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New Thermo Fisher plant is a vertical investment with a difference

Any fans of the classic movie The Italian Job will know that much of the film’s action is set in Turin.  In one scene the three Minis with all their hijacked gold are chased around the testing track on the roof of the Lingotto Fiat factory

When the movie was made back in 1969 the Lingotto factory was in full production building Fiat cars vertically over five floors.  Raw materials came in on the ground floor, the cars were then assembled floor by floor with the finished vehicles tested on the roof and sent down a spiral ramp to be sold all around the world.  The factory closed in the early eighties as technology changes overtook the methods used there.

I mention all this because I stayed in one of the hotels that are now part of the converted factory building whilst the Chamber was competing in the World Chambers of Commerce Congress. It’s a hugely impressive structure and the test track and the exit ramp still exist.

You might have thought the days of the vertical factory were long over.  Glasgow had at least one in the old Gray & Dunn biscuit factory that sits next to the M8. It’s the building that’s now fully dressed in the People Make Glasgow branding not far from the Kingston Bridge.

But only last Tuesday a brand new four-storey factory was opened in Inchinnan by Thermo Fisher. I got the chance to see round it at the launch and it’s a rare breed being one of only two factories making Thermo Fisher’s dry media powder using their Advanced Granulation Technology (AGT). 

Thermo Fisher has invested £14m in the new facility and it’s on four floors because the manufacturing process exploits the force of gravity.  Unlike the Lingotto factory the process starts at the top of the building and works its way down through a milling and blending process that sounds very much like one you might find in a food production company.  And since the dry power media is essentially a raw material for cell culture I suppose it essentially is a food production process.

Thermo Fisher is one of the world’s biggest companies in providing services to science. It employs over 50,000 people across 50 countries and it focuses on helping its clients speed up science research, solve tricky analytical problems, make it easier to diagnose patient conditions and make the scientific lab a more productive place.

I’ve visited the Thermo Fisher complex at Inchinnan three times now this year, including a grand tour hosted by Operations Director Jim Carswell.  The new Kelvin building, just one of four housing over 400 staff, will be manufacturing AGT products to help in the production  of cell cultures which will be tackling diseases such as  influenza and  dengue fever.

That Thermo Fisher chose to make the investment - with help from Scottish Enterprise’s allocation of £1.9m in Regional Selective Assistance - is a confirmation that we have the skills in Glasgow to attract life sciences companies. It was the plentiful supply of skills that sealed the deal for the city.

I suspect I won’t be seeing too many multi-storey manufacturing factories being opened in the years ahead, so the Thermo Fisher commitment is one to be celebrated with special vigour.

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