World first, multi-million manufacturing facility opens at the University of Nottingham

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A new £3.8m facility that will revolutionise the world of manufacturing, making it more efficient and cost-effective, has opened at the University of Nottingham.

The state-of-the-art OMNIFACTORY, a concept factory where different digital technologies are implemented to improve traditional manufacturing practices, was officially opened on Wednesday 1 March 2023 by Brian Holliday, managing director at Siemens Digital Industries and co-Chair of the Made Smarter Commission, with a keynote contribution from George Freeman MP, Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Situated on the university’s Jubilee Campus, OMNIFACTORY is home to a bespoke test bed floor, developed in Nottingham, that provides a unique reconfigurable environment. The floor autonomously adapts itself to the next product’s environment and specifications, reshaping itself through a combination of digital technologies, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Svetan Ratchev, director of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing said: “OMNIFACTORY is a unique facility that will allow us to develop, demonstrate and rapidly implement the latest digital manufacturing technologies in industry.

“Working closely with our industrial partners, we aim to transform current practices and improve productivity across different sectors by developing the next generation of smart, highly agile, and efficient factories, which will also support localised manufacturing supply chains.

"By leveraging technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, we can dramatically accelerate the development and sustainable manufacturing of new products and deliver significant societal, economic, and environmental benefits.

“Manufacturing processes have a significant impact on the environment, with a large proportion of the carbon footprint of some products being created during their production and logistics. By creating a new generation of smart, highly efficient factories embedded in local supply chains, we will contribute to the net-zero agenda and make a significant step towards the circular economy.

“We have already received an incredible response from industry working both with large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and highly innovative local SMEs. OMNIFACTORY is a national testbed for future factory technologies, and we welcome new businesses to join us and explore the future of manufacturing.”  

The five-year project has been funded by Innovate UK and aligned to the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme, but OMNIFACTORY’s facilities can be applied to other sectors, such as food and automotive.

Professor Alan Norbury, chief technologist at Siemens Digital Industries, said: “OMNIFACTORY is a game-changing facility, which creates a blueprint for how future factories will dramatically enhance the productivity and competitiveness of British manufacturers.

“Based on the foundations of excellent research conducted at the University of Nottingham, this new space will support industry in developing, testing and validating new digital manufacturing applications and their rapid implementation across all sectors. We’re incredibly proud to support this unique development and to see Siemens’ core technologies being deployed to showcase the future of UK manufacturing.”

The facility is already working with several businesses that operate in a variety of sectors, including Airbus, and GKN, which is utilising OMNIFACTORY for the ELCAT project.

Andrew Portsmore, technology director of assembly systems at GKN, said: “We developed the vision for the ELCAT project with the University of Nottingham, which sets out to enable flexible manufacturing systems without the need for expensive ‘black box’ integration, by fusing real-world industrial experience with game-changing theoretical proposals backed by academic analysis.

“Now, OMNIFACTORY will allow this thinking to be taken to a point of physical reality, maturing and de-risking the associated technology threads to a level ready for final development and adoption in GKN.”

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