04What is the AMP model?
The AMP combines a research institution, training and graduates from the University of Sheffield, and private sector firms. The impact of the AMP is felt not just by workers and firms on the park though, but by businesses around the country that connect with the research taking place there.
The AMP has taken two decades to arrive at its current position, contingent on the support of large multinationals and a committed university with expertise in the sector. Reproducing the characteristics of the AMP in other places is possible, but will require considerable time and attention to factors such as working with universities and developing a similar open-source research model.
How does the AMRC work?
Most of the facilities of the AMRC network are located on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP). This includes ten purpose-built centres, each specialised in different types of advanced manufacturing activities such as composite manufacturing, structural testing and nuclear research. These specialities are applied to different fields – like aerospace, automobiles and energy– which means member-firms come from a variety of industrial sectors.
Importantly though, only a small number of AMRC industry members are located in the AMP. Most of the AMRC’s members are located elsewhere in the UK and the world and send staff to the AMRC on a regular basis to collaborate in research projects.
The AMRC is a centre for research and development rather than production. While a few companies actually carry out small-scale manufacturing on the AMP site, most firms use the facilities to develop new processes and technologies that, if successful, can be scaled up to improve the productivity of their activities elsewhere in the country.
The AMRC is a joint intervention between The University of Sheffield and companies in the advanced manufacturing sector that dates back to the 1990s. It supports innovation in manufacturing by conducting R&D with public and private partners.
The roots of the AMRC began at the end of the 1990s with the collaboration between the University of Sheffield and a local cutting tool company called Technicut. This collaboration took the form of a Teaching Company Scheme, a government-funded programme aimed at fostering partnership between industries and universities.
The initiative also coincided with a commitment to the knowledge economy led by the then Science Minister, David Sainsbury. In 1998, the Labour government had pledged to put the commercialisation of scientific knowledge at the heart of its industrial policy and produced a white paper on how science could enhance economic competitiveness.
This collaboration developed further with the participation of Boeing, the American aircraft manufacturer. Boeing was looking to develop “Centres of Excellence” for research and development, and chose Sheffield City Region. The AMRC was officially established in 2001 – initially called South Yorkshire Centre of Excellence.
Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, offered the AMRC the opportunity to be based at the former Orgreave Colliery Site which became the AMP in 2006.
Funding for the project came from the Yorkshire regional development agency, national government funding, European regional development funds and university investment. Up to 2015, the AMRC had received £70m from the Government and a further £70m of European funding.
What makes the AMRC model different?
There are three elements that make the AMRC model different from other industrial parks:
Cross-industry collaboration – it is designed to encourage manufacturing firms to innovate and work together
Focus on research – it provides members access to high-quality manufacturing research produced on the AMP, and to a nationwide network of manufacturers
Access to expertise – it allows firms to have access to, and work with, a highly-skilled workforce, trained for advanced manufacturing on the AMP through the University of Sheffield
Helping firms produce and exchange of knowledge
Innovation is crucial for exporting firms’ success in highly competitive markets. But R&D is expensive – it requires specific facilities, machinery, and highly-trained staff. The AMRC addresses these issues in two ways.
First, it reduces costs and risks in R&D investment by pooling resources. Rather than each company individually investing in research, facilities, machinery and staff, the AMRC allows members to pool those investments. This means that costs and risks are shared and thus reduced.
R&D can also be risky, as there is no guarantee that research will bring positive or usable results. For this reason, many companies, in particular, smaller firms, find it difficult to engage in innovation. The AMRC overcomes this by facilitating manufacturers’ R&D processes by reducing risk and distributing knowledge across the network of member firms, regardless of size.
Second, the AMRC helps firms exchange knowledge. Firms work with the AMRC and each other to develop new ideas and collaborate on projects, primarily through the AMRC’s “open-source” research model. Research that occurs through the AMRC is not patented and is instead made available to firm members of the AMRC network in return for membership fees.
Research programmes are agreed by a board comprising the university and firm-members, ensuring alignment across research projects and guaranteeing that the research is valuable for and usable by members. This, in turn, means that there is no need for patents for research produced on the site. Members can also conduct their own individually-funded research with the AMRC.
The example of BAE Systems in Case Study 1 highlights how the AMRC as a place enables collaboration that can help member companies innovate and become more productive.
Case study 1: Partnering with the AMRC to improve productivity
The AMRC was working on a research project to enable robots to accurately machine holes in composite aircraft components. After collaborating with KUKA Systems the project matured into a production system. BAE Systems saw the potential to integrate this method into its manufacturing processes and has now installed the technology in its UK factories in Preston and Blackpool, where it will be used to process a wide range of composite components for military aircraft.
This highlights that spillover effects of innovation are not local. The core research and high-value work took place on the AMP, while the output from the research was applied to support production line activity which takes place in other parts of the country.
Access to research to improve production in other places
Most firms with operations at the AMP conduct very little production on the site itself, and some members of the AMRC have no permanent presence on the AMP at all. But these companies benefit from the research that takes place in the AMRC because they use the innovation to improve the productivity of their production processes in other parts of the country.
This access to the AMRC’s research was reported in our interviews with member firms, as one of the main benefits of being part of the network. Some companies – even those which are not involved in advanced manufacturing – tap into the research on an ad hoc basis, but their involvement does not justify relocating to the AMP with the high land costs that it requires (as in Case Study 2). Even though many member firms do not have a permanent presence on the AMP, they regularly send staff to work, collaborate, and network on the park.
Case study 2: Non-advanced manufacturing experiments with the AMRC
A Sheffield knife maker based elsewhere in the Sheffield City Region worked with the AMRC Design and Prototyping Centre to design small production runs of bespoke 3D printed titanium knives. Using advanced 3D printing technology new designs were created – in this case, the blade and the handle are integrated, with the handle moulded and customised to a chef’s hand. This is an example of how non-advanced manufacturing firms can also tap into the research that takes place on the AMP. The AMRC’s expertise in metal cutting, 3D printing and manufacturing design has been applied to a range of manufacturing activities beyond aerospace and the
Crucially, the existence of this network of firms in and out of the AMP means that on-site activities have benefits beyond Sheffield City Region. Firms use the AMRC to carry out the high-skilled, high-value part of their work. But companies later integrate new technologies and processes on their production lines in other parts of the country where land and the cost of labour is cheaper than it is on the AMP (Case Study 3).
Case study 3: Using Sheffield City Region’s knowledge to enhance production elsewhere
Rolls-Royce worked with the AMRC to improve the manufacturing process of key components in aerospace manufacturing, called aero-engine discs.
The materials used to make the discs are difficult to carve and require complex manufacturing processes. AMRC engineers used simulation tools to guide the fixture design and machining of the disc, to improve the fabrication process. This and other innovations developed by the AMRC allowed Rolls-Royce to reduce the time it takes to manufacture each disc by 50 per cent. Rolls-Royce is now implementing the technology in its manufacturing facility in Sunderland.
This shows the importance of the AMRC as the place to generate the high-value outputs of the manufacturing process. Despite Rolls-Royce being a company with large resources and R&D facilities of its own, gaining access to the AMRC research and collaborating with its engineers in Sheffield provided an advantage for production facilities elsewhere in the country.
Access to skilled workers and staff training
Graduates and PhD students
The AMRC arranges for engineering professionals from the University of Sheffield to work with firms on the AMP site. The opportunity to work with and hire graduates and PhD students was reported in interviews as one of the main benefits of locating on the AMP.
The AMRC runs a graduate programme that offers placements in a variety of advanced manufacturing fields. The programme is 24 months long and allows engineers to work on multiple projects across different sectors and firms.
The AMRC and the University of Sheffield have also implemented an Industrial Doctorate Centre which trains postdoctoral engineers and PhD students, with time shared between the university and the AMRC. The programme is fully funded by firms, meaning that the four-year degree is free for students.
Over 1,000 apprentices have been trained on the AMP since it was established. The AMRC has developed a system of matching and training, where an extension of the university, the AMRC Training Centre, matches apprentices with companies and provides the academic side of the training. The training centre is based on the AMP and managed by the AMRC which enables its activities to be directly connected with the wider research activities as defined by the AMRC board and by individual member companies.
The training centre runs several apprenticeship programmes in advanced manufacturing at different levels of qualification – for instance, it recently introduced degree apprenticeships, which provide qualifications equivalent to a university bachelor’s or master’s degree.
AMRC research staff and staff training
There are approximately 600 public sector workers employed by the University of Sheffield on the AMP.9 Of these, about 350 are professional engineers and researchers, who are conducting and leading the different research projects that have been agreed by the board. Along with firms’ employees, they form the core of the professional staff. The AMRC also provides training to firms’ employees, through development courses.
Implications of the AMP model for the Industrial Strategy
The impact of the activities that take place on the AMP operates at two different scales – the diffusion of knowledge and practice is across the economy of Sheffield City Region as well as the wider national economy. The AMP is therefore relevant and important to both local and national policymakers focused on the industrial strategy.
National Industrial Strategy
The AMRC is explicitly a national asset as part of the UK Catapult system of research collaboration with industry, as many of the benefits it produces in Sheffield City Region are felt around the country. As national Catapult facilities, the AMRC and nuclear AMRC work with firms across the UK. Research at the AMRC is linked to new production facilities in Sunderland and Broughton in North Wales. This implies that the Government’s role should be to support this diffusion of knowledge from the AMRC and other advanced manufacturing sites.
For instance, Boeing and McLaren have each recently opened up large research and production plants close to and on the AMP respectively, with both firms motivated partly by the benefits the site offers in terms of skills and research. This raises a consideration for the Government. If this new activity is primarily production lines for these firms, then it is of less relevance to the National Industrial Strategy than the experimental research that helps many firms across the country, which has until now characterised the AMP.
The opposite applies too – if other places are able to offer firms similar benefits to the AMP, then they are relevant to the National Industrial Strategy. The AMRC is expanding into other locations, including Infinity Park in Derby and Broughton. Achieving similar success on these other advanced manufacturing sites within the National Industrial Strategy will require a similar focus on research and innovation rather than assembly lines for mass production.
This will likely require government funding. Achieving the impact that the AMRC has achieved has required £70m of funding from national government and the former regional development agency as well as £70m in European funding. It will also require time – it took 20 years for the AMP to reach its current scale and scope of operations.
Impact of Brexit
Although the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the European Union remains uncertain, high-skilled European workers have played an important role in the AMRC due to Freedom of Movement. It is difficult to quantify the number of European citizens working on the AMP, but any restrictions on high-skilled migrants after the UK has withdrawn from the European Union will make it more difficult for the AMP to access the high-skilled workers that the AMRC and its partner firms need. Any disruption to these flows risks damaging the productivity of not just firms on the AMP, but those companies the AMP works with around the country, such as Airbus in Broughton.
Local Industrial Strategy
The role Sheffield City Region plays in supporting the AMRC is different given the nature of the impacts that accrue locally rather than nationally. There is a role for local government in facilitating the diffusion of AMRC research to manufacturing firms in the city region. But its principal role is to focus on policies to support high-skilled exporting work: skills, transport and planning.
Local government interventions on the AMP have been primarily through purchasing land for assembly. The Sheffield City Region should enable the AMP to expand onto land nearby if there is demand for it, ensuring planning decisions are dealt with proactively and supported by the provision of adequate transport and infrastructure.
However, this expansion should not be subsidised by the Sheffield City Region purchasing land on behalf of the AMP. The appeal of the AMP to firms is clear and reflected in the price of land. Activity that can benefit from locating on the site will be prepared to pay the premium that the land values require, because the AMP’s benefits can only be accessed on that site.
The higher cost of land may at this point slow expansion, but this is a consequence of the strong demand to locate on and near the site. Provided adequate land nearby is protected for industrial use, further growth of the AMP should eventually occur.
If the AMRC is to be a catalyst for growing the size of the advanced manufacturing industries in Sheffield City Region, local government will need to ensure that manufacturing firms in the city region can tap into the research taking place on the AMP. Involving existing local manufacturing firms that want to participate in R&D initiatives or consume and apply research outputs should be a distinct objective for the Local Industrial Strategy. Local government in Sheffield City Region should help local firms that want to tap into this national asset. This could be through informal convening or formal policy such as research grants for local firms such as those outlined by Centre for Cities’ sister organisation the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth.10
But local government will primarily need to focus on broader fundamentals of the local economy, especially the city-region’s wider skills deficit. The AMRC’s ability to match workers with industry-specific training and employers is important to the AMP’s appeal. But high-skilled exports do not just require specialist skills such as engineering or graphic design. They also need transferable skills such as communication, numeracy, or management which can be used flexibly
Local government’s broader role should be to focus on improving these transferable skills, as they are needed by firms on the AMP as well as by other high-skilled exporters. Achieving this in the context of local industrial strategies means improving learning outcomes at every stage of the education process, including nurseries, schools, and higher and further education.