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Rotherham - home to future green automotive technologies

posted 19 Feb 2013, 02:05 by RiDO Rotherham
The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, has launched a project at Tata Steel’s Brinsworth site in Rotherham which will help develop groundbreaking green technologies capable of powering the cars of the future.

The Proving Factory, a £22 million manufacturing initiative between Tata and low-carbon vehicle engineering firm Productiv, will take low-carbon vehicle technologies designed by small high-tech British companies and university research departments and prove their viability in production to increase their chances of being adopted by major motor manufacturers.

Announcing the launch of the Factory, Henrik Adam, Chief Commercial Officer for Tata Steel, said: “This initiative will bring together some of the most remarkable future automotive technologies, taking them from workbench prototypes to viable components and bridging the gap between great innovation and great commercial products.

“This project will not only benefit the small companies which have developed these technologies, but allow Tata Steel to provide its expertise in speciality steels and manufacturing, as well as access to vital supply chains. Our Brinsworth site will be hosting one of the two new facilities and several of our staff will also be working for the Proving Factory full-time.”

In an interview with The Engineer, Productiv's chief executive Richard Bruges said; "The Proving Factory will take new automotive technologies through the industrialisation process from prototype through to series production. That means low-volume production, 10,000 to 20,000 units a year per product. We do not expect to take them into high-volume production. There would be a handover process to traditional tier-one manufacturing companies.”

The initiative will work in a similar way to the government's new Catapult centres, giving small companies access to the resources and facilities needed to develop manufacturing processes without having to secure the large investments necessary to do this individually.

“In the UK we generate a lot of early-stage companies spinning out of our world-class universities that generate a lot of intellectual property and technology, but it's very difficult to get it commercialised,' added Bruges. This is bridging a gap, a market failure where the industry needs to adopt new technologies that have been developed by small companies ...”

Funded under the Government's Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative, The Proving Factory’s production and assembly facilities will industrialise innovation and supply both components and systems into the automotive supply chain, supporting and reviving the UK manufacturing base.

Valuable work is being carried out by universities and small companies in developing innovative new technologies, particularly related to low carbon vehicles. There is a need for these to be scaled up to meet low volume demands by vehicle manufacturers before they are adopted into mainstream vehicle platforms.

The technologies involved all offer novel solutions, but novel solutions need low volume production to prove themselves to the market – traditionally, this means higher cost prototype routes. The Proving Factory aims to allow them to be 'proven' at these low volumes in a cost effective way.

The project is a collaboration led by Productiv (assembly) and Tata Steel (materials and component manufacture) with core partners MIRA (design verification) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (design for manufacture and assembly). 

Supporting partners include Jaguar Land Rover, Schaeffler, Unipart and the Midlands Assembly Network. The six technology developers involved include Flybrid, Drive System Design, Libralato and Bladon Jets.