£1m project to drive UK manufacturers competitiveness

Posted on 30 Apr 2017 by Jonny Williamson

The University of Huddersfield has partnered with leading engineering companies and research institutes for a £1m project that aims to bring about massive improvements in the competitiveness and efficiency for UK manufacturers.

CNC Machine Metal Machinery Stock - image courtesy of Pixabay.
Advanced technology is often beyond the investment levels of many SMEs – image courtesy of Pixabay.

The goal is to extend the principle of servitization – a switch in focus from products to instead build revenue through services – to firms that use CNC machinery for precision-engineered products.

This means that a manufacturer does not – in the conventional way – simply buy a machine tool which it then adapts, operates and maintains. Instead, it purchases the capacity to manufacture its products and the servitization provider retains responsibility for the machinery and its smooth running.

Servitization is well established in some areas. Twenty years ago, Rolls-Royce began selling its aircraft engines as a service – or outcome – rather than a product, what it termed ‘power by the hour’. Xerox is another example, having transitioned to offering document management systems, rather than printers and photocopiers.

The complexity and varied use of CNC machinery and the requirement for high-level accuracy means that servitization in the advanced manufacturing sector is a challenge. Yet, it would provide access to reliable advanced manufacturing equipment without the burden of maintaining it – particularly appealing to SMEs for whom advanced technology is often beyond their investment levels.

The challenge is now being met by an Innovate UK-funded project in which the companies Machine Tool Technologies (MTT) and Newburgh Precision join forces with the University of Huddersfield, plus Cranfield University and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to introduce an innovative business model that reportedly aims to create a step change in competitiveness for UK manufacturers.

The University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Precision Technologies (CPT) has world-leading expertise in the use of metrology and digital technology for ensuring the accuracy of machine tools, leading to big efficiency gains for UK manufacturers.  The CPT’s principal enterprise fellow, Dr Andrew Longstaff, is heading its contribution to the new servitization project.

The University’s Dr Andrew Longstaff (L) pictured with Machine Tool Technologies’s director, Peter Willoughby.
The University’s Dr Andrew Longstaff (L) pictured with Machine Tool Technologies’s director, Peter Willoughby.

It launches in April 2017 and is due to conclude in 2019. Innovate UK has awarded some £783,511 to the project.

Dr Longstaff explained: “The initial idea came from MTT, the lead partner. They had been talking to one of their customers, who said they don’t want to buy machine tools, they just want to be able to make things.  So MTT talked to us and to Cranfield University, which has expertise in servitization business models.

“By pursuing the servitization model, business can engage in ‘agile manufacturing’ – buying the right machine tool package for the right machine tool application for the specific project; then switching out for the next scenario.  Productivity and quality will be increased,” continued Dr Longstaff.  He added that the CPT’s areas of expertise meant that it was ideally equipped for the research.

The University has been the base for the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Advanced Metrology and was recently announced as the lead partner in a £30m Future Metrology Hub.

The technology that is being developed at Huddersfield will aid a shift from “reactive maintenance”.  Sensors would enable servitization providers to predict when a machine was about to fail or go out of tolerance and the issue could be dealt with proactively.

Dr Longstaff has a Fellowship, part-funded by Innovate UK, to work with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC), based near Rotherham, and it too is a partner in the new servitization project.

Over the next two years, the five partners are expected to work closely together, with the goal being to provide an innovative business model which servitizes the use of CNC machinery and provides the technical and analytical tools to be able to do so. The project supports the basic manufacturing infrastructure and therefore is applicable to sectors where precision machining is required, such as aerospace, automotive, power generation, and medical.

The team will also investigate how the model can be structured so that it can later be expanded to include other, emerging manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing and nano-manufacturing, helping to drive the growth of UK manufacturing in our modern, digital world. A successful outcome means that UK manufacturers would gain access to advanced machines, better return-on-investment and increased productivity from legacy and future machine fleets.