They saw how a major consortium led by Rolls-Royce and management consultants Accenture has collaborated with Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to create a ‘Smart Factory’.
Rolls Royce and a dozen others will make a version of their systems available to SME bosses in the supply chain so they can be sure their hi-tech kit and processes work - ‘de-risking’ investment in digital technologies.
It is the biggest, most joined-up push yet into digital manufacturing in the UK.
Secretary of State, Greg Clark, said: “The facilities at this first Smart Factory test bed will be a real asset to the city and the UK.
“Working with some of the UK’s strongest sectors – aerospace, automotive and pharmaceutical - to provide insights into the future of digitally-connected manufacturing and showcasing how industry can use these technologies to transform productivity and performance.”
Founder and executive dean of the AMRC, prof Keith Ridgway, said: “This open access test bed shows the power of digital, the power of collaboration, and the power of the North to drive the new economy.
“Working closely with Rolls-Royce and Accenture, the AMRC has created a facility where manufacturing companies, from global brands like Airbus to family firms like Footprint Tools, can come to de-risk the development of digital solutions that will drive innovation across their businesses.”
Koen Lamberts, vice chancellor of Sheffield University said that boss of Siemens UK Juergen Maier had said the next industrial revolution could only be done in the North and the Smart Factory was “answering that call.”
He added: “The digital technology being forged here will change the fact of manufacturing in the twenty first century. This is the go to place for industry large and small.”
Rab Scott, the AMRC’s head of digital, said SMEs would be wise to grab hold of the opportunity.
He added: “This is the big companies wanting to connect up a digital supply chain. We have still got craft manufacturers that are surviving because they are good at what they do in their niche. But the future is digital - although revolutions don’t happen over night.”
The full consortium comprises Airbus UK, BAe Systems, Meggitt, Rolls-Royce, AMRC, GKN, Astra Zeneca, GSK, PFIZER, Nissan and Marshalls.
Director of global manufacturing at Rolls-Royce, Dr Hamid Mughal, said growing competition for resources due to a growing global population had the potential to lead to protectionism and nations that learned to do more with less would be economically successful.
He added: “Rolls Royce has shared its intellectual property very openly. The UK depends on us being efficient, flexible and brilliantly connected.”
Juergen Maier CBE, Siemens UK CEO and Made Smarter co-chair, praised the work of the consortium, adding: “What is really exciting is that it is being led in Sheffield, by a real movement of companies of all sizes supported by innovation excellence from our Catapults. Our challenge is spread the word and make sure manufacturers know about the potential of new digital technologies.”
Olly Benzecry, UK & Ireland managing director at Accenture said: “This facility and Industrial Strategy Challenge Funding will help to accelerate the UK to a stronger industrial future.
“Investment such as this is crucial to help industry change how they conceive, design, engineer, manufacture and operate products and services with digital technology.”
Smart Factories are set to be rolled out across the country based on other Catapults and manufacturing centres.
Greg Clark said £30m would be available to fund them from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in a competitive process.