University of Sheffield AMRC spin-out secures £2.2m for machine tool AI

09 May 2023

An artificial intelligence (AI) startup company from the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), has secured £2.2million in seed funding to make machine tool process optimisation technology accessible to a wider range of manufacturers worldwide.

Productive Machines will use the money to deliver its AI technology as a fully automated Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product, with the aim of reducing lead and cycle times, improving maintenance, component waste and carbon emissions. It also enables the company to expand its team from eight people to more than 20.

Founded by Dr Erdem Ozturk, chief executive officer, and Dr Huseyin Celikag, chief technical officer, the spin-out company is commercialising the results of a six-year AMRC research project on machining dynamics. This research covered process and machine tool interactions, including how cutting forces and resulting vibrations affect machine tool performance.

Productive Machines has developed a powerful computational model to predict and mitigate the influence of these harmful vibrations at every stage in metal and composite milling jobs. It uses a digital twin to determine the best parameters for each machine tool and production run, eliminating wasteful configuration experiments and ensuring that milling jobs are right the first time.

Dr Ozturk said: “Manufacturers want to reduce costs, improve quality and cut carbon emissions. But most don’t want to buy complex software products or hire PhD-level engineers to make them work. We are meeting all of their goals. The results of our research and innovation are proven with major manufacturers, and this investment enables us to make the significant benefits more accessible to manufacturers of all sizes, anywhere in the world.

“Our cutting-edge technology is already best-in-class in a £400 billion industry ripe for optimisation. There are three million machines in the world that would be more accurate, productive and sustainable with our AI, and we are removing the cost and skill barriers to its adoption.”

Productive Machines’ technology has already been deployed at ten major manufacturers, including Renault and MASA Aerospace.  Machines configured by the company can produce parts in half the time it took originally and can deliver significant surface quality improvements, due to the mitigation of chatter vibrations created by instability in machining processes. Users report that cutting tools last up to 30 per cent longer on optimised machines.

The company is now in the process of taking its technology to market.  These include measurement technology specialist Kistler, metal cutting solutions company Seco and various other machine tool and cutting tool manufacturers.

UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund (UKI2S) led the funding round, with participation from NPIF Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, ACT Venture Partners and Fuel Ventures, alongside grant funding from Innovate UK.

Alexander Leigh, investment director for UKI2S and Future Planet Capital Group, said: “We are thrilled to cornerstone this investment into a UK-based deep-tech University spin-out from Sheffield.  We are excited by the technology’s ability to reduce energy consumption by up to 25 per cent, in addition to the improvement in surface quality, yield, and waste reduction, all of which offers the potential to bring high value jobs back to the UK in the machining industry.

“We are particularly pleased that as an Innovate UK investor partner, we enabled Productive Machines to successfully apply for £700,000 in non-dilutive grant funding alongside the investment round.”

Keira Shepperson, director at British Business Bank, said: “Partnerships between research hubs and corporations foster new ideas and blend the talent and creativity of both worlds together.

“With funding from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, Productive Machines will now be able to make an even greater impact on manufacturers by providing them with cost-cutting and efficiency improvements. The sector is brimming with opportunities for new ways of working and it’s encouraging to see Northern companies leading the way.”

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