Steve Foxley, CEO at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), reflects on the facility’s journey since it was established two decades ago, and how the area has grown to become the manufacturing hub it is today.
Twenty years ago when the AMRC was born, a drive into Sheffield along the Parkway – a road that connects the city to the M1 and the rest of the country – was dominated by views of scarred land, deindustrialisation and decline. In the years before, the dilapidated slag heaps of the old Orgreave colliery conquered the landscape with a sprawling mass of coke ovens and smoking chimneys which were eventually extinguished in 1990, costing 500 people their jobs.
To make that same journey today is to recognise a truly remarkable transformation. The scorched earth has been replaced with the futuristic factories of the hugely successful 150-acre Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) surrounded by the expanding Waverley residential development next door with its new homes, school, supermarket and shops.
At its centre – the magnet for this investment, regeneration and prosperity – sit the world-class research facilities of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and our sister centre Nuclear AMRC.
Over 20 years the AMRC (joined 10 years ago by Nuclear AMRC), has moved Orgreave from a site of industrial confrontation, where miners and police clashed in one of the most bitter disputes in modern history, to a place of industrial collaboration and home to more than 100 companies, employing 2,500 highly skilled workers across the manufacturing park.
They have been drawn in by the AMRC’s hub of engineering excellence leading the way in cutting-edge innovation; they have been stirred by our model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide; and they have been inspired by the pipeline of talent produced by the AMRC Training Centre where 1,500 apprentices have been equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to become talented engineers.
It means the men who mined Orgreave in the last century can see their grandchildren continue the area’s proud manufacturing heritage by working on the very same land. But where past generations clawed coal from the ground to power blast furnaces for steel, this generation of engineers are leading the charge to deliver digital transformation, step-changes in productivity and low carbon energy solutions for the global giants who have set up home on the AMP such as Boeing, McLaren and Rolls-Royce.
It is incredible to think all this stemmed from two visionary people, Adrian Allen and Professor Keith Ridgway and and their small group of committed engineers in 2001.
Adrian and Keith would be the first to admit they could not have done it without the support of founding partner Boeing, the University of Sheffield and Technicut. But it is without doubt that a thread running through our 20 years has been the hundreds of passionate AMRC employees who have been part of our story, built our capability, deepened the impact and served to create something special.
It was in the building called AMRC 1, the first on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, that Adrian, Keith and a handful of others worked with Messier-Bugatti-Dowty to develop an innovative machining strategy for making titanium landing gear components for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, reducing the time taken to machine the components by a factor of 18 and tooling costs by 30%.
Just a year later, in the same building, Titanium 6-4 pintles, the bolt around which the landing gear rotates, for the Airbus A380 were machined in 19 hours using the AMRC’s machining strategies, compared to the original time of 145 hours.
In 2012, across the car park in the Factory of the Future, a team worked with Rolls-Royce to reduce the time it takes to manufacture aero-engine discs by 50%, then in 2020 another team proved out the mass manufacture of key ventilator components after a plea for help from the Prime Minister during the COVID-19 pandemic. And five years ago, our Integrated Manufacturing Group saved BAE Systems millions of pounds in capital and operational costs by developing the robotic countersinking prototype cell at Factory 2050, barely a year after the futuristic building opened its doors.
It is these projects, alongside countless others helping global giants and small supply chain manufacturers alike, upon which the AMRC and the wider university has built 20 years of success.
And that success is no longer confined to South Yorkshire. As a part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the AMRC footprint has expanded beyond the Sheffield City Region, helping other manufacturing communities access advanced technologies that will drive improvements in productivity, performance and quality. The AMRC model for collaborative research is now in North Wales with AMRC Cymru and in Lancashire with AMRC North West, which moves into a purpose-built £20m facility later this year.
That national impact is becoming a trademark of the AMRC, Nuclear AMRC and our fellow High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres. Together we are a powerful illustration that with the right vision, the correct leadership and enough funds, technologies can be advanced, talent developed, communities created and landscapes transformed.
The drive into Sheffield has never been so inspiring.
All images courtesy of Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre