How Sheffield’s future is being built

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It would be the culmination of a journey from the infamous Battle of Orgreave to a globally-renowned centre of advanced manufacturing research and production.

Two hi-tech companies are in talks about building factories on the Rotherham-Sheffield border and, if the deals go ahead, it would be the crowning achievement of a vision built on Sheffield’s steel heritage, brains and boundless ambition.

The AMRC and the Advanced Manufacturing Park from the air

The AMRC and the Advanced Manufacturing Park from the air

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High-tech Sheffield factories will create hundreds of jobs

The closure of the coking works and a big clean up sparked plans to redevelop the huge site by the University of Sheffield.

Some 15 years ago, lecturer Keith Ridgway and businessman Adrian Allen established the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in partnership with Boeing to research new manufacturing techniques for aircraft parts.

Professor Keith Ridgway CBE. Picture Shaun Flannery/shaunflanneryphotography.com

Professor Keith Ridgway CBE. Picture Shaun Flannery/shaunflanneryphotography.com

Since then it has exploded into life with university research buildings surrounded by 100 hi-tech companies that are forging a worldwide reputation for advanced manufacturing.

The AMRC employs 500 highly qualified researchers and engineers and specialises in machining, prototyping, welding, composites and other futuristic work.

Today, 23 giant firms - including Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus - pay out £200,000-a-year for research. There are also 63 tier two partners, who pay £30,000 for access to results.

The most recent signing was William Cook, a Sheffield-based firm which has won £100million of orders for tracks for British Army armoured vehicles in the last six months.

An AMRC Training Centre for apprentices opened three years ago. It trains 600 youngsters who all have jobs with local firms.

Last year, Rolls-Royce opened a £110million turbine blade casting factory nearby which is set to hit full production following the firm’s £4billion joint deal with Airbus, for planes and engines, from Indonesian airline Garuda.

The Advanced Manufacturing Park is also home to firms such as Xeros, makers of the ‘waterless’ washing machine, Icetope which has developed a liquid cooling system for data centres and Fripp Design which has just received a patent for 3D printing with medical grade silicon. In the not too distant future, it will be knocking out replica noses, ears and breasts from patient scans.

Metalysis is the latest arrival. The firm has pioneered a new method of creating titanium and other hi-tech metals and has attracted £20million funding.

The Nuclear AMRC is working with all eight firms developing small modular nuclear reactors in the UK. The market worldwide is valued at £400billion, presenting an incredible opportunity.

Meanwhile, some 450 homes have been built alongside, on the vast reclaimed site, called Waverley, with plans for 300 more in the next two years. A total of 4,000 are set to be built, as well as shops, flats and a medical centre.

On the other side of the Parkway, plans for a second university research cluster are underway on the former Sheffield City Airport site.

Already up and running is the £43m Factory of the Future, another University of Sheffield enterprise, which can be reconfigured to handle a huge range of tasks.

Following that come plans for an AMRC2 – seven large buildings set to create more than 1,800 jobs. The development could contribute up to £74.2m annually to the local economy, the plans state.

Following a visit by American business guru Bruce Katz, a former adviser to President Obama, the area is being marketed as an Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District – a place where people live and work and feed off each other’s enthusiasm - and Europe’s largest research-led cluster of businesses and research facilities.

The ultimate ambition is to attract big manufacturers who invest millions of pounds and create hundreds of jobs, such as civil nuclear, global renewables or the next generation of single aisle passenger aircraft.

That would be a fitting legacy for Sheffield’s proud manufacturing heritage.