AFRC is the only UK partner, with the other nine participants based in countries across northwest Europe, including lead partner Sirris, headquartered in Belgium, and a further eight across France, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland.

Some 1,000 of the 1,300 SMEs targeted will receive knowledge on innovative manufacturing technologies. In addition, around 250 will be encouraged to experiment with new technologies and collaborate with research and development partners, while a further 50 will receive intensive business support.

The only High Value Manufacturing Catapult in Scotland, AFRC is bringing a blend of expertise in advanced machining strategies, materials characterisation and residual stress to the project. In fact, AFRC is developing a legacy machine tool that is integrated with low-cost sensors for extracting information that will help inform and improve future machining processes. Analytical tools will also be introduced to help users make decisions in challenging areas, such as the distortion of components during machining.

Each partner in the project is working alongside an associate partner. For instance, the AFRC has joined forces with the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), which will help identify 10 SMEs across the UK in need of support.

Northwest Europe’s machining sector is made up of 6,800 SMEs and 135,000 employees. The region’s rate of innovation has failed to keep pace with evolving customer needs, which are becoming increasingly complex due to demand for precise products in short delivery times. As a result, production within northwest Europe has shifted to low-wage countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. The UK, Germany and Switzerland are highlighted as front-running regions that have already taken steps to adopt new Industry 4.0 technologies and processes.

Kareema Hilton, project lead at the AFRC, says: “The consortium is bringing together different areas of expertise to provide practical help for machining SMEs looking to innovate within northwest Europe. Along with the other six catapult centres across the UK, we’ve been working with SMEs for some time to help them identify innovative technologies and process improvements that will save on costs and materials, and shorten lead times across various sectors.

“Machining 4.0 provides us with a fantastic opportunity to share the vast knowledge and practical examples that we’ve developed across the important areas of machining and materials characterisation,” she continues. “Using these complementary areas of expertise we’ll help firms better understand their products and the effect that manufacturing processes, such as machining, have on those products. This will help them boost efficiency and ultimately become more competitive.”