An important step towards the truly smart factory has been made for UK manufacturing, with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) – part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – leading the way.

This past Monday (8th July), the AMRC opened the UK’s first R&D smart factory test bed, dedicated to helping UK manufacturing develop digital solutions. Officially opened by the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, the facility promises to drive innovation and productivity in companies across the sector. The overall aim of the initiative is to show the significant opportunities of applying digital technologies to manufacturing – increasingly at a level of 50% productivity benefit, 30% reduction in defects and 50% improved time to market.

Pictured: Virtual reality in action in the Smart Factory

Together with Factory 2050, this is part of a powerful collaboration between private sector organisations (led by Rolls-Royce and Accenture) and the AMRC to de-risk investment in the digital technologies. Such a project of de-risking lies at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy and Made Smarter initiative.

During a tour of the facility, Mr Clark and the Minister for Business and Industry, Andrew Stephenson, witnessed an innovative display of manufacturing solutions. From visual inspection linked to artificial intelligence to real time data streams from remote machining activities, the facility demonstrates the best of new technological developments. And with smart assembly using intelligent work benches, augmented reality and a reconfigurable factory cell, the future of manufacturing is here.

Secretary of State, Greg Clark, said:

“The facilities at this first Smart Factory Test Bed will be a real asset to [Sheffield] and the UK. Working with some of the UK strongest sectors – aerospace, automotive and pharmaceutical to provide insights into the future of digitally-connected manufacturing and showcasing how industry can use these technologies to transform productivity and performance

“This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, with Made Smarter working directly with businesses on the ground to provide advice and support. Through Made Smarter and the Made Smarter Commission we’re working with leading figures from industry and academia to boost productivity and create thousands of new highly skilled jobs.”

Pictured,: Secretary of State, Greg Clark, during his tour of the Smart Factory test bed

The founder and Executive Dean of the AMRC, Professor Keith Ridgway, said:

“This open access test bed shows the power of digital, the power of collaboration, and the power of the North to drive the new economy. Working closely with one of the UK’s most innovative companies, Rolls-Royce, and with the innovation leaders at Accenture, the AMRC has created a facility where manufacturing companies, from global brands like Airbus to family firms like Footprint Tools, can come to de-risk the development of digital solutions that will drive innovation across their businesses.”

Leaders of the private consortium are also clear on the transformational capacity of the facility. The Director of Global Manufacturing at Rolls-Royce Dr Hamid Mughal said:

“This test bed will provide an open, agnostic platform to explore, challenge, mature, exploit and ultimately accelerate transformational technologies in the wider UK Manufacturing base.”

Olly Benzecry, UK & Ireland Managing Director at Accenture said:

“This facility and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Funding will help accelerate a stronger industrial future for the UK. Investment such as this is crucial to help industry change how they conceive, design, engineer, manufacture and operate products and services with digital technology, what we call Industry X.0.”

The Smart Factory test bed has been built on representative cyber and physical environments and provides a robust open agnostic innovation framework to explore, challenge, mature and exploit these rapidly evolving technologies. Working with both large and small-scale technology companies, Industry can test and mature not only new technologies, but data strategies and new business models to promote common standards and interoperability.

Find out more about the Smart Factory test bed and other work by the AMRC here.