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North East manufacturing – looking back and forward

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19.10.2022

North East manufacturing – looking back and forward

Advanced Electric Machines is proud to originate from and operate out of The North East of England. The North East is renowned for its rich history in manufacturing, and the region’s strong association with industry goes back many years. A whole host of prestigious companies set out their stall on the banks of the River Tyne and the River Wear, and these businesses had a reputation that spanned the entire globe. With this, the North East’s coal mining and shipyard industries became known far and wide across the world.

Stemming from as far back as the Middle Ages, the mining of coal allowed the North East to take advantage of the significant amount of iron that was found in the region to manufacture a variety of products, including anchors and tools. The Industrial Revolution laid the foundation for the area to become a hub of industry, with the worldwide demand for coal a driving force of innovation.

Such innovation was critical in the success of the region’s shipbuilding industry. Early shipbuilding achievements included building vessels for the King’s fleet in the 1200s, but the North East would eventually become the primary manufacturer of ships in Britain, which was itself the world’s largest producer of ships at the time.

Fast forward to the modern age, and while the coal mining and shipbuilding industries are no longer open for business, their memory evokes a sense of local pride. Mike O’Neill, Chief Operating Officer at Advanced Electric Machines, speaks particularly fondly of the North East’s manufacturing heritage.

Mike’s own family has a deep connection to the region’s manufacturing past. His grandfather and father worked on the area’s famous shipyards for William Doxford & Sons, where he helped to build ship engines that would be sold around the world. Mike’s mother also worked in manufacturing in the North East, making deflection coils that would be used in contemporary televisions for Philips Components. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mike would go on to help lead Advanced Electric Machines’ efforts to supply sustainable electric motors across the globe.

The path that Mike has taken, in having a pivotal role in the first five years of Advanced Electric Machines’ journey, has come from his “passion to establish a North East homegrown manufacturing business and put it on the map.”

This passion has been inspired by some of the North East’s most innovative industrialists – Mike is even able to reel off a list of the names of local manufacturing icons, such as George Stephenson (who built the first locomotive to haul coal in 1814), Joseph Swann (who developed the first incandescent light bulbs to illuminate homes and public buildings in 1881), and William Armstrong (a renowned visionary inventor and engineer who built the world’s first home to be powered by hydroelectricity in 1869).

Does the current manufacturing landscape live up to what the past had to offer in the North East? In Mike’s eyes, the innovation of the region is getting stronger all the time, with continuous investment facilitating a greater offering. One such example is car manufacturer Nissan, which is demonstrating its confidence in the North East by investing in its European manufacturing facility in Sunderland. This has brought tier one automotive suppliers to the region to supply Nissan, which has and created a hub of supporting businesses that have become a huge source of employment to the region.

Perhaps all that is missing in the North East right now are large homegrown manufacturers. While there is an abundance of smaller homegrown businesses, the bigger manufacturers in the region are predominantly established elsewhere in the world. Mike’s ambition is for Advanced Electric Machines to fill the void and employ people that are local to the area.

Advanced Electric Machines is determined to contribute back to the North East. Mike commented: “Although we’re manufacturing new innovative products with new technology, we don’t just want to look after our own business; we want to do everything we can to share the success of Advanced Electric Machines with the community. We want to serve as a local employer with local employees that are more than just a number, as was the case with the working communities established by our iconic manufacturing predecessors.”

As for what the future holds, the North East is certainly in a good place. Local councils have been investing heavily to support business development and new infrastructure, which will nurture local innovation, as well as attract existing businesses to the region. Automotive electrification in particular seems to have developed the manufacturing landscape in the area, with Advanced Electric Machines one of several local businesses pushing for greater sustainability. Mike’s belief is that, “the combined strength of automotive manufacturers of all kinds will stand the North East in good stead to continue to be a hugely successful manufacturing region.”