The professor who heads Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) takes Director on a guided tour of the world-class engineering facility.
The centre was set up in 2001 to focus on machining research. Our commercial director Adrian Allen and I started working with aerospace company Boeing to develop their supply chain, and they became our partners.
We now have nine buildings and 460 staff, and we are one of the biggest manufacturing technology research centres in the world. Over the last 14 years we have invested £180m on machine tools and facilities.
Our aim is to help companies become more competitive and earn more business. Big corporates such as Rolls-Royce or Boeing often have suppliers in place, so our goal is to help British firms gain that competitive edge, which in turn will help them win more orders.
Companies come to AMRC with the components they are making, or proposing to make, and we develop the best way to build that part in the shortest time and at the lowest cost. The relationships we have with businesses are ongoing.
Inside the research centre we have large, industrial-sized machine tools, which cost around £1.5m each. It is an exceptionally clean environment and very well organised – it’s also bright and cheerful.
A good working environment is about developing a great culture and working with young people who are not frightened of doing things that more experienced individuals might avoid. Sometimes ideas will fail and at other times they will be highly successful. This is a sandpit where we can all work together and try to produce a solution.
My role is focusing on strategic work regarding the development of the facility in the future, and how we can get funding. Most of my day is spent in meetings with large industrial companies talking about projects.
We train 250 apprentices a year. As we start to build a British supply chain we will need more skilled individuals. We are the only red-brick university with an apprentice training school and we get 40 applications for one place. Our plan is to invest in the training centre and double its size.
We’ve acquired funding to build Factory 2050, which will be finished by September 2015. It will be a 9,000 sq m, state-of-the-art factory made of glass. You’ll be able to reconfigure the inside of the factory within hours, switching from manufacturing an automotive part to making an aerospace part, for example, at the push of a button. We want children to come and look through the window – it’s about inspiring future talent.