AMRC ready for North West take-off

BAE Systems production

Hailed as a shining beacon of British enterprise and innovation, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is expanding its operations into the North West as it continues to drive the sector’s renaissance.

The Samlesbury Enterprise Zone, which sits next to BAE System’s Lancashire plane-making plant near Preston, is earmarked as the site for the new North West AMRC, in partnership with the world-leading Sheffield University facility.

The proposed Lancashire centre will sit in the heart of the largest cluster of aerospace production in the UK, which employs thousands of skilled workers across the North West.

In Sheffield AMRC, which carries out world-leading research into advanced machining, manufacturing and materials, has more than 100 industrial partners, ranging from global giants like Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus to small companies.

It is a powerful story of research and innovation assets linked to universities making real strides in shaping the future of manufacturing.

The South Yorkshire operation, which includes the Advanced Manufacturing Park, is home to Boeing’s first production facility in Europe and is where McLaren is developing a £50m Composites Technology Centre (MCTC).

When open, the MCTC will be home to only McLaren’s second ever production facility and will be used to innovate the process for making the ultra-lightweight and strong carbon fibre tubs used in its sports cars and supercars.

The AMRC is working with its partners to help improve productivity, de-risk investment decisions, and accelerate the early adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies to improve performance and quality.

It is a place where digital meets manufacturing, with world-class expertise in fields including augmented and virtual reality, robotics and automation, intelligent machining, digital twins and data analytics.

Professor Keith Ridgway, executive dean at the AMRC, worked with local businessman Adrian Allen to launch the project with Boeing back in 2001.

He says that as well as the Lancashire plan, construction work has started on a £20m facility on Deeside, and there are links with Scotland’s international centre of manufacturing excellence near Glasgow.

Ridgeway adds: “We are in a period of growth and expansion. We are looking forward to working closely in the North West with its aerospace and automotive supply chains. We are also interested in growing links with the nuclear sector. We see real opportunities.”

Those opportunities include working on battery power technology in the automotive sector, along with continuing the research being carried out into alloys and composites. Artificial Intelligence remains another key area.

Mr Ridgeway says that the creation of a North West AMRC facility makes both strategic and geographical sense.

“Draw a line from Sheffield to Preston and 20 miles either side of it you have a corridor of manufacturing stretching across the Pennines,” he says. “You’ll find some very good companies and it is very much SME driven.”

He adds: “Manufacturing is possibly getting a little bit more of a profile. What people don’t realise is the additional work that comes on the back of it.

“For every manufacturing job there are two other people working in the service industries and they are only there because of manufacturing. People tend to forget that.”

He adds: “We have had phenomenal buy-in from our partners. They bring huge research capabilities and brain power with them. We are pushing back the boundaries all the time.”

Ridgeway says major UK infrastructure projects should offer strong opportunities for the nation’s manufacturers and engineers. His view is clear: “If we haven’t got the supply chain lets create it.”