Despite a career in engineering of now more than thirty years, my first opportunity to experience a cast metal foundry only arrived in the last two years, on joining Scottish Engineering, and it held personal significance for me.

I already understood the importance of the casting and forging processes in producing material efficient shapes from which high value componentry can be realised, and I also knew that these operations were now rare in Scotland and the UK – there are only around a dozen or so foundries left in Scotland where once every sizeable town would have at least one.

The personal interest comes from a set of inherited pattern making tools, from my maternal grandfather, complete in the wooden tool chest made as an apprentice in the Beardmore Forge in Glasgow.

For the first time I got to see for myself how this array of radiused chisels and other tools could be used to make or maintain very high tolerance mould patterns that are used to leave an intricate shape in sand that molten metal can be poured into to make a casting.

All very nostalgic then, but bear with me as I explain that my first foundry visit was Progress Rail’s site in South Queensferry where earlier this month its future, along with three other plants in the UK, has been put at risk with the announcement of possible closure following a Network Rail’s notification confirming its intention to award a five-year contract to overseas suppliers.

It would be fair at this point if anyone reading this assumed that there was no surprise that Scottish Engineering would be beyond dismayed at the possible loss of high value industry and jobs, and add in the personal bias in the value of skill it takes to produce these parts and you might question if an objective argument was likely to arrive.

So, stop and consider this. This foundry currently makes more than 90% of the safety critical rail crossings used throughout the UK’s rail network, and it does so not in some 100 year old building that has seen better days, but in a former Motorola building repurposed eleven years ago for this operation, redesigned from the outset to be an efficient and modern foundry.

Safety critical rail crossings are precision items on a very large scale, and are required to be made from manganese steel, which in turn requires a dedicated foundry to do this.

How many manganese steel foundries do we have in the UK I hear you ask?Just the one, in South Queensferry. Also consider that unlike most of the rest of world, the UK has retained its Victorian legacy of little or no standardisation in its rail infrastructure, and this leads to the foundry’s warehouse acting as a library of 1700 pattern moulds for the unique crossings in our UK rail network.

Now I can be as parochial as the next human, but my disbelief is not that contracts like this can be won offshore, because that's just global competition. It is how this makes business sense that I cannot fathom.

From a cost point of view, the hours of skilled work that are invested in that library of pattern moulds exists nowhere else in the world, and any new supplier will have to build that knowledge along with the physical capability from scratch to deliver these parts, and I struggle to see how that adds up.

How can a new supplier scale up supply of these crossings from a starting point of no patterns, with no experience of the manufacture of the UK's massive range of distinct crossings and do it whilst presumably delivering costs savings and delivering on time? How can that preserve the supply chain resilience of national infrastructure and more importantly its safety critical operation?

In setting procurement process goals, there is always a challenge to ensure that complex needs are adequately considered in the decision-making process, and so in this instance it surely cannot be too late for a full review of the tender process and revisit this decision.

When we consider the importance of supply chain resilience for items of critical national infrastructure, the lessons recently learned of the cost of having almost zero onshore supply chain for the manufacture of health related Personal Protective Equipment should still be at the top of our list.

Paul Sheerin is the chief executive of Scottish Engineering