The smart factory test bed, Factory 2050, is the collaboration between Rolls-Royce, Accenture and the AMRC. Rolls-Royce are providing the business leadership and Industrial demand/insight, Accenture the systems integration expertise and the AMRC the manufacturing process expertise and access to world-class manufacturing facilities. Greg Clark came to Factory 2050 in South Yorkshire to see how the powerful consortium has collaborated to develop a connected facility that will de-risk investment in the digital technologies at the heart of the government’s Industrial Strategy and Made Smarter initiative.

Clark, and the Minister for Business and Industry, Andrew Stephenson, were given a tour of the connected smart factory test bed which included real time data streams from remote machining activities, smart assembly using intelligent work benches and augmented reality, visual inspection linked to artificial intelligence and a reconfigurable factory cell.

The test bed aims to show the significant opportunities of applying digital technologies to manufacturing with 50% productivity benefit, 30% reduction in defects and 50% improved time to market increasingly being demonstrated.

Clark said: “From its two leading universities to the new Boeing factory, Sheffield has a bright future as a leader internationally for advanced manufacturing, innovation and R&D. 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 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.

“This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, with Made Smarter working directly with businesses on the ground to provide advice and support. Through Made Smarter and the Made Smarter Commission we’re working with leading figures from industry and academia to boost productivity and create thousands of new highly skilled jobs.”

The founder and executive dean of the AMRC, Professor 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 one of the UK’s most innovative companies, Rolls-Royce, and with the innovation leaders at 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.”

The director of global manufacturing at Rolls-Royce, Dr Hamid Mughal, said: “We’re proud to have played the lead industrial role in creating this unique capability. Today, there are many challenges in implementing digital in manufacturing at an industrial scale and pace with only a few real examples of ‘true’ Smart Factories providing seamless integration from the ‘Top floor to the Shop floor.’

“The high total cost of implementation, lack of interoperability, high number of legacy assets plus concerns around cyber are major barriers to exploitation. We want to commoditise this technology and ultimately want this landscape to become both predictable and ‘economical’ for the OEMs and their supply chains. This test bed will provide an open, agnostic platform to explore, challenge, mature, exploit and ultimately accelerate transformational technologies in the wider UK Manufacturing base.”