Is Ebbw Vale about to reshape the world – again?

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Thought Leadership

For more than a century, Ebbw Vale was synonymous with a leading-edge material that shaped the whole world. The wonder known as ‘Steel’ defined this town – with the largest steelworks in Europe producing many millions of tonnes of the super-strong and supremely adaptable material that built the infrastructure of the world we still live in today.

Today’s Ebbw Vale would be unrecognisable to those industrial pioneers of the 18th and 19th centuries. But the ‘Innovation’ is still there, joined now by ‘Sustainability’ as the watchwords for a local economy that is regenerating at an unprecedented rate.

Futureproofed industries are emerging, promising both prosperity and resilience. A fast-growing Cyber Security ecosystem has grabbed the headlines (and rightly so)  complete with the new Coleg Gwent site situated at the heart of a leading-edge Learning Zone – bringing together school age students, employers, apprenticeship providers, and a choice of learning pathways that can see a student move seamlessly from secondary education, through Cyber college courses; and straight into high-value employment.  

And this 21st century story of rebirth through emerging new ecosystems may not end with Cyber …

Reimagining Ebbw Vale - and the world - through Digital Manufacturing

A few hundred metres from Ebbw Vale’s pioneering Learning Zone, a radically different enterprise in a revolutionary industry has established itself. An enterprise which may (and many think, will) evolve to become a 21st century industry that rivals the power of 19th century steel in terms of its transformational impact and global reach.

The name of that company? Apex Additive Technologies.

The new industry? Additive Manufacturing, also known as Digital Manufacturing, and universally recognised as one of the most advanced manufacturing technologies on the planet, capable of creating bespoke three-dimensional objects by depositing layer upon layer of metal powders – a process that is proving to be a catalyst for quantum leaps in just about every sector you can think of.

This revolutionary manufacturing process is making the previously impossible ‘possible’ by giving organisations of all sizes and sectors exposure to cutting edge new materials … access to designs they couldn’t have previously manufactured … and a cost-base that is both affordable and sustainable, overcoming the ‘Quality v Cost’ paradigm.  

Digital Manufacturing is also inherently ‘green’ and viewed as integral to the circular economy, reducing both waste and energy consumption. So why isn’t it happening everywhere – and why has it come to Ebbw Vale?

The answers are part practical, part human, and part serendipity …

On the practical side, Digital Manufacturing involves serious capital expenditure.

And even then, it requires a rare intellectual capital – because it can’t happen without deep and complex know-how of the processes involved.

In Ebbw Vale, that human know-how is embedded in the Apex team, who are acknowledged as world-leading experts and inspired innovators in the field of Metal Additive Manufacturing.

And therein lies the serendipity.

The Apex team chose Ebbw Vale as their home because they recognised that the steelmaking heritage of Blaenau Gwent is a great foundation for exemplary digital manufacturing. Indeed, the physics and fundamental metallurgy involved in steel making is exactly the same as that applied in digital manufacturing – it’s just a change of scale from tonnes of liquid metal, to melt pools microns in diameter.

A new factory? A new centre of expertise? Or the beginnings of a whole new ecosystem?

So, the Apex factory is more than ‘just’ a state-of-the-art facility – and more than ‘just’ a world-class, AI-powered, zero carbon factory for the future.

It taps into the DNA of the whole area, with the potential to become a global centre of expertise, improving the productivity of our foundational economy and sustaining it by developing the skills of the future and creating the next generation of Additive Manufacturing experts, with a talent pipeline already being nurtured in partnership with the Coleg Gwent centre of learning that’s situated quite literally down the road. 

To many informed observers, the possibilities are endless. Apex’s manufacturing expertise, materials process know-how – and sheer versatility – can address the most challenging needs of many different industrial sectors, opening up the tantalising possibility of creating a rich ecosystem that creates maximum impact for thousands of businesses in our Region.

Indeed, Apex may be the catalyst for enabling local enterprises in many different sectors to innovate and be the very best they can be; while simultaneously developing South East Wales as a global centre of expertise for additive manufacturing – shaping the future through this 4.0 technology, just as the region’s steel shaped the world in days gone by.     

Whatever this incredible new future of manufacturing holds, CCR (as an investor in Apex and a champion of innovation and sustainability) is delighted that such a remarkable company is ‘here’ – mirroring our own roadmap for building sustainable success,  and making our Region the hub for a technology that may just see Ebbw Vale talked about worldwide as home to an industry that’s shaping the world around us. Yet again.

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