Advanced Materials & Manufacturing


Advanced thinking

With partners that include Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Boeing, AMRC offers game-changing innovation to manufacturers large and small. The launch of a new base in Broughton promises to bring the benefit of its expertise to Wales.

First established by the University of Sheffield in 2001, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a network of world-class research and innovation centres. It has driven the development of countless new industrial and engineering technologies – forging partnerships with companies of all sizes across a wide range of sectors, including aerospace, automotive, space, construction, energy and medical.

From an initial staff of nine, the AMRC now employs more than 700 people across Northern England. And in 2019, it is gaining a Welsh base with the launch of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute in Broughton, near the English border in Flintshire.

Executive director John Baragwanath says: “We were set up to improve the performance of manufacturing across South Yorkshire, but our remit has expanded to take in the whole of the UK and around the world. We carry out applied engineering research to deliver innovative solutions to industry, and we work with all sizes of company – from dynamic start-ups to large internationals such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce.”

In its first phase, the new Institute at Broughton will focus on improving productivity, commercialisation, innovation and skills in the aerospace and automotive industries. It’s being created with a £20milllion investment from the Welsh Government, and it’s estimated that its work could increase Wales’ Gross Value Added (GVA) – a key economic indicator – by £4billion over 20 years.

One key factor in choosing Broughton was that Airbus, a longstanding AMRC partner, had a nearby facility. Another was the opportunity to work with the Welsh Government. “They have been excellent,” says Baragwanath. “Wales has devolved decision making, so things can happen quickly, and Government officials have put a lot of effort into introducing AMRC to potential partners across the country. They have ensured we are off to a flying start.”

The Broughton site forms one point of a geographical triangle for the AMRC, with other major facilities at Catcliffe near Sheffield and Preston in Lancashire. “It’s the Northern Power - house in action, if you like,” says Baragwanath. “We’re joining up high-value manufacturing across the North to help rebalance our economy and create high-value skills and jobs that will drive the digital Fourth Industrial Revolution.” 

Recruitment of the first engineers for the Broughton site began in early 2019. “We’re building up to about 30 engineers as quickly as we can,” he says. “That’s because when we set up the original AMRC site, we thought we might get to 30 engineers in a few years. In fact, we outgrew our first building within six months and we’ve grown exponentially since. We expect Broughton to take off in the same way.”

The new facility will also have a beneficial impact on the training and education of the local workforce. The Broughton leadership team includes commercial director Nick Tyson, on secondment from his role as assistant principal and curriculum director at Coleg Cambria – one of the largest higher and further education colleges in the UK.

“We’ll be working with local education providers, and appointing Nick means we have an immediate link to all the colleges and universities in Wales,” says Baragwanath. “At Sheffield, many of the techniques we develop subsequently find their way into the training curriculum. We intend that to happen in North Wales, too.”

A great quality of life and access to a skilled local workforce will attract other businesses and their prospective employees to North Wales, he believes. “It’s a really nice place to live, and that’s important when you’re looking to attract inward investors. The first thing they do is look around the countryside to see what that has to offer. North Wales has a good skills base and some large companies – so if you’re a small business wanting to set up as a supply chain company, it’s an ideal location.”

What’s more, Baragwanath is determined that Broughton is just the start of AMRC’s engagement with Wales. “This is the first phase,” he says. “Watch this space. Hopefully we’re going to outgrow this building within a couple of years, and we’ll be looking to set up new facilities in Wales.”

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