University of Sheffield AMRC announces largest ever research project as part of new South Yorkshire Investment Zone

A groundbreaking new research and development facility, harnessing technologies such as machine learning and AI, has been announced as part of the new South Yorkshire Investment Zone.

Factory 2020
  • The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has announced a groundbreaking new R&D facility as part of the new South Yorkshire Investment Zone 
  • COMPASS – Composites at Speed and Scale – will place the UK in world-leading position to make the global aviation industry more sustainable
  • The new facility will develop new ways to manufacture lightweight aircraft components, create high-skilled jobs and drive new investment into the UK’s aerospace sector 
  • Digital technologies including AI and machine learning will be deployed in large-scale high-precision robotic composites manufacturing
  • COMPASS’ first R&D project is with Boeing and set to be a game-changer for the aerospace giant’s production system 
  • The £29.5m ATI funding for COMPASS is the University of Sheffield AMRC’s largest research grant to date 
  • South Yorkshire is the UK’s first Investment Zone to be announced.

A groundbreaking new research and development facility has been announced as part of the new South Yorkshire Investment Zone. 

COMPASS (Composites at Speed and Scale), announced by the UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, is one of the North of England’s largest ever research and innovation projects. It will be based at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and has been announced as part of the South Yorkshire Investment Zone. The new investment zone is the first to be announced in the UK. It will build on the success of innovation-led transformation around the Sheffield/Rotherham border and beyond – driving opportunities for more inward investment, skills and jobs for the region. 

Making passenger jets lighter is seen as one of the major ways to reduce the environmental impact of air travel and help the aviation industry reach net zero. However, the manufacturing processes currently used to produce these aircraft parts are time consuming and inconsistent. COMPASS will provide the technological advances needed to make lightweight aerostructures – key components that make up the fuselage, wings and stabilisers of passenger planes. It will be home to a raft of state-of-the-art equipment secured through a £29.5m grant from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to support new capabilities, technologies and processes that aim to reduce cost, waste, production time and associated carbon emissions. 

COMPASS will be built as an extension to the AMRC’s Factory 2050 – a hugely successful advanced manufacturing research centre that has set the standard for academic and industry R&D. It will be built with support from the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Sheffield City Council and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. 

An aerial view of the University of Sheffield Innovation District featuring the Factory 2050 building
The University of Sheffield AMRC's Factory 2050

The first R&D project at COMPASS will be with Boeing and is set to be a game-changer for the aerospace giant’s production system, helping to meet the projected demand for commercial aircraft globally – forecasted to be in excess of 40,000 planes over the next 20 years. The project will initially create around 50 jobs in South Yorkshire, with the potential to create 3,000 jobs by the mid 2030s. It could be worth around £2 billion annually to the UK economy in exports.

COMPASS, and the research programme with Boeing, is the University of Sheffield AMRC's largest ever R&D project and will drive new investment into the UK’s aerospace sector. The project builds on the University of Sheffield’s long-standing and successful partnership with Boeing – the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft. The successful partnership together with the AMRC’s advanced manufacturing expertise were key reasons Boeing decided to open its first European manufacturing facility in Sheffield in 2018. Boeing is also a key partner of the University’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre, which is helping to test sustainable fuels to power the passenger planes of tomorrow. 

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “The new South Yorkshire Investment Zone builds on our region's industrial heritage and will supercharge opportunities to drive more innovation-led growth.

“We are very proud that our new COMPASS facility is the investment zone’s first major announcement. It is a testament to our region’s strengths, and the expertise of the University of Sheffield’s AMRC, that our long-standing partner Boeing has chosen South Yorkshire for this globally significant research and development project.

“Over the last two decades, we have seen how university research and innovation has helped to transform our region by attracting inward investment and creating highly-skilled jobs. South Yorkshire’s Investment Zone holds enormous potential, and we look forward to working with our partners to ensure its success.”

Steve Foxley, CEO of the University of Sheffield AMRC, said: “Compass will help to establish South Yorkshire as the leading R&D centre of excellence in the manufacture of composites at speed and at scale, enabling future production capabilities that currently don’t exist. This facility, alongside our existing pedigree and the work on hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels in the wider University of Sheffield, are cornerstones of a future green aerospace cluster in the region.” 

Maria Laine, President of Boeing UK, Ireland and Nordic region, said: "This project is a testament to Boeing’s commitment to drive innovation and growth within the UK aerospace sector. Together with our world-leading industry partners, this investment is poised to revolutionise aerospace manufacturing to meet global demand, while supporting vital jobs and growth in the UK.”

Mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard, said: “This ground-breaking research partnership is yet another huge vote of confidence from Boeing in South Yorkshire's future.

“Boeing are now adding to their footprint here – their only manufacturing base in Europe – because they know our ability to solve problems and make things is unique. That’s just what we do.

“That knowledge and expertise, built on our heritage at the forefront of engineering and manufacturing, and now powered by the UK’s first Investment Zone, is going to provide the foundation for a bigger, better economy, and a brighter future for anyone lucky enough to call South Yorkshire their home.”

Tom Hunt, Leader of Sheffield City Council, said: “COMPASS will put Sheffield at the forefront of making the global aviation industry more sustainable. The new project further establishes our city as a leading centre for world-class research and development excellence. It’s a major coup for UK manufacturing and for Sheffield. The opportunities it creates for new jobs, new investment and lower emissions in the aerospace industry are huge.”

How COMPASS will harness AI and machine learning:

The current state-of-the-art in this sector of manufacturing is minimal sensing using traditional temperature and pressure sensing to monitor and control the processing of large parts. Each process has no standard data structure to aid data analytics for process optimisation. Currently, the processes are developed and measured before a final process specification is approved and fixed for manufacture. This fixed processing window is a compromise arrived at to accommodate natural variation in processing and therefore, is often not optimised for throughput, but is conservative to ensure quality compliance.  The new facility will create a fully-sensored process and equipment featuring both in-process inspection (temperature, pressure, machine vision, metrology) and edge computing to extract data directly from automation system controllers. These will be linked together in a flexible control architecture, providing a single source of truth for the validation of parts/processes and enabling active control responding to changing process environments.

The new facility will allow for the creation and validation of a true manufacturing digital twin of both the processes and the components being produced. This data will be used to validate and improve the processes, to speed up qualification for customers on future projects. Having such high-resolution data across the lifecycle of production allows for in-depth validation and fault finding where required. This lifecycle data also allows the opportunity for optimisation, for example by sharing tolerances over multiple stages of the process.  This creation and storage of detailed, structured data will allow access to technologies such as machine learning and AI to provide future process improvements based upon real-time data from the cell.

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