‘Time to think big’ says executive dean of AMRC
Keith Ridgway wants the government to think big. The executive dean of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield believes the UK is crying out for major infrastructure projects.
He cites the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) and the massive opportunity for manufacturers if the UK could take an international lead in the technology. “It could be worth billions,” he said.
The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre on Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Park has been working to develop technologies around this potential next generation of nuclear power.
SMRs are advanced reactors producing up to 300MW of electric power that can be largely built in factories as modules to minimise costly on-site construction.
Earlier this year a consortium led by Rolls-Royce asked for more than £200m in government funding to help develop its project for SMRs.
Ridgeway said: “It would be great if the government could come out with some big infrastructure project, if it said it was going to put an SMR into Wylfa.”
The Advanced Manufacturing Park is also home to Boeing’s first production facility in Europe as well as McLaren’s £50m Composites Technology Centre. The AMRC, which carries out world-leading research into advanced machining, manufacturing and materials, has more than 100 industrial partners, ranging from global giants to small companies.
It is working with those partners to help improve productivity, de-risk investment decisions, and accelerate the early adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies to improve performance and quality.
Ridgway said manufacturers are now beginning to understand what Industry 4.0 is and that adopting technology needn’t cost millions. He added: “They are starting to put sensors on their machines and realise it isn’t going to cost them £2m shot. The fear is being removed.”
However he believes there is still a way to go for that message to filter right down the supply chain.
Technologies such as 3D printing are also starting to be adopted – though he says “there’s a bit to go before we can make big parts from it.”
Meanwhile, interest in investing in Sheffield continues to grow as a result of the AMRC’s work, he says.
“People look at Boeing, McLaren and Rolls-Royce coming to Sheffield and they ask what is going on here. A number of other people are in very serious talks with the city region about moving facilities here.
“Some are businesses that would put stuff overseas. What we are saying to people is if they put a facility in Sheffield it makes financial and business sense, it is better than going to the Far East.”
Ridgway believes initiatives like the Industrial Strategy and the Northern Powerhouse are being affected by Brexit. He added: “It is all consumed by Brexit, no-one is making decisions on anything.”
Uncertainty is also affecting investment decisions, he believes, though the North’s manufacturers are “pushing on.”
Ridgway worked in industry before moving to academia in 1980. He joined the University of Sheffield as a lecturer in 1988, and became professor of design and manufacture in 1997. He worked with local businessman Adrian Allen to launch the AMRC with Boeing in 2001. In 2009, he helped launch the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.