Unleashing Yorkshire’s manufacturing potential through robotics

Posted on 23 Jan 2015 by Jonny Williamson

Yorkshire manufacturers are being urged to embrace robotics and autonomous systems if they are going to make the most of new global opportunities and bring innovations to market.

The rallying call was made during a Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and Leeds Manufacturing Forum-backed visit to the University of Leeds’ new £4.3m EPSRC National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems.

More than 40 local manufacturers were given access to all areas in a bid to showcase the opportunities for collaboration with universities and how new technology – including one of the world’s largest multi-material 3D printers – can be used to develop products, introduce new processes or build larger components.

Delegates also got to hear from local companies who have already enjoyed the benefits of industry and academia working together, including RSL Steeper’s bionic hand and an exciting project to build a robot that can climb stairs to seek out bombs in buildings.

David Whiteley, manufacturing growth coach at MAS, commented: “Robotic and autonomous systems has been identified by the UK Government as one of the ‘eight great technologies’ that are revolutionising our lives, the economy and human society.

Intelligent Pneumatic Arm Movement (iPAM): A robotic system for delivering upper-limb exercise to people who have suffered a stroke.
Intelligent Pneumatic Arm Movement (iPAM): A robotic system for delivering upper-limb exercise to people who have suffered a stroke.

“We’ve got this outstanding facility on our doorstep in Leeds, yet not enough manufacturers are taking advantage of it and academia is struggling to engage with the right firms…. this is something we wanted to change with this visit.”

He continued: “Dr Robert Richardson, Centre director, gave a fascinating insight to the different programmes and support offered by the University, whilst companies could touch the machines, see how the processes work and ask expert questions. Hopefully, it has sparked a number of new collaborations.

“The EPSRC National Facility is very impressive. You’ve got additive manufacturing through one of the largest 3D printers in the UK and a laser micro-jet cutter to assist in subtractive manufacture. The assembly and testing capability is out of this world.”
Manufacturing bosses used the event to develop new contacts with the Centre’s multidisciplinary teams of engineers, scientists and clinicians with view to possible partnerships going forward.

They were also able to network with other innovative companies and learn more about funding opportunities that can make projects a reality.

LBBC Technologies’ managing director, Howard Pickard, who gave a presentation on how his company had been working with the University on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), added: “Being a local SME, it is important that we explore the opportunities the University of Leeds can offer us, using its expertise and facilities to further our product innovations.

“We identified the KTP initiative – run by Innovate UK – as the most effective form of collaboration and are nearing the end of a highly successful two and a half-year programme.

“The associate has brought a lot of expertise to our business, expertise we couldn’t have afforded to bring in ourselves and this has resulted in the development of new coating technology that will ensure our products remain globally competitive.”

Whiteley concluded: “We have a fantastic manufacturing base in Yorkshire and equally excellent academic facilities…however, the two don’t always get the best out of each other.”

“Our challenge is to match companies with the technology, machinery and knowledge of organisations like the EPSRC that can take their expertise to the next level.”

This visit is the latest in a calendar of activity put together by the Leeds Manufacturing Forum, a collection of senior level manufacturers from across the City.

Its aim is to support local industry to improve and grow, while also providing a platform from which they can influence policy and decisions that affect the sector.

The emphasis is on collaborative working, encouraging member firms to share best practice, network and innovate.