The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

View from the Advanced Manufacturing Park Research Centre

View from the Advanced Manufacturing Park Research Centre

On 10th December 2014 Stories of Change and Studio Future Works visited the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Park, Waverley, Rotherham near Sheffield.The site has fascinating links to the past, present and future of industry, energy and manufacturing.

This set of factories, now home to aerospace companies, machine tool developers, simulation software, computer, and firms working on nuclear power is located at the site of the Orgreave Colliery. It is also the place where the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ occurred, in 1984, during the UK miners’ strike.

The Battle of Orgreave was a confrontation between police and picketing miners at a British Steel coking plant. Miners were truncheoned over the head by police, and allegedly forced to make statements that portrayed the largely peaceful strike as a riot. Several of the miners subsequently spent time in prison on remand, fearing very long sentences, whilst awaiting trial. Michael Mansfield QC states: “Some never recovered from their injuries, some never recovered their jobs, families were scarred, and most saw their workplaces and communities decimated.” The artist Jeremy Deller re-staged the Battle of Orgreave in 2001 as an Artangel commission, deploying 800 historical re-enactors and 200 former miners who had been part of the original conflict.

100 acres of this very site have now been reclaimed as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Park. Although the Orgreave Colliery had a long history, very little of this former mining area is visible now. However the present and future relations of this site to industry and energy continue to be of great importance.

James Baldwin, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield and The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre welcomed us on a tour of the Park including the Research Centre, and Knowledge Transfer Centre, and the AMRC Training Centre for apprentices. James’ work focuses on the evolution of supply chains, in aerospace in particular. He explained that one of the major problems was that supply chains were becoming far too complex and far too risky. NASA term this problem the ‘technology readiness level’. Taking a technology from blue-skies-thinking through to production can be thought of as having 9 levels. Academia occupies levels 1,2, & 3 and industry, levels 7,8 & 9, which are production. The middle bits, 4, 5 & 6 are called, ‘the Valley of Death’. In order to address this, supply chain partners started to think about how to share out the risk. The AMRC then was conceived as placed in this Valley, as a catapult– encouraging the trajectory from the first three levels to the last. The risk is spread through the development of partnerships, between business and academia with government support.

This idea, which came initially from the AMRC working with metalwork SMEs in Sheffield has been taken forward by Rolls Royce who have developed Catapult Centres all over the UK and worldwide backed by the Technology Strategy Board. The chancellor announced an additional £20 million to Catapult Centres in his 2014 Autumn statement. There will also be further partnership work with the Northern Universities, with Manchester as the hub and Sheffield as one of the spokes.

The AMRC site has expanded rapidly, with an additional 8 new buildings on site in the last ten years and a new site being set up across the road to enable further expansion.

The latest of these developments is the Factory 2050, which will pioneer a new way of manufacturing: Reconfigurable Production Lines. Taking ideas of mass production, a product will go through then the production line will reconfigure and another product will go through. This is important because the UK manufacturing strategy is to go for high value low quantity production.

We were really fortunate to have had a tour of the Training Centre, led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable apprentices. This AMRC initiative was a recent Times Higher Education award winner in the Widening Participation Category. 250 apprentices, usually 16 years old, with 5 GCSEs go through the Centre each year, learning techniques and processes on site at the AMP appropriate to the particular South Yorkshire companies with which they are placed. This programme can be a pathway to degree and doctorate level studies, and also gives them a good grounding in cutting edge manufacturing processes.

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