AMRC North West: driving the levelling-up agenda

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) North West is set to act as an engine room for growth across Lancashire’s vital manufacturing sector.

And it will also play an important role across the wider North West, helping to deliver the government’s ‘levelling-up’ pledge, acting as a catalyst for further inward investment and being at the forefront of building a new green economy.

While the construction of the centre, on Samlesbury’s emerging Aerospace Enterprise Zone, moves towards completion, the AMRC team is already having a major impact in the county.

The high-performing technical research and development (R&D) team has provided support to more than 140 small and medium sized firms on technology solutions.

It has also secured £10m of funding to put Lancashire manufacturing at the cutting edge of 5G technology with the ‘5G-Factory of the Future’ programme.

Melissa Conlon, AMRC North West’s commercial director, outlines the strategy she believes places the project at the heart of the levelling-up agenda and the work it can do to bring businesses together to influence national policy and funding.

She says: “We are here to act as a catalyst for bringing the sector together across the region to become greater than the sum of its parts, both in terms of practical development and innovation, and by bringing a strong collective voice to the national policy agenda.

We are here to act as a catalyst for bringing the sector together across the region to become greater than the sum of its parts

“Working with partners in business across the region, we offer a tangible path for the government to turn its ‘levelling up’ soundbite into something real for people and businesses across Lancashire.

“We have an important role to play across the North West as a lever for this ‘levelling up’; for greater and more effective investment outside of London, and supporting meaningful growth.

“If ‘levelling up’ is going to mean anything, it is going to mean continued pace in investing in supply chain and technology challenges, in order to deliver on the grand pursuits.

“We look forward to further government action in this domain so that we can build on our successes together.”

She is not alone in that belief that the AMRC can play a strong role in shaping the county’s economic future.

Last November regional growth and local government minister Luke Hall said: “This project will place Lancashire as a leader in innovation-driven, sustainable economic growth and will act as a catalyst for further inward investment.”

Melissa adds: “It’s a journey we’re keen to share with everyone across the region. This is about the creation of highly skilled jobs, bringing opportunities and prosperity to the local community. But it is also about working with partners in businesses.

“Our message is clear, the AMRC North West is ready and perfectly positioned to support your business.

“Not only are we here to give access to advanced technologies that will drive improvements in productivity, performance and quality, we’re also a pathway to more collective influence on national policy and funding models.”

Last year, in an important step forward, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his ‘levelling up’ fund to ‘support the infrastructure of everyday life’ in areas across the country.

Mellisa says: “Questions remain about how soon we will see this investment, and how we can ensure it is focused on areas and projects that will have the greatest impact and deliver real, meaningful improvements to people’s lives.

“Alongside this fund, it is clear that R&D funding, currently concentrated in the south east ‘Golden Triangle’ of Cambridge, London and Oxford, must be invested more widely across the country in future if we are to have the impact that we all want to see on the ground with jobs and growth.

“An investment of larger amounts of the existing R&D budget across the North will have a clear impact on people, delivering cutting-edge education and skills training, and enabling pioneering innovative research to flourish across a wider network of centres of excellence.

“By doing this and ‘levelling up’ the economy, with investment rooted in manufacturing capability, we will be far better prepared in ensuring the UK is resilient to any number of future challenges.”

It’s not only the ‘levelling up’ agenda where the AMRC North West has an important role to play.

The Prime Minister recently announced a ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution stating that £12bn of government investment will be mobilised to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs, focusing on the UK’s industrial heartlands.

Again, there is a need for action as well as words to turn the vision into reality. Melissa says: “While this sounds like good news, it is imperative that such announcements become something tangible.

“We’re bringing a strong voice to make the case for backing up these words with delivery and action for the region.

“Over the coming months and years, we will continue to collaborate with manufacturing businesses large and small across Lancashire.

“Our areas of expertise span work at the cutting edge of everything from machining, integrated manufacturing, batteries and electrification, and design and prototyping, to virtual reality, robotics and automation and additive manufacturing (polymers and metallics).

“Our strengths lie in demystifying and de-risking the process of adopting Industry 4.0 technologies through research, collaboration and knowledge.

“The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in the Sheffield City Region has spent the past 20 years demonstrating how effective this model of an academic-business partnership can be.

“This excellence is something we’re thrilled to be bringing to the North West, building on the incredible industrial heritage of the region to keep it at the forefront of innovative, advanced manufacturing.”

AMRC North West has been backed by Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) through £20m growth deal funding. Construction work began on site last November.