Sensor City: putting the UK on the map for sensor-related tech

Sensors are the vital link between technological devices and the world around them, capable of capturing data on everything from our heart rates and footsteps through to the temperatures and pressures in a nuclear reactor. Alison Mitchell shines a spotlight on Liverpool's global collaboration hub - Sensor City.

- Image courtesy of Sensor City
Liverpool’s Sensor City is a world-class innovation hub and centre of excellence devoted to the technologies of sensing.

They are used in everything from smartphones to health technology and high-value manufacturing – in fact, it’s hard to think of any industry today that doesn’t use sensors and sensor technology.

Within manufacturing, the growth in sensors is linked to increasing adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0.

Deploying smart sensors on factory machinery means that problems – or predicted problems – can be proactively identified and dealt with automatically, even down to component level, minimising downtime and boosting productivity.

Other game-changing applications, such as 3D printing allow rapid prototyping and testing, and can accelerate the time it takes to bring new products to market.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are giving context to the data captured by sensors and opening up even greater opportunities to optimise manufacturing operations.

This article first appeared in the October issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Visit Sensor City!

Registered Smart Factory Expo visitors have the unique opportunity to visit Liverpool City Region manufacturers and innovation hubs for FREE. Tours will be taking place Tuesday 14 November and Friday 17 November (the day’s immediately preceding and following the Expo).

Registration opens Monday 16 October and places are offered on a first come, first serve basis, so ensure you are registered for Smart Factory Expo at the earliest opportunity as those registered have first refusal and the best chance of securing a place.

 Sensor City is one of the tours available. Delegates will be able to see first-hand how sensor technologies are facilitating the Fourth Industrial Revolution and will hear from like-minded professionals and companies how sensor technologies have improved products, processes and efficiencies.

To find out more, please contact:

elizabeth.beattie@sensorcity.co.uk

Flagship collaboration

While big businesses are already embracing emerging technologies and production methods as they evolve towards Industry 4.0, it’s widely acknowledged that the UK simply does not have enough small companies developing these next-generation ideas and products – this is where Sensor City comes in.

Backed by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Sensor City is a joint venture between Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool, and is one of four University Enterprise Zones (UEZs) in the country.

UEZs were set up by the former coalition government to drive the interaction between industry and academia to increase innovation.

What’s inside Sensor City?

Software laboratory – Provides access to high-resolution graphics and printing, CAD/CAM software, as well as electronic, mechanical, optical and software design suites.

Mechanical laboratory – Provides everything needed to make that first prototype. CNC machining tools, 3D printing and laser-cutting facilities are manned by highly trained technical support.

Optical laboratory – Allows the development and testing of optical sensors, with access to optical benches, spectrum analyser, high-speed camera, keyence microscope and calibration light sources.

Electronics laboratory – Includes facilities to print circuit boards onto 3D objects – the only one in the UK outside of car factories. The electronics lab also offers support for the design of novel sensors via highly skilled technicians.

Global hub

By establishing a global innovation hub that enables more small businesses to develop and explore sensor technologies, our vision is to make the UK a world leader in the field.

Sensor City’s equipment helps companies develop, design and test innovative sensors for the demands of modern manufacturers.
Sensor City’s equipment helps companies develop, design and test innovative sensors for the demands of modern manufacturers.

We have already set about making this vision a reality from our purpose-built facility at the gateway to the Knowledge Quarter Liverpool (KQ Liverpool), which lies within the UK’s largest manufacturing economy.

Since we opened our doors in July, we have been providing budding entrepreneurs, start-ups, established companies and SMEs with the specialist facilities, equipment, business support and expert engineering input required to develop sensor-related applications for a variety of sectors, including manufacturing.

Unique facilities

At Sensor City, innovators can design, build, test and develop their novel concepts into prototypes with speed and accuracy, all under one roof. In so doing, they can save time and money – valuable commodities to early-stage businesses and SMEs – and accelerate the pace of innovation by eliminating the risk of lengthy delays caused by, say, sending circuit boards to Europe to be tested.

Our laboratories and workshops are some of the most sophisticated for sensor and IoT technology in the UK. Equipment on-site includes a £250,000 machine that produces curved printed circuit boards – the only one of its kind in the UK in public hands.

The equipment available gives companies the ability to develop, design and test innovative sensor and IoT products suitable for the demands of modern industry.

Sense of community

But the benefits of Sensor City extend above and beyond the physical space and equipment that we offer. We are equally committed to building a community of like-minded businesses that can collaborate and thrive.

Intrinsic to this is access to business support and academic expertise – ranging from computational science through to nuclear physics – that supports the commercialisation of great ideas into amazing innovations and products.

We also work with our university partners to develop a pipeline of talented graduates with skills in sensor-related disciplines at undergraduate, graduate and PhD level.


Alison Mitchell – Executive Director, Sensor City, Liverpool’s global innovation hub

Case Study: Real Space 

Real Space is developing a ‘Single Reality’ optical headset that tricks the brain of the wearer into adding depth of field to a 2D image or video, which has potential benefits to many aspects of manufacturing.

Through the LCR 4.0 programme, Sensor City worked with Real Space to develop a design and aesthetic for the start-up’s working concept that could lead to a ‘market ready’ design for a variety of possible industries. The design will also be tested and calibrated in Sensor City’s optics lab later in the development process.

Real Space has benefited from LCR 4.0 and Sensor City’s academic/industrial collaboration and the latest technology within the Sensor City labs. Design skills offered by LCR 4.0 have provided Real Space with vital CAD, which the start-up expects will be a valuable asset for them to leverage additional funding. To find out more about Real Space, visit: www.real-space.uk