Research and technology firm, TWI, based in Port Talbot, south Wales, is expanding with the help of household names such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, EDF Energy and BAE Systems.
TWI is one of the Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone’s success stories. Celebrating 14 years in the area, TWI recently announced plans to construct a state-of-the-art engineering inspection and validation facility.
TWI specialises in structural integrity engineering. Headquartered in Cambridge since the 1940s and with offices across the UK, India, Malaysia, the US, the Middle East and China, it is the Port Talbot office which specialises in ‘NDT’ (non-destructive testing).
The specialised team in Wales use technologies in ultrasonics, radiography and electromagnetics to inspect critical structures such as aircraft, submarines and nuclear power plants.
Phil Wallace, Regional Manager from TWI, said: “At TWI we test and validate the performance of advanced materials and find ways of saving time, minimising production costs and reducing the risk of structural failure.”
The new facilities currently under development at the Port Talbot site will mean expansion for the team in terms of capacity and skill set as well as office space. The new Advanced Engineering and Materials Research Institute (AEMRI) will combine expertise, equipment and resources for bespoke structural testing and evaluation services.
Phil Wallace added: “The new state of the art facilities will mean that we can expand our function into new sectors. We’ll be able to work on new nuclear builds, more oil and gas industry specialism – and also specialist MOD activities. We know that we are already a world leader but this will mean new clients internationally for us in Wales.
“We have 1,000 employees and an annual turnover of £80-85m globally. In Wales we are team of 30 people with a turnover of £3m a year. Our plan is to increase our staff to 50 in the next few years. We’ll be doubling not just the size of our facilities here in Port Talbot in the next year but also expanding our work force.
TWI members pay an annual subscription which has enabled the company to draw down European funding and to invest in the new facility.
Wallace added: “TWI is unique in that we are membership-based. With no shareholders but over 1,000 industrial members including the likes of Rolls-Royce, Boeing, EDF Energy, Airbus and many others, we’re able to apply for research funding for projects which get directly implemented into industrial programmes. We are perfectly positioned as the bridge between academia and industry.
The new centre is being part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, and reinforced with investment through key industry partnerships.
“Our members invest their confidence in us. We’ve drawn in £8m of ERDF funding and to secure that we needed £8m of industry money from our members.”
Wallace attributes much of the success of the Port Talbot site to the approach that Welsh Government and Neath Port Talbot Council have taken with developing the area, its location and accessibility.
He added: “The Welsh Government and council have worked closely together to develop this technology centre. It has really helped that we have great infrastructure. We have easy access to the M4, to Bristol and London. Clients find us easy to locate and are appreciative of the collaborative approach that government, council, universities and membership have. It’s a model of joint working which works and should be copied elsewhere.
“We’re equally distanced geographically between two universities - Swansea and Cardiff. Universities know that we’re complementing their work and means that we bring more industry-based research to the area. Our members too know that we understand industry needs but are able to work with innovative teams in academia to mature ideas into useable tools. It’s a beneficial circle.
“We built up our operations in Wales from just four people 14 years ago. It’s a real testament to confidence in Wales and to how we do business here that our members are putting us where we are now.”
Roger Maggs, Chairman of the Welsh Government Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone said: “To have TWI in the middle of the Enterprise Zone is a really important asset for us. Its technology is state-of-the-art, its client base significant and its research top class. TWI is working in key sectors like advanced materials and manufacturing with the metals industry, petrochemicals and transport who are at the heart of the business offering here and with businesses that we want to help innovate and grow. TWI’s expansion and current plans are exciting news. I know that it will be successful and we want it to be part of our story too.”