Manufacturing moves to Sheffield

Materials World magazine
31 Mar 2017

Companies will finish AMRC-adjacent plants in 2020 and 2018, respectively, for carbon fibre chassis and wing actuator components. Khai Trung Le reports.

British automaker McLaren and USA-based aerospace company Boeing have announced partnerships with the University of Sheffield, UK, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) that will include moving production of components to the city.

Boeing has earmarked the city for a £20 million factory focusing on manufacturing wing actuator components, to be finished by the end of 2018. McLaren’s new £50 million manufacturing facility, the Composites Technology Centre, is set to be completed by 2020, and will move carbon fibre chassis development and manufacturing for all future supercars from Austria to the AMRC.

The AMRC, which started in 2001 as a £15 million collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Boeing, now has 95 major industrial partners including Rolls-Royce, Airbus and British Aerospace. McLaren has collaborated with the AMRC ‘on five or six projects before,’ according to Professor Keith Ridgway, Executive Dean of the AMRC, but automotive manufacturing has been a long-term proposition for the centre. ‘We have novel techniques at Sheffield that can be applied to the project, including local specialities such as weaving. If we’re making wings for Airbus, there was a good chance we could be making car chassis, so the AMRC was always designed this way.’

With McLaren joining AMRC partners including Rolls-Royce and Airbus, Ridgway told Materials World that the partnership with McLaren has been in preparation for the past two years. ‘It’s linked to a large Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative grant around a large press facility for composite materials built by Group Rhodes, Wakefield – basically a £2-3 milion press built by a British company for a large project. McLaren wanted to be partners in that.’

Ridgway added that the McLaren factory will target ‘large composite press work and automation in toolmaking. As McLaren will be focusing on light-weighting, we’ll be bringing the AMRC composites centre into the factory, along with our expertise in titanium-aluminium machinery and components, to make a light-weighting centre working on both titanium and composite parts.’

More than 200 jobs are expected to be created in Sheffield as a result, and the AMRC Training Centre has begun creating internships for local students who will work at the new Composites Technology Centre. Ridgway said, ‘There’s always a fear that when someone moves into a region that they’ll disrupt existing companies, so local people are quite pleased that we’re training local apprentices. We have a general apprenticeship that accepts 200 apprentices annually, with 189 companies on the scheme. McLaren will join this cohort.’

Boeing’s new manufacturing facility, which is awaiting planning permission, will bring manufacturing in-house for the first time, rather than subcontracting to the supply chain. Boeing president, Sir Michael Arthur, said, ‘We are ramping up production of our aircraft and want to have more control over key systems in our aeroplanes. We need the right quality and want to do it ourselves.’ Actuator components will also be manufactured at a Boeing factory in Oregon, USA.

Boeing Sheffield will be the company’s first manufacturing facility in Europe, and Ridgway noted that ‘it has always been our ambition that one day Boeing would open a manufacturing facility in Sheffield. This announcement is the culmination of a successful relationship that has developed since the AMRC with Boeing was founded 16 years ago.’