The Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) welcomed His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester to the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) on 19 April.
His visit cemented the centre’s status as an important new transport innovation hub, just four months after it opened for business on the site of the former Dudley railway station in the West Midlands.
During his 45-minute visit, HRH toured the new purpose-built research and development centre and was introduced to organisations using its engineering and office facilities, including CAF UK who are currently upgrading the West Midlands Metro fleet of trams, and TAE Power Solutions, a power management spin off company from fusion energy leader TAE Technologies, who have based their new Battery Prototype and Test facility for TAE Power Solutions at the centre.
Ben Russell, CCO, TAE Power Solutions, said: “We are very excited to be onsite at the VLRNIC, surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurial businesses in a world-class facility. This is a great opportunity for us and one that will be a key enabler for bringing our innovative technology for energy storage, electric mobility, fast charging and grid efficiency to market.”
HRH also learned more about BCIMO’s work to support the development of future industries, such as the emerging Very Light Rail market. Nicola Small, Senior Programme Manager at Coventry City Council, introduced the ground-breaking Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) project and showed the Duke the CVLR vehicle which is currently undergoing testing on the centre’s 2.2km rail test track. Following installation of the novel CVLR track form later on this year, full system integration testing will be carried out.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change at Coventry City Council said, “Coventry Very Light Rail has the potential to transform the way people travel in small to medium sized cities and towns. It will provide a clean green transport option at a fraction of the cost of traditional light rail systems and it has the potential to be hop on and hop off. I’m really pleased we had the chance to show it off to HRH who is personally interested in transport and innovation. We are leading the way here in Coventry and with partners in the region and we will continue to build a local supply chain to grow and support jobs here, too.”
BCIMO’s Chief Executive Officer, Neil Fulton, then presented the centre’s new Auditorium and Exhibition Hall, which, thanks to capital funding from the Department for Transport’s City Region Sustainable Transport Fund (CRSTS), will be fully up and running from June this year. Here the Duke met members of the BCIMO Board of Directors and staff, as well as representatives from local SMEs that have been supported through funding received from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which also helped fund construction of the centre together with the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and other key partners.
Martin Dudley, owner of local business Thomas Dudley and keen advocate for BCIMO, said: “Productivity in the UK needs to be driven through investment in skills and innovation, and where better to start this next stage in the industrial revolution than at the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation.”
BCIMO is already playing a key role in some of the region’s most transformative transport projects – including CVLR and most recently the West Midlands Accelerator ‘Clean Futures’ programme, which will support the development of the region’s transport sector, helping manufacturing and its associated supply chains to transition from fossil-fuelled solutions to clean tech. SMEs will receive funding to develop and demonstrate these clean tech transport solutions, working in partnership with Tier 1s, OEMs and the wider ecosystem.
Also in attendance were Dignitaries at Dudley Council who followed HRH from a tree planting ceremony in the town centre.
The visit concluded with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to mark the visit, made using the latest CNC machining technology available at the Black Country & Marches Institute of Technology (IoT). The plaque was presented by Alex Bonell, an Apprentice Field Service Engineer for KUKA Robotics UK Limited in Wednesbury, and his Instructor David Morris.
Neil Fulton reflected on the visit: “It was an honour to welcome HRH to our unique national research facility, here in Dudley. His historic visit coincides with a huge focus on levelling up across the UK, and the Black Country has the opportunity to use BCIMO as a platform for innovation.
“We are at the outset of a journey to lead in areas of transport innovation, and it was fascinating to get HRH’s insights on the challenges and opportunities. He was very keen to understand more about how the benefits of collaboration and the involvement of national and local government, large corporates, SMEs and academia can help transform current and future industries for the benefit of UK PLC.”
The royal visit came at an exciting time for the West Midlands, which will play host to one of five new national investment zones announced during the Chancellor’s Budget in March.
The Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) is a not-for-profit Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) and operator of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), a unique, world-class centre for rail innovation based in Dudley in the West Midlands.