The cluster of tech-driven global brands growing up around the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) was identified by the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz in 2015 as “an innovation district unlike any other - the Mayfair of manufacturing”.
Four years on, the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District is home to Boeing’s European production facility, Rolls-Royce’s “Factory of the Future” and McLaren Automotive who are “re-shoring” from Austria to build supercar bodies here in the North of England.
All are drawn to Sheffield’s R&D assets covering the full suite of industrial digitalisation tech, from immersive AR and VR, to artificial intelligence, machine learning, simulation, composites, additive manufacturing and “digital twins”.
Boeing Sheffield’s £40m factory, which opened in 2018, has a fully digitally-enabled backbone that heralds the future of manufacturing. Before Boeing Sheffield opened its doors, the AMRC developed virtual production system models that allowed Boeing to optimise space, materials and machinery, and showed how the plant could increase productivity by 50%.
Blanketed with location-tracking technology, the factory integrates location-aware tooling, parts and components with multiple systems to enable a digital thread across the factory and extending to the supply chain. This, together with performance data collected from automation, creates a digital twin of the factory which models the entire production system from goods-in to goods-out, and is the company’s Industry 4.0 exemplar.
Elements Technology represent a new breed of local digital tech startups that are looking at the manufacturing industries and identifying areas where digital tools and techniques can make a transformative difference, by addressing pain-points with the right interfaces and data architectures.
Their software automates many of the processes that in many small and medium sized manufacturing businesses are still done by hand or with outdated, cumbersome IT.
There is now a rapidly expanding cohort of startups being born of this interaction between digital technologists and more traditional local engineering and manufacturing businesses, as mutual understanding of the challenges and opportunities increases on both sides.
Founded in 2001, the University of Sheffield AMRC Group has close relationships with global digital transformation firms such as Siemens, PTC, Dassault Systemes, Autodesk, Accenture and IBM, and a manufacturing membership that includes the world’s leading players in aerospace, defence, space, high performance automotive and energy sectors. This creates a fertile collaborative climate for the development and adoption of industrial digitalisation technologies, along with a network of digital champions who disseminate these processes across the membership base.
Core to this mission is Factory 2050, the UK’s first state-of-the-art facility entirely dedicated to conducting collaborative research into reconfigurable robotics, digitally assisted assembly and machining technologies in a factory setting.
Recently acquired by Siemens PLM Software, Lightwork Design specialises in developing software for 3D rendering and virtual reality (VR) experiences. By incorporating Lightworks’ technology, Siemens is able to provide enhanced 3D data visualisation, high-end rendering and VR capabilities via its comprehensive suite of 3D product lifecycle management (PLM) applications.
This will increase the accuracy of “digital twins” by adding critical visualisation information to the virtual product: through the entire product lifecycle from initial design prototyping and engineering, via collaborative design reviews, to simulation and testing. Using more realistic imagery, simulated physics and immersive environments helps customers identify and address potential problems very early in the life-cycle.
Working alongside software architects at the University of Sheffield AMRC, and an Italian visual inspection system manufacturer, software development agency Razor have developed Artificial Intelligence solutions that are set to make a massive breakthrough in the inspection of critical aerospace components for a global OEM, delivering inspection rates up to 4,000 times faster than traditional methods.
One of a growing number of pioneering digital SMEs in Sheffield who understand the potential of “digital meets manufacturing”, Razor are now engaged in several major projects that will transform industrial processes over the coming years. Building a relationship with the digital team at the University of Sheffield's AMRC has opened the door for Razor to grow its reputation within the industry, which has been crucial for encouraging further innovation and collaboration.