, increase the lifespan of the aircraft and so reduce costs.

A drone, equipped with the ability to repair a leaky drain, could save millions on the repair and maintenance bill of cities These technologies work by incorporating microcapsules of liquid resin inside the material and by coating the reinforcing fibres inside the composite with a catalyst. If a crack forms, the microcapsules burst open and liquid resin flows into contact with the fibres. The catalyst then causes the resin to solidify rapidly and heal the crack. At present, this only works for micro-cracks because the capsules are so small.

Infrastructure is a major area for self-healing materials. In the UK alone, it is estimated that the repair and maintenance of structures costs £40bn a year and during these repairs the services provided by such infrastructure become unavailable. On rail and road networks, this leads to disruption, economic impact and pollution due to traffic jams.

A major project funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, led by Leeds University, with engineers from Southampton, Birmingham and Mark Miodownik’s institute at University College London all part of a research consortium.

See https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/how-potholes-roads-causing-more-13034551

Consider an alternative future, where information from a driverless vehicle that continually surveys the city infrastructure identifies the pothole at an early stage. The information of the size and shape of the nascent pothole is relayed to another autonomous vehicle, which is deployed at night when traffic flow is low. It locates the pothole, stops for a few minutes using hazard lights, and then uses a 3D printer to deliver tar to precisely repair the hole. Repairing it at an early stage saves money by preventing the congestion caused by road closure.

Leeds City Council is making the Yorkshire city a test-bed for the new technologies. The city is painfully aware of how much of its annual budget goes on repair and maintenance —tens of millions of pounds. It sees that creating autonomous repair systems that act as a metropolitan immune system will slash the bill drastically.

*https://www.ft.com/content/9870fa7a-314d-11e8-b5bf-23cb17fd1498, paywalled

 

 

 

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Planning for the Future: 1948 – Reflections on What Happened and Why is a paper written for the Black Countryman, the quarterly magazine of the Black Country Society.

*George Morran (right) has been reflecting on the Conurbation Report published in 1948 (Vol.51, No.1, 2017. His account is summarised below and published in full here.

The work on conurbation was supported financially and in kind by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose chair, Paul Cadbury, acted as Secretary. Conurbation was non-governmental and purely advisory.

It was produced by a group led by Dr. Raymond Priestley Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University, supported by a steering committee and advisory groups including businessmen, academics and local authority officials from across the West Midlands Region including the shires, Birmingham and the Black Country.

Thousands of new houses were built in the 50s and 60s. In the inner areas a large proportion of the new housing was built by the local district and borough councils for rent. They had the basic amenities which the older housing lacked. In the 60s a high proportion of this new-build was high rise especially around older town centres. The newer housing in the outer areas of the Black Country was in the main built by private developers at lower densities for sale with a greater emphasis on the visual appearance and environment. New single storey industrial estates appeared replacing older multi storey workshops. New industries anticipated by Conurbation did not materialise

1947: central government controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984

They were intended to steer new development to the less well-developed areas. They discouraged new investment and modernisation of the existing industrial infrastructure and the replacement of obsolescent buildings; they hindered enterprise and strangled new ideas in red tape. The profitability of many companies was undermined leading to closures and takeovers.

David Smith – Something Will Turn Up: Britain’s Economy, Past, Present and Future (cover below)

During the 1950s and 60s the flight of residents, businesses, wealth and influence to the fringes and beyond from the inner areas continued. The owners of businesses who had previously lived locally no longer did so.

Conurbation had proposed that the railways be expanded but they were run down and lines closed. The proposed M6 and M5 motorways were well on the way to being built but little was done to improve regional and local roads. Much development along main roads had been blighted by the existence of improvement lines which would never be implemented.

By 1971 80% of the derelict land in the Black Country and most of the open space that existed in 1948 had been developed for housing and industry; the canals which were to have anchored much of the open space were closed, abandoned or left to decay, open to vandalism and abuse. Much of the traditional heavy industries had gone or were soon to close.

The so-called slums in and around the old townships had been cleared and replaced by new housing. Many historic cottages and other housing which were structurally sound or could have been upgraded were demolished because of their lack of modern amenities.

1948: The West Midlands Plan

The West Midlands Plan was produced by a team of town planners and academics led by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Professor of Town and Country Planning at University College, London University. The political and business elites were directly or indirectly involved; residents were not. There was very little if any public involvement – and an absence of any regional or local civic forums and pressure groups to challenge the established way of doing business and to offer any alternatives. Although it related to the whole of the West Midlands conurbation, it focused on the Black Country which the Plan identified as having the most challenges. Central to its proposals for the Black Country were the maintenance and further intensification of industry in the inner areas; the location of new housing in the peripheral areas and beyond, outside a statutory Green Belt including towns and villages in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.

1955: the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee

In 1955 the shire and urban local authorities set up the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee to produce, deliver and keep up-to-date an agreed regional plan to manage overspill from the urban to shire areas consistent with approved Development Plans with formal agreements for overspill to particular locations within and beyond the Green Belt. The agreements focused on new housing to be allocated for occupation by families moving from the Black Country and Birmingham. The Shire Counties also argued for the relocation of industry from the conurbation to balance the increase in population in the shires. Pressure for the peripheral development of the urban areas onto Green Belt land continued into the 1960s

1965: The Government set up a West Midlands Regional Planning Council

The Regional Council was supported by a Regional Board of Civil Servants and representatives of central and local government and business to make recommendations to Government on the economic and physical development of the whole West Midlands Region including the shire and conurbation areas. It identified substantial economic and population growth that needed to be accommodated in the region and proposed that New Towns should be developed based on Redditch and Dawley and that New Town Commissions be established responsible to the Government for bringing forward and delivering detailed plans. The Government accepted these recommendations.

1962: report issued by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England

It made proposals for the future of local government in the West Midlands Region abolishing the system of boroughs, county and district authorities and replacing it with five all-purpose county boroughs. This new system came into force on the first April 1966. The Royal Commission and the government thought that the new arrangement would strengthen the Black Country’s ability to respond to the challenges it faced. Less importance was attached to the local community identity or the social and economic links which existed between the Black Country and the adjoining areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

1966: a further Royal Commission was established to make recommendations on the future of local government across the West Midlands

It reported in 1969, proposing that a directly elected provincial council be established for the whole of the West Midlands Region to deal with strategic planning. In the Black Country the Commission proposed four all-purpose local authorities responsible for all planning matters together with responsibility for major services in particular education, and social services. The Commission also proposed that local community councils be established but district councils consistently blocked local campaigns for powers and representation to be made more local and took little or no action to encourage their establishment.

The Black Country Society responded to the Royal Commission

In its 1971 pamphlet it proposed that local government in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands region be built on directly elected community or town councils responsible for local services and providing a voice for local communities. It accepted that some public services needed to be provided across a larger area and proposed the establishment of a directly elected West Midlands Region body – a strong political voice which could engage with Westminster and Whitehall.

1974: The establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority

In 1973 the Conservative Government agreed a new round of reorganisation which led in April 1974 to the establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and including seven all purpose District Councils for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

In the last 50 years many new challenges and opportunities have come along which have shaped what has happened to the Black Country more recently and its future prospects. That is another story.

*George Morran: BCS Member 1968 to Present and Committee member 1968-76. Formerly Director the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities and Assistant Chief Executive, Dudley MBC.

 

 

 

 

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Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.

Source: https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/critical-metals-investing/rare-earth-investing/rare-earth-reserves-country/.

Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.

 

 

 

 

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There is a substantial and interesting article about the work of Joseph Chamberlain on the website of the Centre for Retail Research.

It ends with the reflection that Chamberlain’s ideas about the need to protect people in lower income groups from oppression and bad faith seem resonant today and continues:

What does Chamberlainism mean for Mrs May and industry?

Probably a recalibration of policy with a much greater focus on work, opportunities and living standards using an expansionist industry policy. We can discern five themes relevant to today:

  • A comprehensive industrial strategy, based on local needs and using local knowledge intended to replace imports and create the vital supply chains needed by British business.
  • New housing, potentially a provider of 1mn new jobs and a swift way of improving the living standards and opportunities. 
  • For education, an increased focus on science, maths, technical subjects and foreign languages; abandoning the current emphasis on university as the only useful goal for young people; and increased focus on vocational training, retraining and part-time study for adults. 
  • A concern for manufacturing industry and jobs once again, rather than assuming that retail, service industries, banking and the City of London are all one needs to worry about to provide work.
  • Requiring Government permission before a significant UK business is purchased by a foreign company.

Read the whole article here: http://www.retailresearch.org/chamberlain.php

 

 

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