North East of England Process Industry Cluster

The North East of England Process Industry Cluster[1] (NEPIC) is an economic cluster created following the industrial cluster ideas and strategy of Michael Porter. This Process Industry Cluster has been created by the chemistry using industries based in North East England where more than 1,400 companies are based in the supply chain of the sector. The sector has over 35,000 direct employees and some 190,000 indirect employees in the northeast of England and together they represent over one third of the industrial economy of the region.[2] Companies in the Cluster manufacture 50% of the UK's Petrochemicals and 35% of the UK's Pharmaceuticals and they significantly contribute towards making the region the only net exporting region of the UK.[3] The region has over £13 billion of exports.[4]

North East of England Process Industry Cluster
Manufacturing and Innovation Cluster
MottoThe Voice of the Industry
Legal statusNot-for-profit organisation
PurposeIndustry Led Economic Cluster Body for Chemical, Polymer, Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology & Renewables Companies in northeast England
  • The Wilton Centre, Wilton, Redcar TS10 4RF
    Loftus House, 12 Colima Avenue, Sunderland SR5 3BX
Region served
Northeast of England
600 participating organisations
Chief Executive
Philip Aldridge
Main organ
Industrial Leadership Council
RemarksEU Cluster Management Excellence Gold Label Accredited Body

NEPIC was created in 2004 by the leaders of local chemistry based process industry companies that are based in the northeast of England.[5] The aim of the organisation being to represent and coordinate industry's collaborative activities on the wide ranging issues that impact on the future and performance of the energy intensive process sector, which includes petrochemicals; specialty chemicals; polymers; pharmaceuticals; biotechnology and renewables. These issues include renewable and more sustainable energy opportunities,[6] innovation and R&D interests,[7] energy pricing capacity and availability,[8] carbon taxation[9] and carbon emission reduction technologies [10] such as carbon capture and storage (CCS),[11] graduate and technician skills for the sector [12][13] and industry growth to ensure that the region remains a globally important location for the chemical industry.[14]

NEPIC has been recognised by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) in the UK for its work in informing stakeholders about the sector[15] and by the professional institutions in the UK for its engagement and representation of industry issues.[16] The Northeast of England is recognised and promoted by the Department for International Trade (DIT)( formerly UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)) arm of the UK Government as a leading location in the UK for Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) into the chemistry using industries.[17]

Since its formation NEPIC has participated in European Cluster development programmes. During 2012 NEPIC was initially audited by the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis (ESCA) and in March 2014 achieved the Gold Label standard for Cluster management under this quality management scheme. NEPIC is classified by ESCA as a manufacturing and innovation cluster and was the first UK cluster to achieve this Gold Label status and the 37th Cluster to do so in Europe. By March 2014 there were 490 EU Cluster organisations accredited by ESCA.[18] By September 2014 the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis reported that more than 600 Clusters had been audited and in their report, entitled "Cluster Organisations in Europe - insights from Bronze and Gold Label Assessments", cited the NEPIC Members Directory as best practice as a Cluster global marketing tool.[19][20] On 20 October 2014 at the European Commission's Bi-annual European Cluster Conference, policy makers, analysts and Cluster managers, from all business and industry sectors across Europe, named Dr Stan Higgins, NEPIC CEO, as European Cluster Manager of the Year 2014.[21] NEPIC was reassessed by ESCA during 2016 and is validated as a Gold Label Cluster until February 2019 when the Cluster's management organisation has to undergo its next quality assessment. By March 2017 986 Clusters had been awarded Bronze, Silver and Gold Labels from 40 countries. 81 of which are Gold Label.[22]

NEPIC is led by industry through its Industry Leadership Team. These industry leaders at intervals of their choosing elect a person to be the Chair of NEPIC. Since its inception the cluster has been Chaired by Ian Shott CBE, Robert Coxon OBE,[23] Paul Booth MBE[24] and most recently former MP Ian Swales[25] who is the current chair person. Dr Stan Higgins has been NEPIC's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) since its formation in 2004. Dr Higgins announced that he is to retire during 2017.[26][27][28] On 1 June 2017 NEPIC announced that former Chair of the UK Parliamentary Business Committee and labour MP Iain Wright is to become the CEO of NEPIC.[29][30]

Stakeholder activity

NEPIC's work with stakeholders of the process industry in its region includes encouraging school children to study Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM subjects). It has run programmes for both secondary and primary school children. In showing the relevance of science and industry to primary school children NEPIC promotes the Children Challenging Industry programme operated by the Chemical Industry Education Unit at York University. The Cluster, in March 2009, enabled a group of school children from Morpeth, Northumberland,[31] to record in the Guinness Book of Records the world's largest mathematics class. The Cluster also supports a Fellowship to encourage young scientists and engineers to experience Parliamentary processes by spending time in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), based in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London. This annual Fellowship[32] commemorates the life of Chemical Engineer and Member of Parliament, Ashok Kumar, who as MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, was a supporter of both the Cluster and also of the co-sponsors of the Fellowship, the Institution of Chemical Engineers. In 2017 the 6th Ashok Kumar Fellow had been appointed to work with at POST she was a postgraduate engineering student, Erin Johnson, from Imperial College, London.[33]

Annual Awards

NEPIC hold a well attended Annual Awards Dinner that further cements its links to stakeholders. Awards of £1000 are given to 5 Young Achievers from within its key sectors of Petrochemicals, Fine & Specialty Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology and Supply Chain. Similarly 3 x £1000 prizes are given to 3 top Apprentices from the Cluster.[34] The Cluster gives awards to the value of £2000 to companies for outstanding industrial performance in Innovation, Manufacturing Sustainability and Environmental Activity.[35] However, the award winning organisations must nominate a school to receive their prize money and use the funding for a science related project in that school. Each year a £2000 Award is given directly to a local school for an Environmental project that its pupils have developed and shown that it can be implemented with the prize. The Cluster has established a prestigious Outstanding Contribution Award for an individual who in their career has made a significant contribution to the Industry in Northeast England. In 2009 this was won by Thomas Swan of Thomas Swan Ltd for his establishment of Children Challenging Industry; 2010 Garren Denham of BKE Mowlem for improving contractor safety performance; 2011 George Ritchie of Sembcorp for championing skills particularly through apprenticeships; 2012 Dr Robert Hardy for establishing and growing Aesica Pharmaceuticals in the region; 2013 Subhash Chaudharry of Fujifilm Dyosynth Biologics for his contribution to biotech engineering; 2014 Ken Home for his development of KHome an international engineering company in the region. 2015 Mark Lewis, Technical Manager of NEPIC, who during his career had helped ICI divest its engineering interests, set up the Process Industry Centre for Manufacturing Excellence (PICME)and led NEPICs technical support for the sector. Martin Inskip Plant Director of Merck Sharp & Dhome (MSD) joined the roll of honour of the sector's greatest contributors as he collected the 2016 award for Outstanding Contribution.[36] David Hodgson Health Safety & Environment Manager of Sterling Pharma Solutions of Dudley, Cramlington, Northumberland won the 2017 Outstanding Contribution Award.[37] All these outstanding contributors also donated their £2000 prizes to local school projects.

Over the 8 years to 2014 the NEPIC Annual Dinner has awarded £158k in prize money that includes £62k to the sectors rising young stars, £90k to support STEM projects within 45 local schools and £6,000 in support of new Exporters in the region.[38][39] In 2017 the cumulative prize money given out to award winners at the NEPIC awards reached £200,000. £66,000 to young achievers and apprentices and £134,000 to company award winners all of the money going to the companies being donated to School projects for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Projects.[40] This means that 67 X £2000 school projects had been supported by 2017.

Cluster Strategy for Growth

The Industry Leadership Council of NEPIC regularly revisits the Cluster's Strategy for Growth, after first publishing it in 2006.[41] NEPIC and the Industrialists concerned were commended for this work in the UK Parliament.[42] The NEPIC Strategy is published and approved at the organisation's Annual General Meeting (AGM). The most recent strategy was published in December 2012.

The Cluster's ongoing strategic themes include:

  • 1. Continue Growth Activities - attract & develop investment.
  • 2. Support the National Skills Academy for the Process Industry skills development activities and - grow apprenticeships.
  • 3. Grow Membership - develop supply chain interaction & sales.
  • 4. Continue to provide a 'Voice for the Sector'.

The new strategic themes introduced in 2012 were:

  • 1. Increase International awareness of the industry in the region.
  • 2. Improve connectivity and help bring alignment with other UK industry bodies.
  • 3. Develop or Support innovative projects for the rejuvenation, sustainability and growth of the industries in the process sector.
  • 4. Grow participation of Small & Medium Enterprises(SMEs) in all the strategic themes of the Sector.

The Cluster's executive team are challenged to create and deliver projects and activities that deliver on these themes.

Measuring NEPIC's performance

GVA creation

NEPIC's overall performance against its strategy and as a Cluster body is measured in terms of economic development within its region. This is monitored by its Industry Leadership Council and public sector observers through key performance indicators (KPIs). These mostly relate to the cluster's results in attracting and assisting both indigenous and foreign direct investment (FDI) investment, as well as business growth in the local SME supply chain and any resulting job creation. These factors contribute to an overall performance measure of Gross Value Added (GVA). Results from the six year period 2005 to 2011 show that through its industry led activities, by 2017, NEPIC's activities are contributing significant levels of GVA to its local economy.[43] to the UK economy. In December 2013 NEPIC reported to its local Members of Parliament that since 2005 the Cluster had secured 83 significant investments and 4,000 jobs which now contributes more than £2 billion GVA to the local and UK economy.[44] [45] The ongoing work of the Cluster particularly with the Small & Medium Size (SME) business community via the Clusters Business Acceleration for SMEs (BASME) project has seen the Clusters impact on its local economy grow to £2.5 Billion of GVA per annum by 2015.[46] By 2017 the total GVA contribution of NEPIC had climbed to £3.34 billion.[47]

Process industry investment

Between 2005 and 2013 the NEPIC, cluster members, and its local authority partners helped to secure 83 significant investments into the process industry in the region totalling £3.7 billion.[48] The companies making significant investment during this period into the Cluster footprint include:

Many of the above projects and those of other NEPIC member companies have been assisted in their investment plans by grants made available by the United Kingdom Government. The Regional Growth Fund (RGF) has supported many projects within the Cluster footprint.[49][50][51]

By 2017 the Cluster reported that it has been involved in landing 95 process industry investments into its region worth well over £4 Billion and adding 5000 jobs.[52]

Collaborative projects

NEPIC has participated in a number of European Union funded cluster collaboration projects and collaborative innovation projects, thereby enabling its members to participate and access the benchmarking and business best practice that is being developed and shared. On some occasions NEPIC participates in the role as project leader/manager and in others as a partner organisation. An example of a Cluster collaboration in which NEPIC is a partner is the WIINTECH project, a worldwide intercluster initiative for new materials and processes focused on clean technologies.[53] This collaborative project is aimed at building a common international strategy between 8 leading European clusters and to foster inter-cluster and transnational partnerships, extending international cooperation and developing a joint inter-cluster projects in areas such as technology and industrial partnerships, training & skills development, technology transfer, workforce and business mobility and business mentoring. NEPIC and the other Clusters involved have undertaken joint market visits to Japan, USA, Korea, Brazil, and India to promote the EU process industries while focusing on fast growing lead markets such as clean technology. The LOCIMAP collaboration on the other hand is a project that is being led and managed by NEPIC with 13 international partners who together are investigating best practice and developing new ideas for the development of more efficient industrial parks in the future.[54]

Innovation strategy

Research has shown that companies are eight times more innovative when working in a collaborative "cluster" environment.[55] As part of the NEPIC Cluster Strategy for Growth, the Northeast Regional Innovation Strategy for the Chemistry-Using Process Industries was created. The innovation study and strategy was first published in 2005[56] and reviewed in 2010.[57] It was created by the NEPIC Innovation Team of industrialists and academics.

This work outlined a set of actions for stakeholders which have fundamentally changed the innovation performance of the region. These were:

  1. Provide market and industry input into the direction of research and hence the need for a practical forum to discuss market trends and future industry needs
  2. Support and develop indigenous business and technical innovation and help turn these into economic growth
  3. Enable access to critical facilities and equipment. Recognising that access can sometimes be cost prohibitive
  4. Do more to attract corporate R&D centres to the region in order to move the region towards the achievement of 'critical mass' in different technologies
  5. Help our Universities attract world class academics to the region. Recognising that having world class capability at a local university can, over time, have significant influence on the competence of local industry
  6. Work to strengthen supply chains and customer networks in the region

The NEPIC innovation strategy led to studies into the establishment of biorefinery activity within the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) which is being taken forward by the Cluster's Bioresources Team. It also identified the potential of the region to create innovation centres to support the process sector into the future.

The NEPIC Innovation Strategy established the region's industrial and academic innovation strengths within the chemistry and biotechnology based process sector. The work informed both public and private interests and has led directly to the creation of several innovation centres that are now managed through a national "catapult" organisation – the Centre for Process Innovation – based at the Wilton Centre, Redcar on Teesside. These are the National Industrial Biotechnology Facility,[58] the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre,[59] the Printable Electronics Technology Centre,[60] the Anaerobic Digestion Development Centre[61] the Sustainable Technology Centre,[62] and the Thermal Technologies Centre.[63] All of these leading technology centres are facilities based on Teesside. They have "plug and play" scale up facilities in most chemical engineering and biotech engineering unit operations. They have been built as open access innovation facilities utilising over £200 million of UK Government funding.[64] All of these facilities are based in the North East of England Process Industry Cluster footprint in the north-east of England.

NEPIC signposts industry towards academic programmes, projects and capability, particularity within the universities in northeast England. Arising from this Cluster activity, in September 2015, NEPIC created an innovative event enabling 90 academics to present their interests and capabilities to industry in one day; thus providing a time-efficient way to form connections.[65]

Business support

NEPIC provides technical, funding and business advice to new investors and indigenous businesses.

To assist with industry attraction and growth, NEPIC supports companies in securing their major capital projects, management buyouts (MBO) and start-ups. The Cluster provides intelligence on local supply chain capabilities in areas such as site location, planning, infrastructure, raw material sourcing, engineering, logistics, measurement science, workforce development and legal advice. To deliver projects NEPIC partners with its Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) Tees Valley Unlimited and the North East LEP (NELEP). It works internationally to attract investment and partners with other European locations for the chemical industry through the European Chemical Site Promotion Platform(ECSPP).

In line with the Cluster's strategy, NEPIC manages several business support products to help SMEs grow.[66] The Cluster secured a Regional Growth Fund project to mentor 400 SMEs in this region into new business within the process sector. This is the Business Acceleration for SMEs (BASME) project through which 1000 jobs were created in the process sector supply chain over 3 years. More than 200 SME's signed up to this programme in the first 18 months and created over 170 jobs.[67] The BASME programme has enabled NEPIC to increase the interaction between process industry companies and their local supply chain such that after 30 months 327 SMEs had engaged with it adding 425 jobs.[68] When complete, over 3 years, the BASME project reported that it had worked with 423 SMEs and helped them with business development that resulted in 1011 jobs.[69]

Similarly NEPIC created a programme to mentor 120 SMEs to improve their carbon efficiency and to accredit their sustainability credentials. This enabled some of NEPIC's SME member's supply chain data to be available to Tier 1 companies which from 2013 onwards, in the UK, are expected to have a mandatory requirement to supply their carbon footprints on an annual basis.[70][71] NEPIC's scheme called Developing Low Carbon Sustainable Industry (DEELOCSI) receives financial support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) of the European Union.

To further encourage SMEs in the northeast of England to Export, NEPIC collaborated with the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) and RTC North Limited to create a jointly owned subsidiary company Go Global Limited to manage the contract they had to deliver the United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) (2016 onwards UKTI became the Department for International Trade - DIT), Government funded, support products and programme for all business sectors in their region. The UKTI business support products, to help grow international trade, are aimed at supporting individual SMEs to grow their exports and they also support the Cluster and its members with trade missions to new markets.[72]

In order to share knowledge with and support other business sectors in the northeast of England, NEPIC is a member of the Northern Business Forum (NBF). This business led forum also links the Cluster to wider business issues, both locally and nationally, through the local & national business membership organisations represented. Members of the forum include the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Confederation of British Industry (CBI) North East, the Engineering Employers Federation Northern (EEF), The Institute of Directors (IOD), The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), Service Network, RTC North and NEPIC. The Association of North East Councils (ANEC) are amongst the observers of the forum.

Large-scale integrated chemical processing on Teesside

The larger, and in a number of instances, integrated chemical producers in the NEPIC Cluster are based on Teesside on three large chemical sites around the mouth of the River Tees at Wilton, Billingham and Seal Sands that were formerly owned and operated by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). These locations have a long history of large scale chemical manufacturing even before the creation of ICI.[73][74] The large scale manufacturing companies operating on these sites are sometimes called "commodity chemical manufacturers" and they make products such as petrochemicals, fertilizers and polymers.

The River Tees and Teesport

Teesport is based on the River Tees and is currently the third largest port in the United Kingdom, and amongst the ten biggest in Western Europe. This port handles over 56 million tonnes of goods per annum which are mainly associated with the local petrochemical, chemical and steel processing industries. The port is an important piece of logistical infrastructure for the NEPIC cluster of process companies.

Integrated Manufacturers Group

The large scale, commodity chemical producers on Teesside work through NEPIC's Integrated Manufacturers Group (IMG) where they exchange information on infrastructure issues and also share intelligence on engineering resources for large maintenance / overhauls and capital investment projects. Such projects in the chemical process sector can require hundreds of additional contract engineers for short intense periods of time and this requires extensive engineering planning. The maintenance of chemical plant is an engineering profession in its own right.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

The NEPIC IMG of manufacturers are amongst the largest single point producers of carbon dioxide in the United Kingdom and they have created within NEPIC the Process Industry Carbon Capture and Storage Initiative (PICCSI) to study the possibility of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) solution being provided for industry on Teesside as well as for any carbon based energy production.[75] This CCS technology option is being considered as a result of climate change regulations and the carbon taxation that could become a prohibitive cost for such energy intensive industries.[76]

NEPIC's persistent message, through its PICCSI group, that CCS is an important technology for the sustainability of energy intensive and carbon intensive industries in the UK such as chemical, polymer and fertilizer manufacturing, was endorsed during December 2013 by the UK Government.[77] Until then CCS was only seen as a way of limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, but with the Government's approval of the Tees Valley City Deal it included money for the industry to develop its early engineering study to determine CCS implementation costs and operating parameters. The process industry in the Tees Valley sees opportunities not only to store the carbon but also the potential to use the gas for other industrial uses, such as advanced oil recovery, manufacturing polycarbonates for plastics and battery electrolytes etc.[78]

The work of the Cluster on Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (ICCS) has received support from the UK Government through the Local Enterprise Partnership Tees Valley Unlimited. 6 Industrial Members of the NEPIC Cluster BOC-Linde, CF Fertilizers (formerly GrowHow), Lotte Chemicals, Sembcorp Utilities and SABIC [79] are part of a project called "The Teesside Collective". A project was undertaken on behalf of the sector to determine the potential for a ICCS system. The study outlined the engineering cost of a system, the business case and investment mechanisms that would need to be addressed in establishing an operating ICCS system. This report was delivered to the UK Government on 1 July 2015.[80]

The Teesside Collective project identifies that 5.6% of the UK's industrial emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) comes from the Teesside Region and that this location has 5 of the UK's top 25 CO2 emitting plants, concluding that Teesside is the most concentrated industrial cluster in the UK making an ICCS network technically feasible.[81] The report states that by using existing and proven technologies, an initial 2.8m t/y of CO2 could be captured, a quarter of Teesside's total CO2 emissions, and store it permanently in aquifers beneath the North Sea.[82] Carbon dioxide is already collected on Teesside for commercial use by some of NEPIC's members and in capturing the gas for sequestration via ICCS implementation only needs to scale up existing technologies not new ones. A future ICCS network would encourage investment from companies whose processes cannot avoid CO2 emissions, as well as from new industries that may utilise CO2 as a raw material.[83] Early stage design contracts have been awarded to understand engineering and running costs of an ICCS system on Teesside.[84] These studies show that a viable finance proposal is possible to support a CCS network based on Teesside. The study suggests that the cost of a Teesside-based ICCS system including access to a transportation and storage network would be £58 per tonne of CO2 and compares this to Government subsidy given to offshore wind at £200/tCO2 and £128/tCO2 for nuclear power. This work proclaims that the Tees Valley could be "the birthplace of vital clean industrial growth, attracting inward investment and job creation."[85]

Shale gas and underground coal gasification

NEPIC members are also studying the prospect of energy production from unconventional gas sources including energy from waste, energy from biomass, shale gas and underground coal gasification. Several energy from waste plants are already present in this region and more are being constructed. The region is close to large reserves of shale gas and coal and commercial exploitation of these reserves is being considered. The shale gas deposits close to this region that are available for exploitation by the process known as "fracking" exceed 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas,[86] although not all of this will be extractable. The extraction of shale gas in the UK has been the subject of two major reports, one from the Institute of Directors called "Getting Shale Gas Working" and one from the UK Government entitled the "Bowland Shale Gas Study". In addition, the region has substantial unexploited coal reserves in the Durham Coalfield and companies are developing plans to exploit this using modern clean technologies for underground coal gasification (UCG).[87] Linking technologies for UGC or other gas extraction from local coalfields to carbon dioxide capture technologies like those described in the "Teesside Collective Project"[88] gives rise to the prospect of "Clean Coal" as a source of raw materials for the chemical sector in the northeast of England.[89]

Skills & education

Quality skills

NEPIC has taken a lead in skills development and are encouraging young people into science and engineering.[90] The Cluster's Skills Industry Leadership Team developed a Skills Strategy to support the growth of the sector and this led directly to the creation of the National Skills Academy for the Process Industries (NSAPI) which has its head office in Darlington in the region and is part of the COGENT Sector Skills Council (COGENT SSC). COGENT and NSAPI developed skills profiles for most jobs in the process sector and these are becoming the standards for the industry across the UK. These are known as the "Gold Standards". The Skills Academy is also accrediting those delivering apprenticeships and courses into the sector, effectively, approving quality of delivery and course content. COGENT also operate a very effective career web site known as the "Career Pathway" covering all the sub sectors of the Process Industry. It shows detailed job profiles and key skill requirements for most roles in the sector as well as career options.

Attracting young people into science and engineering

Regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, interest in science begins in early childhood. Nearly 60 percent of scientists say they first became interested in science by age 11.[91] Furthermore, surveys have shown that 95% of Primary School Teachers are "uncomfortable" teaching science.[92][93] In the UK at primary school level only 3% of teachers hold a specialist degree and Initial Teacher Training (ITT) qualification in science.[94][95] Therefore, the Cluster has focused most of its efforts in encouraging children into science and engineering in primary schools and improving teaching resources by supporting the Children Challenging Industry (CCI) Programme, a curriculum-based science learning activity linked to field trips into industry.[96]

This programme was initiated in this region by Thomas Swan of Thomas Swan and Co. Ltd. In the early 1990s Tom Swan recognised the need to engage with school children about the role of the chemical industry in our society, and commissioned a three year programme with the Chemical Industry Education Centre (CIEC, now the Centre for Industry Education Collaboration) at the University of York.[97] The Children Challenging Industry Programme was created with the aim, to not only give primary school children an experience of science in action in industry, but also to train primary school teachers how to teach science and where to find science teaching resources. The programme includes specially designed classroom sessions with practical experiments, to capture children's interest, training for the teachers and then industrial site visits[98][99][100] to see the science taught put into action. At the start of the lessons the children often perceive industry as "noisy, dark and hot". After the Children Challenging Industry experience 90% of children completing questionnaires demonstrated a more positive and informed attitude towards the industry and the desirability of a career in industry. Studies have shown that 92% of the children enjoyed the industrial experience of science and 98% of teachers reported that the training was either excellent or good.[101]

The CCI programme has operated in this region since its inception in the 1990s and its effectiveness has undergone regular evaluation.[102] To demonstrate the impact, over a 10 year period from 1998-2007, 48,000 children, 9,500 teachers in 1600 schools received the programme across the North of England.[103] Studies in secondary schools of pupils that have received a Children Challenging Industry Experience found that 66% of the pupils remembered learning about industry and were significantly more likely to have positive views about industry and science, in fact 40% of the secondary school pupils responded that the CCI lessons had helped with subsequent science classes.[104]

In 2010 Tom Swan received the NEPIC Cluster Life Time Achievement Award from his peers in the process sector for his work in the development and support of Children Challenging Industry.[105] In 2007, and in 2013 he received an honorary degree form the University of York, the NEPIC CCI teacher Ms Nicola Waller won a national award from the Institute of Physics as the UK's best Primary School Science Teacher.[106] Some Cluster members have grown their own staff development programmes using this CCI model, Johnson Matthey for example has created their future scientist programme out of this CCI activity.[107] Such activity complements the company's "sustainability" and "reputation in the community" programmes. Due in part to the effectiveness of the Children Challenging Industry (CCI)programme some educationalists now contend that laboratory based school science teaching needs to be complemented by out‐of‐school science learning that draws on the actual world (e.g. through field trips to industry etc.), the presented world (e.g. in science centres, botanic gardens, zoos and science museums), and the virtual worlds that are increasingly available through information technologies.[108]

Turning interrelated sectors into a cluster

In 1989, Michael Porter said "Clusters are groups of inter-related industries that drive wealth creation in a region". Even in 2017 these concepts are still of academic interest[109] and at the beginning of the 21st century continue to drive industrial policy in growing economies. For example in India[110] and Malaysia[111] news articles and research papers still promote Porter's approach to economic development, adding that clusters "typically include the entire value chain of a broadly defined industry from suppliers to end products, and are interconnected by the flow of goods and services throughout this chain. They help improve resource efficiency, time management as well as bring in innovation in manufacturing practices." This notion of broad science-based industries linking together to address cross cutting issues such as growth, sustainability, skills, innovation, infrastructure, stakeholder engagement, sharing best practice and providing a significant representational voice is what brought together the chemical, pharmaceutical, polymer, speciality materials, biotechnology and renewable energy and materials companies based in the northeast of England to create a cluster body to coordinate their work.

NEPIC has two offices in the region: one in the north in Sunderland and one in the south at Wilton near Redcar in Teesside. At the Wilton location, NEPIC is amongst several process sector and supply chain companies that work out of the process industry research centre Wilton International. The UK Innovation Catapult, the Centre for Process Innovation, is also based in this multi-occupancy technical development centre.


The chemical companies in the membership of NEPIC can be categorised into three groups: petrochemical, commodity chemical, fine and speciality chemical companies. The petrochemical and commodity chemical companies are those most likely to utilise large infrastructure such as pipelines, storage facilities, utilities, power stations, port facilities and railways. These companies in this Cluster are almost exclusively based on Teesside, mostly on three chemical industrial parks at Wilton, Billingham and Seal Sands. Examples of large scale commodity manufacturers in the NEPIC Cluster are Sabic making ethylene, low-density polyethylene and aromatics, Ineos acrylonitrile, GrowHow ammonia and ammonia based fertilizers, Ensus bioethanol and animal feed, Conoco Phillips oil refining, Omya Calcium Carbonate, Huntsman polyurethane intermediates and titanium dioxide, Harvest Energy biodiesel and Greenergy fuel blending. These commodity chemical companies used to share logistical, utility and other infrastructure with Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) who made steel in Redcar until final closure in October 2015.[112] This was Europe's second largest operational blast furnace. TATA Steel still operate steel milling and rolling units on Teesside.

The speciality chemical and fine chemical companies in the NEPIC Cluster are spread across all the sub-regions of northeast England including Teesside, County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. Examples on Teesside: Fine Organics, Chemoxy, Vertellus, Johnson Matthey, Koppers, Lucite International and Mitsubishi Chemicals. In County Durham: High Force Research, Newchem Technologies, Thomas Swan, Exwold Technology and Huntsman Tioxide, and Frutarom. In Tyne and Wear and Northumberland Kilfrost, Akzo & International Paint and Chemson all manufacture speciality chemicals while Aesica, Sterling Pharma Solutions and Piramal make and use fine chemical intermediates mostly as pharmaceutical intermediates. Companies in the NEPIC footprint are also involved in the scale up, manufacture and commercialisation of Graphene, Applied Graphene Materials[113] and Thomas Swan Limited.[114] The UK Government has also chosen this Cluster to base its National Graphene Applications Centre.[115]

The above chemical companies are also supported by specialist utility providers and speciality gas providers such as Sembcorp and BOC-Linde, bulk storage businesses such as Simon Storage and Vopak, while speciality packaging and formulation of chemicals is provided by companies such as Banner Chemicals, MP Storage and Exwold who also all operate Teesside facilities. Throughout the whole region Northumbrian Water can provide bulk water and also waste water treatment facilities to the all sectors of the process industry. The region is self-sufficient in water and can allocate industrial quantities to new investors due to the development of the Kielder Reservoir.


Polymer manufacturing in the northeast of England Process Industry Cluster has some large-scale activity based on Teesside. SABIC operate one of the world's biggest low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plants,[116] which makes the United Kingdom a net exporter of LDPE. Lotte Chemical manufacture both purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Ineos manufacture acrylonitrile, an intermediate used for Nylon 66 and acrylics. Speciality polymer products are also made there. Ineos, for example, also manufacture aqueous polyvinylchloride PVC products in County Durham whilst Victrex manufacture all the monomer for their polyether ether ketone (PEEK) product at their facility on Teesside. There are also new biopolymers and resins in development and scale up by companies such as Plaxica, which is developing new processes to commercialise polylactic acid (PLA) and Cambridge Biopolymers, who are commercialising functional bioresins; both are based at the Teesside process industry research centre Wilton International.

New processes for the recycling of polymers have also been commercialised at Wilton. For example, Biffa Polymers recycle a large percentage of the UK's plastic milk bottles into polymer chip. This was one of the first technology applications which allowed food-grade polymer packaging to be recycled without passing through a melted phase.[117] In 2013, SNF announced that they intend to build a polymer manufacturing unit on Teesside to make polyacrylamide emulsion for the oil industry.[118] Although not strictly a polymer, the acrylic Perspex is a well known plastic like material; it and other acrylic products are manufactured in Teesside and County Durham by Lucite International, which is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi corporation.

The region also has a significant number of polymer extrusion and forming companies that supply a number of advanced engineering supply chains[119] notably the automobile supply chain which, in northeast England, is dominated by Nissan's European automobile manufacturing plant at Sunderland. The automobile supply chain in this region is represented by the North East Automobile Alliance (NEAA).[120]


This region has an active, modern pharmaceutical industry and the northeast of England has a full capability in the pharmaceutical value chain, including pre-clinical drug discovery and development, clinical research and development, clinical trial management, pilot-scale manufacturing, full-scale pharmaceutical ingredient and intermediate manufacturing, as well as final product formulation, packaging and distribution. Furthermore, pharmaceutical businesses are underpinned by an experienced and successful supply chain. Within the NEPIC cluster there are companies that provide laboratory facilities, manufacturing sites, logistics, construction and procurement, analytical sciences, validation consultants, maintenance, operation and financial services, public relations and contingency planning.

Fundamental medical research is done in this region at several of its universities. For example, Newcastle University was the first to receive a licence in the UK to perform research on stem cells and this is a leading centre for such research today. Indeed Karim Nayernia was the first to isolate spermatagonial stem cells at this University. Many new healthcare developments have arisen from this research work.[121]

Industrial drug development continues at ARCINOVA in Alnwick. Small molecule drug scale-up and process development and manufacture is provided to current good manufacturing practice(cGMP) standards to pharmaceutical companies around the world by several NEPIC Cluster members such as Aesica Pharmaceuticals, Sterling Pharma Solutions, Piramal Healthcare, all of which are based in Northumberland and also by Fine Organics on Teesside. Aesica, Sterling, Piramal (Northumberland) are companies that perform primary manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients(APIs) to cGMP standards. While Aesica, Piramal, MSD (Northumberland), Sanofi (Tyne & Wear), GlaxoSmithKline, Quantum Pharmaceuticals[122] and Bristol Laboratories[123] in (County Durham) are all secondary pharmaceutical manufacturers with large facilities in the region. These companies formulate and package finished pharmaceuticals ready for consumer use. Small quantity and speciality pharmaceutical formulations are also manufactured by contract manufacturers Specials Labs and SCM Pharma in Northumberland, which was acquired by Shire Pharmaceuticals in 2014.[124] While Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies (Teesside), formerly Avecia is one of the largest investments in the world in biopharmaceutical & biologics medicines manufacturing,[125] the company manufactures, under contract, active biopharmaceuticals for a number of pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceuticals make up a significant proportion of the exports of the northeast of England. The region produces 33% of the UK's GDP in pharmaceutical manufacturing with 95% of finished product exported to global markets[126]


Biotechnology has become widely used in many industrial and academic activities and the following classifications have become established. Red Biotechnology – Medical, Health care and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology. White Biotechnology - Biotechnology for industrial products. Green Biotechnology - Biotechnology applied to environmental issues. Blue Biotechnology - Biotechnology based on marine organisms. The northeast of England has strengths in all these areas.

Industrial and academic biotechnological research in Red Biotechnology has been well established in the northeast England and has developed into strengths in diagnostics, bioinformatics, Biomanufacturing, Biocatalysis & Bio-transformations, Bioremediation, Pharmaceutical research, Microbiological analysis and testing, Production of antibodies, proteins and peptides. Leading edge research is done at the region's Universities, for example Newcastle University was the first institution in Europe, second in the world, to receive permission to pursue stem-cell research in human embryos.

New industries that have now developed form a significant sector in the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC). Fujifilm Diosynth Biologics at Billingham now employs over 550 people, the majority of them being graduate-level skills in biotechnology, to develop new products and innovative processes for the pharmaceutical industry. Within a mile of the Fujifilm complex are small companies working on the building blocks of life. Cambridge Research Biochemicals (CRB) supports discovery research activities by providing custom-made research reagents, principally peptides and antibodies. In Sunderland, Immuno Diagnostic Systems (IDS) are producing medical test kits and in Hartlepool Hart Biologicals produce diagnostic products for use in the detection, prevention, and monitoring of a number of medical conditions. In Morpeth, Northumberland Piramal Healthcare invested into bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

Across the region, companies such as Leica Biosystems, Orla Proteins, Helena Bioscience, Thermo Fischer Scientific and Millipore are significant contributors to the growing strength of the sector and its supply chain.[127]

Industrial, White Biotechnology includes manufacturing, alternative energy (or "bioenergy"), and biomaterials and is also well established in the region. The manufacturers of the food protein Quorn, Marlow Foods, now part of Premier Foods, developed their technology here and still operate in this region. Northumbrian Water has invested in two large scale anaerobic digestion facilities to recover energy from their domestic and industrial waste water streams. In Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland Biotechnology has been pioneering natural solutions to handling effluents and waste materials. In Billingham, Biochemica is applying new biotechnology solutions to industrial water treatment. Biotechnology is also being applied to manufacture polymers by Plaxica and functional resins by Cambridge Biopolymers. Several of the Cluster's Fine and Specialty chemical companies are utilising enzymatic transformations in their manufacturing processes. Developments such as these are being supported by The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) which hosts the National Industrial Biotechnology Facility (NIBF) at Wilton International.

Renewables and bioresources

Members of the North East England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) are also focusing on development of biorefinery concepts which could impact on fine, speciality and commodity chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and bio-fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel.[128] Large scale biofuels plants are already operating on Teesside by Ensus and Harvest Energy, while Greenergy (note: Harvest and Greenergy are all now part of the Interterminals Group) operate a biofuel blending facility. CF Industries (formerly GrowHow) who manufacture fertilizer is capturing carbon dioxide from their ammonia based fertilizer business and this is being used to aid the growing of tomatoes in an industrial market garden on Teesside.[129] This reduces emissions and eliminates road miles from former European imports. Sembcorp operate a 30 MW biomass power plant known as Wilton 10 using both waste wood and coppiced wood, which is integrated into the existing chemical processes on the Wilton Chemical Site. A number of other biomass and waste to energy plants are in development within the Cluster such as Wilton 11[130] and MGT Power are building their Teesport Renewable Energy Plant.[131] SITA already operate an energy from waste unit in Middlesbrough. Many of the Cluster companies working on Renewables and Bioresources projects to develop a lower carbon future for the sector collaborate through the NEPIC Clusters Bioresources Collaborative Thrust Team. The Cluster's growing strength in low carbon, sustainable industry has gained national recognition.[132]

The drive to industrialise biorefinery technologies within the NEPIC Cluster is mostly aimed at reducing carbon emissions or at making manufacturing more sustainable by counterbalancing the emissions by the reabsorption of carbon dioxide through the growth of an equivalent amount of biomass. Alternatively they are implementing technologies that enable the use of societal waste as a new basic raw material. The Chemical Engineering technologies that are being implemented include advanced gasification and Air Products are implementing their plasma gasification technology on Teesside, the company has announced that a second such unit is also to be built in this location.[133] Others are developing projects utilising pyrolysis to recover useful materials from carbon wastes and also new processes to manufacture biosynthetic natural gas (SNG)and fuels from air being developed by Air Fuels Synthesis. Depolymerisation processes are also under investigation.

The Cluster companies and new investors collaborating through the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) on renewables and bioresources projects do so through the Cluster's Bioresources Thrust Team.

Supporting and developing an extensive supply chain

The Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Speciality, Biotechnology companies cannot operate without the support of an extensive local supply chain. Supply Chain companies within NEPIC include Analytical and Measurement Science Companies, Chemical Engineering, Control Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Process Engineering, Project Engineering, Construction Engineering, Maintenance Engineering, Toolmakers, Business and Site Security, Safety Management, Disaster and Business Recovery Management, Engineering Equipment Suppliers, Laboratory Equipment Suppliers, Business Performance Improvement Consultants, Legal Firms, Management & Strategy Consultants, Process Development, Publicity Firms, Publishers and Printers, Purchasing Companies, Recruitment Companies, Research Institutions etc.

The Cluster Leadership Team believe that the promotion of the capability of these supply chain companies is crucial to its ability to attract investment to the region. Furthermore the Cluster promotes its supply chain members' businesses around the world to help them secure more business, locally, nationally and internationally.

The concentration of such supply chain businesses in the northeast of England is internationally significant. In 2009 Service Network commissioned Shared Intelligence and Gavurin to undertake an assessment of the Knowledge Intensive Business & Services (KIBS) sector in the northeast of England. The report concludes that KIBS companies are distributed across the whole of the region. It identifies that the region has a particular strength in Architectural & Engineering Activities & Related Technical Consultancy (AETC) workplaces with 2810 such firms employing 13,385 people. The report also identifies that the concentration of ATEC business is the highest in the UK and around Stockton-on-Tees the concentration is amongst the highest for such businesses in Europe.[134]

Role of clusters such as NEPIC in globalised industries

According to Christian Ketels of Harvard Business School "Globalisation has not only raised the relative role of location and Clusters, it has raised the bar in terms of the demands that successful clusters have to meet."[135] Ketels suggests that this is because competition between clusters has increased and rival locations are vying for any new investment in their sectors. It is this that pressurises Cluster organisations to meet the best practice of clusters in other regions. Such competition has driven clusters to become more specialised and there is now much more differentiation, for example, some clusters are R&D Hubs while others focus on manufacturing or are service orientated. Ketels' premise is that this increasing level of specialisation has increased linkages between cluster bodies and that the ability of the cluster management teams to make such linkages and partnerships has become an important key strength. In the past, Ketels suggests, clusters were like islands competing with each other whereas now they are part of Global supply chains often competing and co-operating at the same time.[136]

Ketels' observations are borne out by the work of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) which uses its cluster to cluster links in two ways to meet the strategic needs of its Industrial Leadership Council. Firstly, to meet its Internationalisation aims, NEPIC's cluster to cluster activities build up a wider international understanding of the capabilities of the industry in its region and also of its members specific businesses. Secondly, it uses cluster to cluster relationships to help develop the business, particularly of its Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) members, with the aim of strengthening SME businesses in its local supply chain. NEPIC does this by using its international linkages and partnerships to de-risk the initial development of international trade for its members. This is achieved by reciprocal knowledge and support of partner clusters and trade bodies and their members. NEPIC's approach is to develop formal Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)with industry clusters and business associations around the world and build partnerships to create knowledge sharing opportunities.

In Europe, NEPIC has projects and agreements with the following Cluster bodies: Axelera,[137] and through the WIINTECH consortium, Plastipolis in France, Proplast in Italy, Chemie-Cluster Bayern (CCB) in Germany, Clusterland in Austria, Plastival in Spain, Veneto Nanotech in Italy and Poolnet in Portugal. In India, with the Indian Chemical Council (ICC),[138] the Karnataka Drug and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (KDPMA),[139] Gujarat Chemical Association, Vapi Industries Association,[140] Mangalore Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) and Plastindia.[141] In Brazil, with the Suape Coplexo Industria Portuario[142] and in China the Jiangsu Association of Science and Technology (JASTI). NEPIC has participated in joint meetings and projects with these organisations and has often managed reciprocal visits from groups of companies associated with the aforementioned bodies and countries.[143][144]

These partnerships can lead to joint projects, for example, NEPIC and the Indian Chemical Council (ICC) jointly organised the Indian Chemical Industry Outlook Conference in 2013.[145] Furthermore member companies have found new business via such Cluster to Cluster relationships, for example one SME business attending the Indian Outlook Conference in India in 2013 reported in the market visit blog that "the quality, seniority and number of attendees that NEPIC (and ICC) have attracted are of great credit to them. I have calculated that it would have taken me at least 4 years to meet the executives that have met in one week on this trip."[146] At the same time others reported new business being created during their first market visit with the Cluster.[147]

By 2017 NEPIC had become a key partner of the Indian Chemical Council (ICC) helping to define the agenda for their Annual Outlook Conference.[148] The 2017 NEPIC led and UK Department for International Trade (DIT) trade mission to India had grown to include 21 business delegates who travelled to Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai [149] meeting companies the company members of the Karnataka Drug and Pharmaceutical Association (KDPMA), Tata Research Development and Design Centre and the members of the Indian Chemical Council. With companies such as Jacobs Engineering, SMEs such as Biochimica UK Limited (water treatment), Micropore Technologies Limited (innovative dispersion & emulsification technology)[150] and Harrison Goddard Foote (HGF)[151] (patent agents) being very positive about their experience and showing the supply chain diversity. These companies show the diversity of the chemical process industry supply chain.

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