As the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary, CEO Steve Foxley reflects on his first year in charge and sets out his vision for the future.
After such a frustrating 2020, companies across the manufacturing sector – large and small – inevitably view 2021 as an incredibly important year and one that needs a solid start. At the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) we are no different.
For us, there are no better foundations to build 2021 on, the year in which we celebrate our 20th anniversary, than the announcement last month that our founding partner, Boeing, are committed to working with us for another five years.
On paper, the renewed Tier 1 partnership extends Boeing’s access to the research and development capabilities of the AMRC until 2026. But it is far more than that. It is an incredible investment in the value of the AMRC’s R&D capabilities and sends out a strong signal of confidence in the region’s advanced manufacturing excellence, innovation and expertise.
Sir Martin Donnelly, president of Boeing Europe and managing director of Boeing in the UK and Ireland, said it best when he described the agreement as “demonstrating our commitment to Sheffield and showcases what we have jointly created in 20 years: jobs, innovation, inspiration and inward investment.”
More personally, the announcement from Boeing was especially poignant as it came exactly a year after I joined the AMRC and when I look back at what has been achieved in my first 12 months, I see both major success stories and more foundations.
In 2020 I was able to witness the incredible achievements of our engineers firsthand as we came to national attention producing life-saving medical ventilators, secured a major 5G Factory of the Future project in the North West, started work on a £2m Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre in Wales and agreed partnerships with construction giant Pagabo and data science experts The Alan Turing Institute.
The Food and Drink Packaging Sustainability Centre will have a central demonstrator based on a conveyor system, which will be linked together with cobots, AGVs and other advanced technologies. Image: AMRC Cymru
As important to me as those headline-grabbing successes last year, though, were others below the water line – building blocks for the months and years to come.
In 2020 we have brought stability, building strong relationships with our industrial partners and regional stakeholders. The AMRC now has a model that encourages more collaboration across groups and a clear vision which we call Chapter 2.
None of this work wins awards but has been critical to consolidate and create strength in our foundations. It means that now, as we mark 20 years of making things better, we can launch into 2021 with a clear focus of how we can continue to be the engine of change in manufacturing and the region.
The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to take stock, to ask difficult questions and redefine goals. The AMRC, like so many others, used 2020 to evaluate our position and seek out ways in which we could improve ourselves, our people and our processes.
In the last two decades the AMRC has built a reputation on being disruptive and always looking ahead and it is with those virtues in mind that we used 2020 as a reset button.
We have looked back to make sure we’ve captured the code of our success but the fabric of the AMRC is to innovate and to constantly improve. We don’t stop to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, we look to the future and for the next challenge.
The workshop floor of the AMRC Training Centre, in Catcliffe, Rotherham. Image: AMRC
For us, those challenges fit into core themes within manufacturing: sustainability, digital, supply chain resilience, future propulsion and levelling up. Those components are important for us because they are important for industry and the country.
So, what will 2021 bring? Last year taught us that you can never predict what is around the corner, but we do know that we start the year with strong foundations and a clear direction.
That relationship with Boeing, and indeed all our partners, will be vital as we work toward the government target of net zero by 2050. That objective is now less than 30 years away and with the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) being held in Glasgow later this year there will more pressure than ever for manufacturers to demonstrate how they are making significant change.
Alongside that, our teams of hugely talented engineers will continue to drive innovation and productivity, our model will remain a catalyst for inward investment, and the AMRC Training Centre’s production line of apprentices will still fuel the engine room of social mobility.
If our anniversary year is the beginning of our next chapter, then renewing our partnership with Boeing was the first page. I cannot wait to read on.