Manufacturing centre can take on the world

Aerial view of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (left) and the AMRC Composites Centre (right)
Aerial view of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (left) and the AMRC Composites Centre (right)
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It was infamous as the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the miners’ strike – but now it is famous worldwide for its manufacturing research.

The former Orgreave Coking Plant site is today home to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre – a collection of new buildings and an enormous wind turbine just off the Parkway at Catcliffe – and dozens of the world’s best companies, including Boeing, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, pay handsomely to be a member.

Employees and Sheffield University staff collaborate in hi-tech workshops on research that could be worth millions to their industry.

One example – the AMRC reduced the time it takes to make aeroengine disks by half and, based on that process, Rolls Royce opened a factory in Washington, Tyne and Wear, in September creating more than 300 jobs.

The centre was established 12 years ago by Prof Keith Ridgway, of Sheffield University, owners of the AMRC, and local businessman Adrian Allen in partnership with Boeing.

Since then it has mushroomed and the site now includes a Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, run along the same lines, a composite centre, knowledge transfer centre and a ‘factory of the future’.

A £17.5m apprentice training centre is set to open in autumn followed by a design and prototyping centre.

But it doesn’t end there, for the AMRC has attracted a cluster of more than 40 companies keen to benefit from being close by.

The Advanced Manufacturing Park is growing rapidly and is set to include two and possibly three Rolls Royce factories in the near future with the first opening next year. All this development has sparked a house-building boom on the reclaimed former open cast pit nearby. Impressive in 12 years, but with huge swathes of empty land round about, the AMRC is set to grow for years to come.

The AMRC’s reputation is such that 10,000 people visit every year, from Boeing executives who jet in to Doncaster airport, to schoolchildren. The facilities include the landmark Rolls Royce Factory of the Future building which has a workshop, laboratory, office and conference space. The building was opened in 2008 and extended in 2012.

The AMRC Composite Centre is based in an extension to the original Factory of the Future, housing a general workshop and a controlled environment including high-spec clean rooms.

The original AMRC building, which opened in 2004, provides workshop space plus offices and meeting rooms. It also houses the Advanced Structural Testing Centre. It is now undergoing a significant redevelopment and expansion to create the new Design Prototype and Test Centre.

The AMRC has 22 ‘tier one’ partners who pay £200,000-a-year to make use of the facilities and expertise.

It has 48 ‘tier two’ partners paying £30,000-a-year. The six biggest are known as ‘crying babies’ because they seek all the attention and all the other partners look after them.

The centre is controlled by a board comprising people from tier one partners and three people from the University of Sheffield which owns the whole of the AMRC development.

Prof Keith Ridgway, AMRC executive dean, says his aim is to see the region fighting for mega contracts, including a slice of the new civil nuclear power developments, valued at £60bn, or the global renewables sector of the next generation of single aisle passenger aircraft.

The AMRC worked with British manufacturer Messier-Bugatti-Dowty to develop the landing gear for the Boeing Dreamliner.

Ultimately Prof Ridgway hopes to develop a big design and build capability in the Sheffield region, moving Sheffield away from its traditional image as part of the supply chain.