A £15m funding deal, bridging the gap between university-based research and innovative manufacturing solutions, was struck during Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show.
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority today approved an eight-figure sum from its Strategic Investment Fund to enable research and technology organisation, The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), to expand its facilities.
The £15m deal – agreed by handshake between MTC chief executive Clive Hickman and Frank Rogers, chief executive of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority – was ratified at the Smart Factory Expo held at Exhibition Centre in Liverpool.
The new contract coincides with The Manufacturer’s official launch of Smart Factory Expo during Digital Manufacturing Week, celebrating the very best people and technology working in the industry.
MTC chief executive, Clive Hickman (red tie) and Frank Rogers, chief executive of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
The investment will give rise to an open-access Digital Manufacturing Accelerator developed by MTC, combing two key assets – a ‘Rapidly Reconfigurable Factory Environment’, or more specifically a digitally-enabled Factory in a Box test bed at the Liverpool Science Park, and a ‘Digital Factory Environment’ at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) at Daresbury in Halton.
Both facilities allow manufacturing companies to test and develop their process and systems and use digital technology to boost productivity.
MTC is part of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK. It was conceived to essentially prove innovative manufacturing processes and technologies in an agile environment in partnership with industry and academia.
Charlie Whitford, associate director for strategic development at MTC, said he was confident the new deal would create many jobs for the region.
MTC’s innovative Factory in a Box at SFE in Liverpool
MTC’s innovative Factory in a Box concept became the focal point for the launch of the funding deal at the Smart Factory Expo. MTC chief executive Clive Hickman said the facility had been brought over to Liverpool from Coventry where MTC is also based and assembled to working order in just 24 hours. He said the quick turnaround would mean “big things” for other areas of manufacturing where such a facility is required.
“The team have done a great job. For us, digital manufacturing is so important because it is going to be part of our future. We can ship this facility anywhere in the world and we can manage it from the UK and repatriate the profits back here too,” he said.
“The facility can be adapted for any manufacturing requirement and because we have room to make mistakes digitally, we can guarantee making the product right first time. We have in the UK a chance to leapfrog the competition and in order to achieve that we need government and business to work in tandem.
“We are particularly supportive of SMEs that might be reluctant or think the service is too expensive, but that’s not the case. SMEs are 50% of our customer base,” he added.
“This project is a unique opportunity to upskill and connect regional technology providers and supply chain, providing the ecosystem required to rapidly commercialise product research and development” – Charlie Whitford
MTC also provides an environment for the development and demonstration of new technologies on an industrial scale, supporting skills, productivity and growth across the industry.
“The Liverpool City Region is already a hotbed of advanced manufacturing activity and we are leading the way, nationally and internationally,” said Liverpool Metro mayor, Steve Rotheram.
“The funding will have the twin benefits of delivering solutions for established industries whilst also providing a space in which innovative and responsive SMEs can develop. Being able to support facilities like this, which will drive the city region’s economic fortunes, is one of the main reasons we are so keen to take more decisions locally.”
Associate director for strategic development at MTC, Charlie Whitford, added: “This project is a unique opportunity to upskill and connect regional technology providers and supply chain, providing the ecosystem required to rapidly commercialise product research and development. We are also excited to be providing the region’s industrial base with a reduced risk, cost-effective environment to test and incorporate manufacturing platforms of the future, opening new global market opportunities.”
Smart Factory Expo is running from 13-14 November.
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By Rory Butler, Staff Journalist