Tuesday, September 23, 2014

News: Tata's university link up signals end for Rotherham R&D site

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The future of Tata Steel's Research & Development (R&D) site in Rotherham is even more uncertain today as the Indian multinational company announces that it is relocating research to Warwick University.

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.

Tata announced in February 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 would 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."

Today, Tata Steel announced it will be creating a new R&D centre at the University of Warwick to better serve the needs of its current and future customers.

Debashish Bhattacharjee, R&D group director at Tata Steel, said: "We are strengthening our Research & Development in the UK to further develop technology and knowledge partnerships with customers, suppliers, and universities.

"We want to meet the future demands of our customers who are asking for lighter, stronger and more versatile steels."

A spokesperson for Tata Steel confirmed that today's announcement means that the research will move away from Rotherham. He added: "The Swinden Technology Centre was created to best serve the needs of the steel industry several decades ago. Today the industry is much more customer focused and it is only right that Tata Steel reacts to that change to ensure it continues and strengthens its research capabilities by aligning them to market needs.

"While the RGF-funded research has initially taken place at our R&D facility in Rotherham, we are now announcing it will be relocated to a facility at the University of Warwick.

"This is not an overnight process. Any relocation would take years, not months."

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.

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 already facing industrial action on Teeside where R&D staff are unhappy at the prospect of being employed by an arms-length organisation set up by Tata, the Materials Processing Institute, instead of Tata itself.

Regarding the Rotherham staff, the Tata spokesperson added: "The change of location is not about job numbers but about the future strength of R&D in the UK. As such there are no intended reductions. We have positions for all of the current people in the organisation and in the longer term a modest increase is possible.

"For those who are unable to move then alternative options will be considered according to circumstances and subject to a fair and open process. We are currently, with the trade unions, seeking clarification from individuals on their preferences based on information today."

If the Moorgate Road site was to close, Tata Steel would still have some research capability in the borough. It 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 and is set to open in 2015.

Tata Steel Europe website

Images: Tata Steel

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