AMRC: the power of a dream

The cluster of global companies and their supply chains around the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre benefits not only Sheffield City Region but also the UK and the wider world, according to influential think-tank, the Centre for Cities.

By Ben Morgan, Head of AMRC Integrated Manufacturing Group
Monday, 10 June, 2019, 09:05
The AMRC works inrobotics, automation, augmented, virtual and mixed reality, and increasingly, the application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

The Parks and Innovation report, launched in London last month, found the AMRC’s work with Rolls- Royce de-risked a £100m investment in its North East fan disc plant, securing 300 high valued added jobs, while its work with Airbus in North Wales is helping to secure the future of wing production in the UK and 6,000 jobs in the region.

This means the AMRC, part of Sheffield University, is key to the transformation of the Sheffield City Region and the delivery of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

Ben Morgan, head of the AMRC Integrated Manufacturing Group.

Its research talents span the lifecycle of the manufacturing process, from design, prototyping and testing to a panoply of technologies, with expertise in machining and grinding, composites, weaving and lightweight materials, casting, welding, assembly, robotics, automation, augmented, virtual and mixed reality, and increasingly, the application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

The AMRC is now part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. In support of its mission to drive big improvements in UK productivity, the AMRC is expanding into the North West alongside longstanding partner BAE Systems, and in North Wales with the support of the Welsh Government and Airbus, to use our R&D skills to develop smarter methods of wing production.

Our sister organisation, the Nuclear AMRC, is also expanding, this time in Derby, where it will support advanced manufacturing in a region already rich in industrial innovation.  

The most recent, and perhaps most transformative investment decision, is the £22m announcement that the UK Atomic Energy Authority is bringing key parts of its fusion energy research up from the ‘Golden Triangle’ around Oxford to Rotherham.

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The UKAEA sees the R&D and supply chain capabilities of the Nuclear AMRC as vital to the next stage of nuclear fusion’s development.

This is cutting-edge energy research, critical to tackling the climate change and productivity challenges. Three decades since the death of deep mined coal, South Yorkshire could again become the primary source of the UK’s electricity; only this time it will be a limitless supply of green energy. How’s that for a dream come true?

So, how did we get here? Two decades ago, the AMRC’s founders, Prof Keith Ridgway and entrepreneur Adrian Allen pulled off a dual carriageway into Sheffield for a call of nature.

In front of them was a barren, brownfield site that had once been home to the Orgreave coking plant and scene of one of the most violent confrontations in modern British industrial relations: the Battle of Orgreave.

Prof Keith Ridgway is one of the AMRC founders

They liked what they saw. Not only was the location good, close to the motorway; but the price of the land was even better (it was being given away).

All the two men needed for their dream of a South Yorkshire Centre of Excellence in engineering, was a manufacturer and funding from the Treasury.

What they got was a founding partner in Boeing and funding to build their first facility from the then science minister, Lord Sainsbury.

Two decades on, a measure of their success is that land valued at £1 an acre when the site was bought is on the market today for close to £750,000 an acre.

The principles underlying their business strategy played to the region’s historic R&D strengths in the cutting and machining of metals.

The embryonic AMRC knew how to cut aluminium faster than anyone because they knew how to tune machine tools. This approach continues to this day, with our R&D helping Boeing make gears in 3.5 minutes in Sheffield which would take 135 minutes to make using traditional methods.