Leaders from industry, academia and government unite to break ground on South Yorkshire’s aerospace manufacturing innovation facility

15 November 2023

Industry, academia and government leaders gathered in Sheffield today (November 15, 2023) to break ground for a University of Sheffield AMRC innovation facility and research project led by global aerospace company Boeing, which will put South Yorkshire at the forefront of UK aerospace manufacturing.

The Composites at Speed and Scale (COMPASS) research facility will house the Boeing-led Isothermic High-Rate Sustainable Structures (IHSS) project dedicated to developing and testing new technologies needed to meet future demand for lighter commercial aircraft and help the aviation industry’s commitment reach net zero by 2050.

The combined £80 million COMPASS facility and IHSS project, announced earlier this year in partnership with Loop Technology and Spirit AeroSystems, is jointly-funded by industry, key stakeholders and the UK Government’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme; a partnership between Department for Business and Trade, ATI and Innovate UK.

The undertaking will initially create around 50 jobs in South Yorkshire and, based on forecasted aircraft demand, has the potential to create up to three thousand UK jobs long-term, and around £2 billion annually in export opportunities.

Steve Foxley, chief executive officer of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), said: “Today is a very important moment for the AMRC, our partners, funders and the region as we mark the first steps to build our Composites at Speed and Scale (COMPASS) facility and deliver on a vision to put South Yorkshire at the forefront of UK aerospace and composites manufacturing research and development.”

He added: “COMPASS shows that collaboration really is the cornerstone of innovation, bringing together the strengths of industry, academia and government to develop production technologies that currently do not exist and turn them into future capabilities that can enable lighter aircraft and more sustainable flight.

“The facility, and the research that will take place there, provides an exciting opportunity to unlock the economic potential of South Yorkshire, by creating high-skilled jobs, attracting regional investments and adopting world-class technologies to deliver a step-change for advanced manufacturing research in the UK.”

Maria Laine, president of Boeing in the UK, Ireland and Nordic region, said: “Boeing is firmly committed to investing in innovations that help meet future demand for commercial air travel, while also supporting decarbonisation efforts. By harnessing the collective strengths of our local partners alongside the expertise and quality found in the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector, this project will turn ideas into real-world innovations, benefitting the region and also the global aerospace industry.”

The £80m investment includes a £29.5m grant from the UK Government’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme for the latest, state-of-the-art equipment for the broader benefit of aerospace and other industries; and £20m for the building backed by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA), Sheffield City Council, University of Sheffield and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. 

“The ATI is delighted to see progress on the new COMPASS facility,” said Gary Elliott, chief executive of the Aerospace Technology Institute. “We are proud of our £29.5m commitment to AMRC and Boeing’s research programme, which will support aerospace companies to develop cutting-edge composite technologies, anchor manufacturing in the UK, and provide open-access facilities for the sector. This is a transformative investment in both the UK’s world-class aerospace sector and South Yorkshire’s aerospace cluster.”

Professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “We are excited to break ground on the new COMPASS building, which will put South Yorkshire at the forefront of UK aerospace manufacturing. The facility is very important for our region. Not only will it create jobs, bring investment and drive innovation and growth, it will play a major role in helping to reduce the environmental impact of commercial aviation by making planes lighter. We are proud to be working with our long-standing partner Boeing on this project, which is another huge boost for our region.”

Katherine Bennett CBE, chief executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, said: “The start of building work on this flagship facility marks another important milestone in net zero targets moving from words on a page, to visible action. Through industrial transformation, delivered by HVM Catapult and powered by Innovate UK, UK industry can lead the way in tackling the biggest challenges we face; COMPASS is at the forefront of this, and will allow the UK supply chain to seize the opportunities that net zero presents.”

COMPASS builds on the AMRC’s world-class composites and automation capabilities to de-risk the development and manufacture of high-rate, large-scale composite parts, providing the wider UK industry with a unique open-access facility to develop, demonstrate, test and validate new composite manufacturing technologies and capabilities.

The IHSS project will centre around automated dry fibre and resin infusion advanced manufacturing methods, which enable high manufacturing rates and increase production efficiency.

Sean Black, senior vice president and chief engineer, engineering and research and development of Spirit AeroSystems, said: “To deliver enhanced performance, our next-generation aircraft need to be produced more efficiently.  Leveraging Spirit’s advanced composites expertise, this first collaborative UK R&T project with our long standing customer, Boeing, will explore the best materials and processes to manufacture lighter components with faster and cleaner production cycles.  Our partnership with Boeing, Loop Technology and the UK Government aims to drive industry innovation and enable more sustainable flight.”

Alun Reece, chief executive of Loop Technology, said: “We are incredibly excited to be part of the programme. Working closely with global leaders, the programme will push automation technologies beyond the current state of the art and help to keep the UK at the forefront of high rate primary structure research and manufacturing.”

Mike Biddle, executive director – net zero, Innovate UK, said: “Innovate UK is proud to be a key partner of the ATI Programme and the COMPASS facility will build on the previous investments in the AMRC by the programme, alongside awards from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The COMPASS facility enhances the UK's world-class position to secure and grow our national aerospace industry and support other technology related sectors.” 

The tender for the construction work for the building has been awarded to Henry Boot Construction. The facility is expected to be complete by the end of 2024.

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