Factory of the future plan for former Sheffield airport

Artist's impression of the glass-walled Factory 2050
Artist's impression of the glass-walled Factory 2050
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Sheffield’s former City Airport is set to be the site of one of the most advanced factories in the world.

Details of the landmark glass-walled ‘reconfigurable factory’ were revealed in The Star at the start of January.

At that time, a decision was still to be made on whether to site it on the site of the Advanced Manufacturing Park or Sheffield Business Park, across the Parkway from the AMP.

Now Sheffield University is set to submit a planning application to construct the 4,500 square metre factory on the former airport site within days.

The development, dubbed Factory 2050, is the brainchild of Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and has been designed by Sheffield architects Bond Bryan.

Initial plans were for a circular factory which could also include a square extension on one side, big enough for advanced manufacturing researchers to work on the wings of some of the world’s largest passenger aircraft.

It will be equipped with a range of advanced technologies including advanced robotics, flexible automation, unmanned workspaces, 3D printing of components and new programming and training tools.

Factory 2050 has already secured £10 million backing from the Higher Education Funding Council for England a further £10m is expected from the European Regional Development Fund.

Depending on planning permission, work could start in March and be completed by the middle of 2015.

AMRC research director Professor Keith Ridgway said: “The Sheffield City Region has already established itself as a major force in the advanced manufacturing sector and Factory 2050 is a vital step in taking us to the next level.

“The AMRC has enjoyed phenomenal success since it opened in 2004 and there simply isn’t enough space left on the current site to support the scale of development which will be necessary to meet demand in the coming years.”

The seeds for the factory were sown by a study which the AMRC carried out with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as part of the Government’s Foresight Programme

The study found factories of the future will be more varied than today and include reconfigurable units integrated with the changing requirements of supply chain partners.

Prof Keith Ridgway said the new reconfigurable factory has been designed so individual machines can be rapidly installed, removed and relocated and production lines switched about.

The idea is a factory that is making aerospace components one day could be producing automotive parts on another day and mass produced ‘personalised’ components the week after that.

The Foresight study also highlighted problems recruiting manufacturing leaders of the future and the hope is the glass walled reconfigurable factory will become a tourist attraction that will enthuse the brightest and the best to become engineers.