Work is now complete on a new factory which hopes to become the most advanced in the world - using cutting-edge technology and advanced robotics to “revolutionise” UK manufacturing - from the heart of South Yorkshire.
The £48m Factory 2050 is now open at the University of Sheffield’s new advanced manufacturing campus on Sheffield Business Park.
It is the first building to complete on the 50-acre Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing site, which will eventually create 1,800 jobs and is a step towards the development of the UK’s first Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District.
The glass-walled “reconfigurable” Factory 2050 will be used in research programmes designed to revolutionise the manufacturing process, and has been designed by architects Bond Bryan, who worked with the concept of creating a circular factory first mooted in 2005, but not achievable due to budget constraints.
Factory 2050 will be home to the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group (IMG), which is currently installing cutting edge manufacturing and assembly technologies, advanced robotics, flexible automation, next generation man-machine interfaces and new programming and training tools that will drive its research, ready for it to be fully operation in spring next year. The factory has been designed to rapidly respond to the demands of its customers, switching production between different high-value components and one-off parts - but aesthetics were also at the forefront of the design process.
Bond Bryan Architects, which has a history of designing Advanced Manufacturing Research Centres nationally, said the building’s modern design proved that flexibility does not need to rely on traditional building form and layout.
Principal designer and director at Bond Bryan, Darren Southgate said: ”This is a special moment for me personally seeing a visionary building developed in my mind’s eye over ten years now become a reality. The idea of linking the core visually, without walls and being part of the ‘workspace donut’ were always leading design principles.
“It is a human need to be associated or close to activities that link thinking and doing; the days of disappearing into cellular offices away from the production environment have been replaced by hands on doing and reporting; them and us is no longer. The need for quiet space hasn’t gone but it is shared through multifunctional collaborative spaces.”
The circular plan of the building features open plan working, with meeting rooms, lifts and stairs at its heart.
Clever design elements include single staircase access from the core accommodation with under-workshop floor tunnel egress, removing the need for an awkward second staircase and providing uninterrupted research floor space. The mechanical and electrical installation is centralised in the core with perimeter-trenched services to get vital air, water, power and data to machines.
Bond Bryan said services around the building are mostly hidden from view under covers, mean the space will feel uncluttered, a design prerequisite.
It is hoped Factory 2050 will attract advanced manufacturers to the new Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, which is being created in the Sheffield City Region as part of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative. It hopes to become one of Europe’s largest research-led advanced manufacturing cluster, centred on the M1 corridor near Sheffield and Rotherham, and already home to the AMRC’s facilities at the Advanced Manufacturing Park.
AMRC executive dean, Professor Keith Ridgway, said: “We aim to make Factory 2050 the most advanced factory in the world, built to carry out collaborative research.
“It has been designed to ensure the UK’s advanced manufacturing supply chain can access the expertise it needs to make the most of new challenges and opportunities, and that our region retains its international lead in high value manufacturing.”
The glass-clad rotunda will house reconfigurable, data driven assembly technologies whilst its long, rectangular extension will accommodate any commercially sensitive or larger footprint projects.
Initial projects for the IMG include a programme to take aerospace manufacturing technology into the construction industry, explore future digital factory technologies for building commercial aeroplanes and investigate digitally assisted assembly technologies which could help to fill a looming skills gap in the aerospace sector.
IMG’s Ben Morgan said: “Factory 2050 will allow us to explore the techniques and technologies that are vital to achieving the mass customisation of products now being demanded by companies and consumers.
“We will be helping manufacturers respond to increasing requirements to rapidly change product designs and switch between making high-value components and one-off parts for customers from diverse sectors.
“And, we will be developing systems that enable machines and process equipment to automatically modify the way they work, in order to maximise production rates and quality, minimise tool wear and respond to any breakdowns.”
Factory 2050 was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, each of which have contributed £10 million to the project.
It could employ up to 70 people and is expected to contribute almost £2 million directly to the local economy every year.