Back to the future for Glasgow as it bets on Manufacturing 4.0

It’s back to the future for Glasgow, as the city and the region re-invent their manufacturing heritage, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Advanced Manufacturing: an innovation investment opportunity briefing, which took place online recently on the REALX.Global platform.

Keith Ridgway, Executive Chair, NMIS

“Glasgow is quite unique because of its history of manufacturing excellence, from ship-building to sewing machines to satellites,” said Keith Ridgway, executive chair, National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS). “Now NMIS is the catalyst of the innovation district across all sectors and we’re making a paradigm shift. Only Glasgow has such a range of manufacturing capability.”

The experience of the past is being harnessed to re-shape the future. This time round it is Manufacturing 4.0, which is all about innovation, technology, robotics and automation across multiple sectors.

“We’re introducing digitisation across all growth sectors, such as hydrogen and offshore floating wind, electric vehicles and small nuclear reactors, aerospace & defence and ship-building,” said Ridgway. “We’re looking at speeding up the production process, using new materials and getting the most out of the materials we use.”

The pharmaceutical industry is also undergoing great change, having to deal with new pressures such as an ageing population, complex medical issues, rising costs and the impact on the environment.

“For us it’s about delivering on a digital strategy to make sure we make the most of innovations in manufacturing,” said Jon-Paul Sherlock, head of innovative manufacturing technology, AstraZeneca. “Innovation is crucial, it’s the answer to all challenges, including sustainability.” 

AstraZeneca, GSK, Novartis and Bayer are all founding partners of CMAC, the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for innovative manufacturing in continuous manufacturing and advanced crystallisation.

“Manufacturing is alive and well in Scotland and will continue to be at the heart of our economy,” said Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal and vice-chancellor, University of Strathclyde. “It is also disproportionally important, as it accounts for 180,000 jobs and half of R&D spend, as well as a £33 billion gross value add contribution to the economy.”

Environmental and social considerations are to the fore

ESG factors have been taken into consideration. On the environmental front, the buildings are net zero carbon, sustainable and future-proof. The hub is strong on the social impact front as well, as it is so closely connected to the University and to the local community.

“Making a positive contribution to the areas we are present in is a key part of our sustainability agenda,” said Sherlock. “We collaborate with academia and seek to make a strong contribution to post-graduate training and doctoral research.”

Jon-Paul Sherlock, Head of Innovative Manufacturing Technology, AstraZeneca

Boeing is also playing its part with the Flight Academy, one of several centres designed to equip young people with the skills they and the companies need.

The process starts very early, at the school level, said McDonald: “We are trying to attract young people to study STEM subjects, so we can create jobs in the most inclusive way possible and create a virtuous circle.”

Glasgow is leading – and at the same time benefitting from – the shift northwards, as companies, investors and occupiers look beyond the “golden triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge where land and buildings have become prohibitively expensive and where competition for talent is intense.

“It’s a UK trend, people are leaving the South-East because of cost and availability of skills”, said Paul Broad, director, sales and leasing, Avison Young. “But the Scotland Plc brand is becoming very strong also in the eyes of the international community.”

The Glasgow hub is rooted in the local community but it’s also connected to the tech community worldwide, doing collaborative research and connecting with a web of manufacturing capabilities in Asia, Europe and North America.

“What is happening in Scotland can be compared favourably to what’s going on in Singapore, in Boston or in California,” said McDonald. “The scale of the momentum that’s been built is such that people are now coming to Glasgow. We’re attracting start-ups from the US because they want access to skilled people and unique facilities. This is not an aspiration or a pipe-dream, this is what’s actually happening. It’s what we call the eco-system effect.”