AMRC North West is driving Lancashire’s low-carbon transition after securing £2.5m to deliver a UK first that will help manufacturers slash their emissions by retrofitting digital technologies onto legacy shop floors.
The Low Carbon Smart Building Demonstrator project, supported by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) through the government’s Getting Building Fund (GBF), will create a road map for manufacturers of all sizes that will enable them to cut the carbon footprint of older facilities and achieve net zero by 2050.
“There is nothing like this available in the UK,” said Ben Smith, low carbon building specialist at AMRC North West. “I have yet to see a facility that has such a broad spectrum of digital technologies on display at one time and all of it being aligned to reducing a facility’s carbon footprint.
“It’s not about telling manufacturers to buy the latest equipment to reduce their emissions, but rather demonstrating how they can make their existing infrastructure greener and more efficient by retrofitting digital technologies.”
AMRC North West sits at the heart of the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone in Preston and has been built using a £20m grant from the LEP Growth Deal. It officially opened in March 2022 and is the newest facility in the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)’s cluster of research and development innovation centres. Commercial director, Melissa Conlon, says the £2.5m grant will transform AMRC North West into a ‘living and breathing’ demonstrator and the project will be a flagship programme of interest to anyone with a building looking to lower their cost of ownership and reduce carbon emissions.
The building will be equipped with a suite of smart factory technologies including: building management systems (BMS) that integrate with machines; occupancy and asset tracking to ensure shop floor space is being best used; manufacturing execution systems to improve productivity; environmental sensors to understand how efficiency can be affected by changes in temperature; digital work instructions using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets; and novel renewable energy sources and energy storage for manufacturing facilities.
Melissa said: “The manufacturing sector knows it needs to reduce its carbon emissions if the UK is to reach the target of net zero by 2050, but there is very little knowledge for manufacturers about how the industry as a whole can become more sustainable. We will plug that gap.
“There are more than 3,000 manufacturing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Lancashire so we have a real opportunity to make a significant difference to help the manufacturing industry become low carbon using digital technologies. In this, Lancashire can lead the UK and our manufacturers to be an exemplar for the rest of the sector.”
Debbie Francis OBE, chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: ”I am delighted the AMRC has secured funding for this project. By working closely with our partners, we have successfully secured a total of £34.1m from the Getting Building Fund for investment in quality projects which will drive economic recovery and create jobs.
“This scheme will enable Lancashire manufacturing businesses to adopt more energy efficient operations through the use of new low-carbon technologies, which will reduce costs and improve their competitiveness. The project will enhance the existing AMRC offer on the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone and will have a significant impact on the capabilities of our manufacturers, ensuring they are positioned to drive growth, increase productivity and remain at the forefront of innovative and cutting-edge technologies.”
Ben says the project has funding to work with 120 SMEs and 20 large companies in the region over the next three years.
He said: “The first stage is educating manufacturers about why carbon footprint matters and why they need to care about sustainability. Then, we want to support them through lean manufacturing processes and principles; we recognise that a lot of smart factory technologies will be outside the reach of many companies, so we’re creating that profit margin by helping them embed lean methodologies.
“The proviso is that the bottom line is used to invest in low-carbon technologies, because that is what will give manufacturers the sustainable business model going forward.
“The final step is throwing open the doors to AMRC North West as an open-access demonstrator with a full range of smart factory technologies so we can showcase different solutions. The smart factory will give us an incredible amount of data to measure and analyse; that means we can make informed decisions on how to cut AMRC North West’s own carbon footprint and provide our customers with detailed recommendations for their specific use case.”
The technologies are being supplied by four companies: Vodafone, PTC, Control 2K and IoT Horizon. Vodafone is a market leader for IoT and smart factory technologies and is supplying solutions; Control 2K is providing similar solutions on a smaller budget; IoT Horizon is delivering affordable versions of the occupancy and asset tracking technology; and PTC will deploy its Vuforia augmented reality software and industrial IoT software platform ThingWorx to share best practice and connect more than 35 machines at the facility.
“We intentionally approached this in a holistic, almost scattergun, way,” said Ben. “We are installing both the highest-performing solutions on the market alongside solutions that could be 20% of the cost. That means we can demonstrate the entire range of technologies available to manufacturers, help them choose which one is right for them and then support the implementation.”
Vodafone is at the forefront of 5G technology and plans to link its technologies to AMRC North West’s existing 5G network. The facility is also the primary site for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) funded 5G Factory of the Future programme, giving Lancashire manufacturers a prime opportunity to harness the potential of 5G on their journey toward decarbonisation.
The Getting Building Fund (GBF) is a £900m investment to deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country, targeted in areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic. It is supporting the delivery of shovel-ready infrastructure projects, agreed with mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships to boost economic growth, and fuel local recovery and jobs.