A centre for change

A centre for change

Gateshead College has set up an academy specifically for manufacturing innovation, as Mick Brophy explains to Peter Jackson
Set up just over two years ago, Gateshead College’s Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation, Sasmi, is the UK’s first education centre dedicated to the clean technologies sector.

Housed in a state-of-the-art building in Washington, the £9.8m academy delivers a range of low carbon vehicles skills training, with a focus on the automotive industry.

Mick Brophy, managing director of Business, Innovation & Development at Gateshead College says: “In any given week there will be in excess of 300 students going through Sasmi. Every week there are about 100 unemployed young people in there that we are training up on manufacturing skills to get them on the production line or into warehousing. “Also we teach very high end technical skills, doing robotics, hydraulics, pneumatics. “So it goes right from the very basics on production line right the way through to maintenance engineers.’’

The new facility forms the hub of the Government’s £200m Low Carbon Enterprise Zone, which is expected to create 7,000 jobs in the region over the next decade.

The academy is the first of its kind in the UK, unique in its focus on battery assembly, manufacturing, testing, charging and safety.

It was set up in partnership with Nissan and other automotive supply chain companies in the region. Apart from Nissan, companies using it to train their apprentices include Nexus, Calsonic, Unipres and Procter & Gamble. It is also looking at training for the region’s burgeoning rail manufacturing sector.
“We are already in conversations with Hitachi about the kind of manufacturing skills that we offer, which are right the way up from very basic production line personnel right the way through to team leaders and supervisors. I think Hitachi’s immediate concern is likely to be team leaders,’’ says Brophy.
It also trains the unemployed.

“We work very closely with the job centres and what we have designed now is a very strong seven-week intensive training programme where we put people through their paces,’’ he says.

“Most of them stay with us and of those who stay to the end almost 60% are likely to get jobs in Nissan and the supply chain. That’s about 120 every five or six weeks coming off the programme and getting employment.’’

Sasmi adds to Gateshead College’s credentials in Low Carbon Vehicle training with the college already delivering a full programme of LCV Skilled Training. Current courses, running from their AutoSkills Centre in Gateshead, include training for first responders, helping the emergency services and roadside rescue operators to safely deal with high voltage hybrid and electric vehicles. This will be followed by courses dedicated to the production of EVs.

Sasmi is adjacent to the North of England’s first Performance Track, which is also operated by Gateshead College. With easy access by road and sea ports, the 2.8km oval track provides a central location for conventional and low carbon vehicle development, testing and trialling.

The facility, which is available for commercial hire, is the only publicly accessible track in the North of England.

Designed for both conventional vehicles and alternative fuel technologies, Sasmi is a low carbon facility with hydrolisers, EV charging points (both standard and quick), a photo-voltaic canopy and biofuel provision.

“Nissan has contributed in excess of £1m worth of equipment – stuff that colleges can only dream of,’’ says Brophy. “It’s all there: industrial training rigs situated in Sasmi and Nissan themselves use it for their own technicians but we are also able to use it for our apprenticeships.’’

At the heart of this centre is the development of skills and the creation of jobs and apprenticeships building on Gateshead College’s track record in linking manufacturers with a trained workforce in this new sector.

Innovation, by its nature, means keeping up to speed with the latest developments and the college is investing to ensure Sasmi does just that.
“Over the New Year we are going to put in almost £300,000 worth of new kit and CNC equipment because of that kind of skills shortage in that area of engineering,’’ says Brophy.

“You are constantly having to look at where is the latest technology. We are investing also in 3D printing because we believe that in the next five years manufacturing will take up 3D printing very quickly. It’s already in evidence now that some of the more advanced manufacturers are seriously looking at that as a solution.’’

The college is to create an International Centre for Low Carbon Vehicle Development, adjacent to the Nissan Sunderland plant and the new Turbine Business Park. The centre, scheduled to open next summer, will support the future growth of the region’s low carbon vehicle industry and build on the success of Sasmi.

Brophy explains: “It’s about R&D and capacity. Working with the new technologies, and supporting industry in commercialising and developing those technologies. Also, at the point at which you are doing all of that, you are creating skills training programmes. So at the point at which you are commercialising something, you have the skills ready to go.

“The critical thing about that centre is that it’s also a demonstration centre. So much of this technology is so new and it’s locked away in little labyrinths all over the place. What we are trying to do is get it out into the light of day so people can see all these things and how they work. For example, if I’m talking to somebody about how, in the future an electric car can charge a house, there’ll be a house there and you’ll be able to see the car charging it, see it switching on the lights, boiling the kettle, just so that people can see, touch and feel all this new technology.’’

By anticipating tomorrow’s world, the college aims to provide the jobs for today’s young people. Says Brophy: “At the end of the day you want to create the opportunities for our people in the North East to be successful and by capturing these early jobs that’s what we are trying to do.’’