High Value Manufacturing Catapult: A reflection of Government’s commitment to innovation

Posted On: 
29th June 2017

HVM Catapult hosted a parliamentary event to mark the 5th anniversary of its establishment with the ultimate aim to significantly grow the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the UK economy.

Lord Prior of Brampton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, speaks at the HVM Catapult event.
Credit: 
PA Images

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) minister, Lord Prior, addressed a parliamentary event to mark the 5th anniversary of the launch of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult. He said he was totally convinced of the importance of the HVM Catapult and its 7 centres across the UK.

“I don’t need any persuasion to support what you are doing, if I have a criticism of our Catapults, it is that they are not ten times bigger”

The HVM Catapult was set up, according to its Chief Executive Dick Elsy, to answer the key question ‘if we are so good at technological research in the UK, how come we don’t make the stuff on our shores?’

He cited several inventions which have got away: liquid crystal displays and lithium ion batteries. Both were developed and incubated in the UK but subsequently moved overseas.

In 2011, 7 independent research centres came together to form the HVM Catapult to address that problem. Helping companies take the difficult steps to industrialise innovation and lock it down as manufacturing value add in the UK. Keeping the inventions here to enjoy the economic benefit from them.

“In 2011 we received our first tranche of government money, representing a third of our income. It was an act of faith, but it has been richly rewarded as we have been able to help thousands of companies”

Mr Elsy added that typically HVM Catapult helps 3,000 firms a year with 40- 50% of these being SMEs on collaborative projects bringing new technologies to market.

Elsy added: “An independent survey highlighted that for every £1 of government core funding that we have had over the last 5 years we have locked £15 into the UK economy”.

Lord Prior suggested: “Our productivity is woefully low. The work the HVM has done to start to address that catastrophic problem is fantastic”.

Dick Elsy gave two examples of this:

“Impact is significantly reducing machining times by 50% for complicated aerospace components in effect increasing productivity by 50% ensuring that those components stay in the UK because it is the most cost-effective place to make them, driven by the technology. Impact is bringing home the carbon fibre chassis of McLaren sports cars currently made in Austria as a result of the technology provided to improve the manufacturing process at the AMRC in Sheffield”

Mr Elsy added that SMMT figures recently highlighted that 44% of car components used in the UK are now made here too.

He concluded that the Catapult had “Created a lasting capability which is a big economic advantage for the UK”. He stated that the Catapult has £220 million on its order book so far which is 80% of the year ahead already covered in firm orders.

Lord Prior paid tribute to Peter Mandelson, as it was his idea to set up the Catapult, and it was carried on under the coalition by Vince Cable, so it has received cross party support over a number of years.

He was critical of the take-up of new technology by UK industry:

“By world standards we have some of the best universities in the world and yet the take-up of new technology is woefully slow, no more so than in the manufacturing sector”.

He compared the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to the First Industrial Revolution, when British textile manufacturing increased by 390 times between 1780 and 1820 and urged people to accept the benefits of the 4IR.

“If we turn our backs on this revolution, then we are turning our backs on a growing standard of living and prosperity in this country”.

He spoke of the positive development in the US city of Pittsburgh by industry, academia and civic society and said this positive improvement and growth was now being replicated in Sheffield, a city dominated by industry and which has a Catapult centre.

Harry Swan of Thomas Swan, a chemicals manufacturer in the North East, spoke about the help his firm had received when it had needed it most in developing Graphene production:

“The Centre for Process Innovation [one of the HVM Catapult centres] helped de-risked the technology for us” he said which enabled him to take on new machinery knowing it would work. His company now produces up to 25 tonnes of high purity graphene per year – now one of the few producers in the world.

He said he sought help from the Catapult and it was provided.