The part of my job I enjoy most is getting out and about to visit companies on my own or as part of hosted events, a chance to meet people, share ideas and see the inspirational work that takes place - almost always unseen - in our industrial parks and estates.

A recent visit however was at best bittersweet, as I was visiting Blantyre Castings, who are now less than two months away from their last metal pour as their sand cast steel foundry business comes to an orderly and managed close. I met with Charlie Standerwick and Iain Campbell who have been running the company in partnership for almost four decades, to get an idea of the challenges that have led to their closure as well as a sense of the substance that has made them a successful business in that time.

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For challenges, I arrived expecting energy costs to be a key part of the decision to close because primary metal forming processes are very energy intensive. I was a little surprised to hear that while energy costs have been a challenge - a 250% increase since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - the driving reason for closure is the lack of skills and interest to replace what they themselves described as an ageing workforce. At 75 years old, Charlie is 15 years past the point when he planned to retire, and it’s hard to disagree that he has put in a decent shift and deserves a change of pace.

The substance of success is everywhere to see in the workshop, as since they announced their closure, they have been stretched by final buy orders as customers look to build a safety stock while they conduct their search for a replacement supplier. They are manufacturing a wide range of parts for our defence, marine and rail sectors to name just a few.

The alternative supply that their customers will seek will not be in Scotland, however, as they were the last of that kind of foundry left. One other sand cast steel foundry remains in Scotland in the form of Progress Rail’s facility in South Queensferry, the UK’s only foundry dedicated to the manufacture of manganese railway crossings for a global market. Blantyre Castings is referred to as a “jobbing” foundry, meaning everyone and anyone can turn up with a casting job, and if it’s in their capacity, and terms can be agreed, they will manufacture it.

A principal worry for the loss of manufacture of the primary component upon which manufacturing is based is that it risks the locality of the value-add activities that follow from it. It’s why we get so concerned for the loss of all forms of steel manufacture in the UK, and it’s a concern not unique to steel and other metals primary production. The loss of that one remaining asset for our sector led me to a conversation with Andrew Young at Archibald Young, who informed me that with the loss of Blantyre, his copper and aluminium alloy foundry in Kirkintilloch now becomes one of just 12 foundries remaining in Scotland. To put that in context, when Andrew went to work for the family business in 1999, it was one of 50 foundries remaining in Scotland and, when his father entered the business in 1969, it was one of around 200 in the central belt alone. His outlook for his business is, however, upbeat, with a busy order book and adoption of digital tools such as 3D printed sand cores for low volume complex production part of an open outlook on how foundries can and will remain relevant.

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That forward-looking theme was picked up with enthusiasm at another visit, this time at an event with the Malin Group at their headquarters in the historic South Rotunda building in Glasgow. This year they celebrate 125 years of marine industry experience, and a large group of us were treated to a thought-provoking presentation by Chris Dunn and Jonathan Brown on the future of marine fabrication. The particular relevance here is the work they are doing in collaboration with others on the application of 3D “printed” steel components to bring a wide range of efficiencies to shipbuilding. Referred to as additive manufacturing, it can be used to achieve the same advantages of the process that Blantyre Castings have been doing for decades - forming a part which is very close to the final shape of the final component it will be, with reduced waste in materials and energy as a result. Because of the way material is built up, however, it can also be a path to change the rules on how the component is constructed, with further efficiencies in materials leading to reduced weight for energy efficiency not only in the manufacturing step, but also across the entire operational life of the ship that it ends up on.

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If that sounds like I am claiming that this technology mitigates the loss of Blantyre Castings or reduces the need for our precious remaining 12, then I need to be clear that I am not. We should, however, be grateful that companies like Archibald Young, the Malin Group and their partners are investing to progress technologies that the rest of the world are keenly working on too.

The loss of Blantyre Castings underlines the importance of the sector’s investment in the latest engineering and manufacturing techniques, along with the skills to leverage the excellent research resources and academic support we have.

Paul Sheerin is chief executive of Scottish Engineering