Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes officially opens manufacturing centre

Business and community leaders gathered for the official opening of West Highland College UHI’s new manufacturing technology centre which is set to transform access to expert technical support and specialist equipment currently available to businesses in Highlands.

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Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes is welcomed by (L to R) Lydia Rohmer, Derek Lewis and David Campbell

Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy and MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, formally opened the college’s new Advancing Manufacturing Centre (AMC) in Fort William by ‘pressing the button’ on state-of-the-art digital manufacturing machinery and unveiling a plaque.

The AMC will provide local access to specialist machinery and software such as 3D printing, scanning and machining at zero cost to any small or medium business. 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 held by the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce.

Lydia Rohmer (L) and Kate Forbes MSP (R) who has just unveiled the plaque at the opening of the Advancing Manufacturing Centre

Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, said:

“The Scottish Government fully appreciates the vital role of manufacturing in the Scottish economy and in building a green and sustainable economy following the pandemic. Our integrated manufacturing programme – Making Scotland’s future – will help secure a sustainable future for the sector.

“I am delighted to officially open one of the 12 Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund projects. 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 more further afield - to take advantage of the support on offer and see how it can help grow your business.”

Kate Forbes MSP (L) with David Campbell (R) who is explaining that a piece of machinery can do

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 Advancing Manufacturing in the West Highlands project supports SMEs to innovate and grow their businesses by adopting new technologies and improving processes.

"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 would like to 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, which is a partnership between the Scottish GovernmentScottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Projects are part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Scottish Government and match-funding from each project, with Scottish Enterprise managing the Fund.

The manufacturing sector in Scotland accounts for almost 170,000 jobs — 6.5 per cent of all jobs in Scotland — and £12.5 billion in gross value added, and it contributes more than half of the nation’s international exports.

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive, said:

“As an anchor institution, West Highland College UHI is working with partners in the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to bring together industry, academia and the public sector to help transform manufacturing in our region.

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 for our local and national economy, not least in supporting key equipment needs for the health and social care sectors, as well as providing the 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 MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, 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 (HIE) invested £414,000 to the overall project costs.

Alastair Nicholson, HIE area manager for Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, said:

Manufacturing is very important to our region’s economy and will be crucial as we continue to navigate our way forward from the impacts of the pandemic. As well as being a key component of the Fort William 2040 Masterplan, this centre will be an excellent resource for SMEs in all sectors across the Highlands and Islands, giving businesses the opportunity to learn more about how technology and digital manufacturing can help them be more productive and achieve net zero ambitions. It’s great to see the centre formally opened and we look forward to working with everyone in the project to make sure these benefits are fully realised.”

Derek Shaw, Commercial Director at Scottish Enterprise, said:

“Helping manufacturers face new challenges and get back on track is our priority. A collaborative approach is vital to kick start our sustainable economic recovery, and it’s great to see this in action through the new AMC in Fort William, making it easier than ever for businesses in the region to take advantage of the latest digital manufacturing technology and practices.

With the 12 Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund projects, and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland as a national centre of excellence, there is fantastic support for SMEs the length and breadth of Scotland to embrace innovation to sharpen their competitiveness.”

Two representatives from Avalance speaking with Project Manager Margaret Weir


  1. The Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund is a partnership between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. A full list of successful projects is available on the AMCF website. Total investment is £15.8 million, with £8.3 million from the European Regional Development Fund, £590,000 from the Scottish Government, and the remainder in match-funding from the chosen projects.
  2. The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit their webpages or follow @scotgovESIF

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