Monday, March 3, 2014

News: Uncertainty at Rotherham R&D site as Tata considers relocation

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The long term future of Tata Steel's Research & Development site in Rotherham looks uncertain as the Indian multinational company shifts its focus to Warwick University.

Tata confirmed last week that it was considering where research will continue over the longer term with a possible relocation from Rotherham to a different UK site in the future.

Tata Motors European Technical Centre (TMETC) plc was established in 2005 and is based at Warwick University's campus in Coventry. In December, the subsidiary committed to R&D in the UK with a £30m investment in the planned National Automotive Innovation Campus (NAIC) at the University of Warwick campus. Another Tata owned firm, Jaguar Land Rover is the lead partner in the project, investing £50m.

Around 1,000 academics, researchers, technologists and engineers will work on automotive research and product innovation in the building, which will feature engineering workshops and laboratories. It is set to open in 2016.

The Swinden Technology Centre (STC) in Rotherham mainly focuses on product research and applications research for the transport, building and construction sectors. Process research is undertaken for the mills operations primarily concentrating on environmental research. With 155 staff, projects include ultra high strength steels, improved stainless steel, improved operating technology to reduce emissions and life cycle analysis.

Last week, Tata Steel announced that it had secured £8m Regional Growth Fund investment from the UK Government for research into next-generation steels for cars, aircraft, rail networks, skyscrapers, mining equipment and power stations. It stated that the research will initially take place at the R&D facility in Rotherham, but added that "the company is currently considering where the research will continue over the longer term with a possible relocation to a different UK site in the future."

With discussions taking place regarding converting Tata's Teesside research centre into a not-for-profit, open-access shared facility, the future of the Rotherham site is still unclear.

United Steels acquired the site in 1946 and in addition to state of the art laboratories, it also includes Swinden House, the former home of Rotherham solicitor Thomas Badger, plus playing fields, tennis courts and orchards.

Steve McCool, national officer for steel at the Community union, said: "We'll be supporting our members at Swinden Labs as the situation develops. Our primary concern would be for those Tata Steel employees who might be affected in the future by this week's announcement. Should the situation arise we would oppose compulsory redundancies and also wish to ensure an excellent relocation package is in place for those who want to continue their employment at any new R&D facility if it is located elsewhere."

A relocation away from the Moorgate site would be a double blow for Rotherham. Plans were put in place in 2001 for the company (then known as Corus) to move its R&D facilities across the borough to the Advanced Manufacturing Park.

Just over 2,000 people are employed at Tata Steel in South Yorkshire and sites including Stocksbridge in Sheffield and Aldwarke in Rotherham specialise in the production of high grade and special steels for the world's leading companies in markets ranging from automotive to aerospace, civil engineering to component manufacturing, energy industries to consumer goods.

Tata Steel is the key partner in establishing The Proving Factory – an innovative partnership with high-tech companies in the automotive supply chain to help develop the technologies of tomorrow. As part of the programme, which is also backed by Government funding, a component manufacturing facility is being created at Tata Steel's site at Brinsworth in Rotherham and is set to open in 2015.

The £22m manufacturing initiative 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.

Tata Steel website

Images: Tata Steel

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