Invest North: a spotlight on Sheffield Forgemasters

Invest North concluded its session on innovation with a short presentation by Martin Kearney, the director of capability and innovation for clean energy at Sheffield Forgemasters.

The highly specialised manufacturer creates castings and forging for engineering applications with 600 staff and 100 of those are graduates.

Kearney said each year they take on 60 apprentices, for those employees to grow through the company as they are “the future progression of the company”.

At its 64-acre facility, containing a melt-shop, machine shops and the largest forge in the UK, there has been a series of investments.

In the summer of 2021, the Minister of Defence acquired Sheffield Forgemasters and set a plan to modernise the company over the next 10 years.

This £400m investment will, “create a new forge-line with a 13,000-tone press, a 450-tonne manipulator, major tool replacement, a flood alleviation scheme, sitewide high voltage upgrades due to the amount of power required, which will secure the companies role as a critical supplier for UK defence programmes,” said Kearney.

Previously, Kearney said the firm had little engagement with universities but even less with research establishments.

He said, “Innovation, research and development all come together. We cannot have one without the other.

“Before departments would not cross-relate and there was no R&D department and no forum for discussion or debate. Research was done off the back of production orders due to the expense and time involved.”

Kearney, who has been part of Sheffield Forgemasters for the past 30 years says this has changed as crossfunctional research has been introduced into topics such as how microstructures affect the properties and performance of steels.

He said: “We have a dedicated R&D team with resources linked to the nuclear industrial association, offshore renewables and catapults.

“Having these resources and organisations builds an infrastructure of knowledge and support for the industry.

“The large R&D department is now capable of running small in-house research to multi-million-pound cutting edge research with partners.”

Sheffield Forgemasters are able to model and assimilate complex processes in advance to create early engagement plans with a wealth of information to build on.

As the firm looks to the future, Kearney says it aims to play a key part in floating offshore wind alongside other net-zero technologies.

He said, “The 2050 targets are challenging. We are interested in clean hydrogen by transferring our natural gas usage to hydrogen, but we are not sure if it is feasible.

“We could be an enabler for both the national and global effort to decarbonise through the supply of critical castings and forgings for the renewable sector.

“The challenge is how we can produce components on an industrialisation base and at an affordable price. If we can do that – we will be successful for the next 10 to 20 years.”