Clark, and the Minister for Business and Industry, Andrew Stephenson, were given a tour of the connected smart factory test bed, which includes 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 available from applying digital technologies to manufacturing, with 50% productivity gains, 30% reduction in defects and 50% improved time-to-market increasingly being demonstrated.

“The facilities at this first smart factory test bed will be a real asset to Sheffield and the UK,” said Clark. “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 highly skilled jobs.”

The founder and executive dean of the AMRC, Professor Keith Ridgway, added: “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 University of Sheffield’s AMRC, which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, has laid the foundations for using connected, real-time data to track the manufacturing lifecycle of components, from machining and inspection through to assembly, using digital work instructions displayed through augmented reality.

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 elevated 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 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.”

Juergen Maier CBE, Siemens UK CEO and Made Smarter co-chair, who was at the launch along with the Made Smarter Commission, praised the work of the consortium: “The test bed shows industry and technology partners getting on with the job of making the UK more productive and ready for a fourth industrial revolution. What’s really exciting is that it’s being led in Sheffield, by a real movement of companies of all sizes supported by innovation excellence from our catapults. Our challenge is to spread the word and make sure manufacturers know about the potential of new digital technologies.”

Olly Benzecry, UK & Ireland managing director at Accenture said: “This facility and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Funding will help accelerate a stronger industrial future for the UK. Investment such as this is crucial to help industry change how they conceive, design, engineer, manufacture and operate products and services with digital technology; what we call Industry X.0. Made Smarter is already taking significant strides in providing leadership in this area, and supporting UK industry to improve its competitiveness.”

The final word went to University of Sheffield president and VC, Koen Lamberts, who said: “The test bed addresses three of the four R&D Industrial Strategy grand challenges – artificial intelligence and data analytics, the ageing society, and clean growth, which shows how Sheffield’s research talents are aligned to national policy.”

The smart factory test bed has been built in representative cyber and physical environments, and provides a robust, open, agnostic innovation framework to explore, challenge, mature and exploit these rapidly evolving technologies. Working with both large and small-scale companies, industry can test and mature not only new technologies, but data strategies and new business models, and promote common standards and interoperability.