Supporting our partners to make things better

05 March 2021

Are we planting the right seeds for both the future of UK manufacturing and our partners’ needs?

The question, posed by the University of Sheffield AMRC CEO Steve Foxley at the start of the AMRC’s Tech Fellows conference, has never been so relevant, writes Ben Morgan, AMRC Research Director.


The impact of Covid-19 on the manufacturing sector is well documented and so the role of translational research centres like the AMRC are critical if we’re to help our partners thrive in the months and years to come.

Traditionally, Tech Fellows is a highlight in our calendar. It is an opportunity for our partners to network and learn about our achievements of the last 12 months; but beyond that, it’s our chance to demonstrate that we’re putting our money where our mouth is. Although the virtual nature of last year’s conference meant networking was off, I think our timetable of presentations proved how committed the entire organisation is to our key objectives of sustainability, levelling up, future propulsion, digital and supply chain resilience.

The AMRC’s core competence has always been productivity. It is where we built all our strengths and will be key in building UK manufacturing to be competitive post-Covid. Now, as the net zero target gets closer, we are entering a period of more and more difficult choices, where productivity has to be thought of hand-in-hand with sustainability.

And for us, the two things don’t have to compete against each other. What our engineers demonstrated during the two-day Tech Fellows was that by exploiting digital technologies and big data, we can meet the challenges of reuse, recycling and repurposing; all while ensuring that primary objective is always met: productivity. And so to the presentations themselves, each one fascinating and relevant to our objectives in their own way.

Dr Andy Bell, Design Strategy Manager in the Design and Prototyping Group, set the conference off on the ideal foot by explaining how the AMRC is creating an understanding of the new practices that we will need to deploy as sustainable manufacturers, such as how our designers will incorporate sustainability into their design philosophy and design choices.

As Andy said, our vision is to become a net zero facility – to be recognised for our climate stewardship and demonstrate how we do that to other people. We want to provide leadership to industry and government on net zero matters. Andy said it perfectly: ‘We want to leave no trace’.

Principal Metallurgist Matthew Cawood’s presentation immediately after Andy’s, ‘High Integrity Aluminium Casting – an opportunity for future platforms’, embodied the translational work the AMRC is known for around the world by explaining the ways in which aerospace can learn from the automotive sector to make casting a much more reliable technology.

As I have said before, the AMRC’s core objectives complement each other, so it was fantastic to see that first morning on sustainability, followed by an afternoon on productivity. Among so many other great speakers, Kieran Edge, Technical Lead for Machine Vision, passionately described how Factory 2050 is working hard to remain at the forefront of harnessing machine vision for new applications and delivering it into new industries; and the AMRC Composites Centre was extremely well-represented by Technical Lead, Jodie Turner, Research Fellow, Steffan Lea and Dry Fibre Development Manager, Dr Fatma Omrani with presentations on composite weaving, braiding technology and Tailored Fibre Placement (TFP).

As Professor Rab Scott, the AMRC’s Head of Digital, said when opening day two of the conference: we want our strategic activities to mirror what is happening out in industry. When it comes to digital technologies, that means examining

the potential applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in the cloud, digital twin and smart factories. Those topics and much, much more were covered as our attention turned to digital.

Indeed, it was interesting to hear

from James Hunt, Head of Additive Manufacturing (AM) Strategy, at the end of the conference on the important part AM has to play within Industry 4.0. James showed how AI, computer vision, machine learning and cobots can all be applied to the post-processing stage of AM. As we see so often, the digital thread weaves its way throughout the AMRC.

What I hope our partners took from Tech Fellows this time around is that, despite the pandemic, the AMRC is still working very hard to drive innovation and support our customers to make things better. Our key themes of the conference - sustainability, productivity and digital - are important to us because they are important to our partners and UK manufacturing as a whole.

While part of Tech Fellows was about putting to one side the immediate challenges of Covid-19 and looking to the future, it was also about embracing the situation we are in. As I see it, while there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, there are a lot of opportunities as well and we need to work closely together through true collaboration to realise that.

It is an incredibly exciting time for the AMRC, as we move into the Chapter 2 strategy Steve introduced at the beginning of the conference, and to paraphrase the Ancient Chinese proverb Rab so brilliantly referenced: the best time to work with the AMRC was several years ago, but the second-best time is now.

Originally published in the 13th issue of the AMRC Journal. Read here:

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