Milestone for world’s first digital factory

Posted on 12 Feb 2015 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Construction has begun on the UK's first fully-reconfigurable digital factory at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in collaboration with Boeing.

Factory 2050 will be the UK’s first totally reconfigurable, digital factory, built to respond to an increasing requirement for advanced manufacturers to be able to make rapid changes to product design, as a result of ever-changing customer demands. It is designed so that machines and manufacturing modules can easily be moved around the shop floor.

The structure will be the first building on a new Advanced Manufacturing Campus, which could see the University build up to a million square feet of new research facilities at Sheffield Business Park over the next 10 years.

The development also begins another step towards the development of the region’s recently announced Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District. This will be Europe’s largest research-led advanced manufacturing cluster, centred on the M1 corridor near Sheffield and Rotherham, and already home to the AMRC’s facilities at the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP).

Innovation Districts combine research institutions, innovative firms and business incubators with the benefits of urban living. Unlike traditional science parks, these districts cluster cutting-edge research in geographic areas that are liveable, walkable, bike-able, and transit connected.

Projected image of the Factory 2050's interior.
Projected image of the Factory 2050’s interior.

AMRC Executive Dean, Professor Keith Ridgway CBE, said: “We want Factory 2050 to be the most advanced factory in the world and part of our long-term development of high value manufacturing – an area where this region has an international lead.

“The development will ensure that the UK’s advanced manufacturing supply chain can tap into the expertise it needs to make the most of those trends. Factory 2050 has also been designed to make young people enthusiastic about following a career in advanced manufacturing.”

The University of Sheffield’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett said: “Factory 2050 will be world-leading in advanced manufacturing and build on our powerful partnerships with global companies and the high-tech supply chains which work with them.

“We are proud of the role we are playing in the UK economy. We believe that the UK has the talent and determination to build and export major high-value products to the world. Factory 2050 and the Innovation District will allow this to happen.

“We are also confident that we can help design and manufacture the transport, medical technologies and energy of the future here in the UK, and along the way create the skills and wealth which are central to the nation’s economy.

“The fact that companies such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Hitachi and Microsoft are involved in this activity speaks volumes for what has already been achieved and our ambitious vision for the next decade and beyond.”

Fitting out of both the Factory 2050’s research block and workshop is due to begin early in May, with completion of the whole project scheduled for the end of 2015. Once it is operating, Factory 2050 will employ 50 people, which could grow to more than 75. An even more significant number of jobs are expected to be created by companies wanting to locate nearby.