OPINION: Factory of the future

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This region’s ambitions to be recognised as the leading UK hub for advanced manufacturing have got a major boost at the start of 2014.

The City Region is to be the home of a pioneering new design of factory, which could be destined to become the model for state-of-the-art factories around the world.

And when it opens in 2015, Factory 2050, as it has been dubbed, will pay a key role in encouraging the brightest young people to become the manufacturing leaders of the future.

It will show Britain and this region at its best.

Its genesis is based on sound, painstaking research, which has revealed that the successful manufacturing businesses of tomorrow’s world will need to be more versatile than today’s.

They will no longer be dedicated to supplying one sector, but will be able to switch rapidly from one to another, moving machines and reconfiguring production lines.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is throwing its weight behind the project.

And one of Sheffield’s leading architectural practices Bond Bryan has come up with a stunning, glass walled design that will turn Factory 2050 into a visitor attraction.

A factory that attracts tourists? Not before time. We desperately need to show that engineering is clean, bright, innovative – and ‘sexy’ – if we are to close a looming skills gap.

If Factory 2050 has hundreds of children with their noses pressed up against its glass walls, then that is a major result.

There is one thing we haven’t mentioned. Inevitably this ground-breaking concept is the brainchild of Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, led by Professor Keith Ridgway.

From modest beginnings, Prof Ridgway and his team have turned the AMRC into a powerhouse of ingenuity, levering in expertise and giving birth to new developments that are crucial for the region’s manufacturing future.

At the start of a new year, we can do little better than raise a glass and say a heartfelt “thanks” for that.