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Business and community leaders gathered in Fort William on Monday for the official opening of West Highland College UHI’s new manufacturing technology centre.
The centre aims to open up access to expert technical support and specialist equipment to businesses in the Highlands.
Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes, also Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, formally opened the college’s new Advancing Manufacturing Centre (AMC) by ‘pressing the button’ on state-of-the-art digital manufacturing machinery and unveiling a plaque.
The AMC will provide access to specialist machinery and software including 3D printing, scanning and machining at zero cost to small or medium businesses.
A team of experienced engineers and technicians will offer expertise and help with training and research to provide business solutions, inspire entrepreneurs and bring ideas to life thanks to a successful funding bid.
The centre opened its doors at the launch of Lochaber Ideas Week, an annual celebration of community, business and innovation organised by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce.
Ms Forbes said the Scottish Government fully appreciated the vital role of manufacturing in the Scottish economy and in building a green and sustainable economy following the pandemic.
‘I am delighted to officially open one of 12 Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund projects,’ she said.
‘Combined with our £75 million investment in the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, they demonstrate the extent of our commitment to one of Scotland’s most productive sectors.
‘That commitment extends to every part of Scotland. I encourage manufacturers, locally and further afield, to take advantage of the support on offer and see how it can help grow your business.’
David Campbell, Project Director for STEM, said: ‘We are very grateful to Kate Forbes for opening the centre, which brings a much-needed resource to the region in support of local businesses.
‘The centre allows us to enhance the opportunities of our region, its economy, its people and its communities in a changing world. Now the doors have been officially opened, we extend an open invitation to businesses to engage with our team.
‘Whether you are a business struggling to meet demand, or are looking for an innovative incubation space to work on the art of the possible, we are here to help with no cost to your business.’
The centre is being supported through the Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund, a partnership between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Projects are part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Scottish Government and match-funding from each project, with Scottish Enterprise managing the fund.
Lydia Rohmer, College Principal and Chief Executive, said: ‘Our new Advancing Manufacturing Centre will help small and medium sized businesses develop their manufacturing capabilities with free access to future-facing specialist technologies and expertise.
‘Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, manufacturing has a vital role to play in our local and national economy, not least in supporting key equipment needs for the health and social care sectors, as well as providing future technology solutions to support the global race to net-zero.
‘The opening of this new centre is a step-change in the college’s offer to support local businesses and communities and this will make a vital contribution to transform skills, productivity and innovation in our region.
‘It enables us to bring national and international expertise and specialisms in manufacturing to our rural businesses otherwise not available to them locally.
‘AMC’s official opening by Kate Forbes is a significant milestone in working with our strategic partners to realise our plans for a major Centre for Science, Technology, Health and Engineering in Fort William.
‘This will ensure equity of opportunity and access to world-class industry-led facilities, skills and knowledge transfer for young people, businesses and the communities of the West Highlands as part of the post-Covid recovery.’
Among the guests present was Professor Todd Walker, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
The centre is part of the university’s regional strategy for advanced technologies, manufacturing and STEM sector developments and is a significant investment not only in the region’s rural development but the national economy. Highlands and Islands Enterprise invested £414,000 to the overall cost.
Kate Forbes presses the button on a mini production line 3D printer to offically open the AMC Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F47 AMC Centre opens 01
Kate Forbes unveils the plaque at the opening of the AMC Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F47 AMC Centre opens 02
Kate Forbes and Lochaber Chamber of Commerce chief executive Frazer Coupland discuss the start of Ideas Week at the official opening of the AMC Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F47 AMC Centre opens 03
Members of the local business community toured the new AMC Centre. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F47 AMC Centre opens 04