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Manufacturing Technology Centre helps Thermal Energy Research Accelerator and Dearman Engine establish mini-factories in foreign markets.


A series of new Government-funded projects managed by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)  are designed to help transform small and medium-sized UK manufacturing companies into some of the most efficient digital factories in the world, and leading players in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

One, the "Factory in a Box" concept will allow manufacturers globally, which are missing key components from local suppliers, to soon have a British technology solution delivered to their doorstep.

Backed by £10m funding from the Thermal Energy Research Accelerator (T-ERA), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) together with the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University have developed the 'Factory in a Box' concept that deploys custom-designed mini-factories into established manufacturing operations across the world.

The mobile factories, which can be shipped in a container, will use next generation Industry 4.0 technology, such as smart sensors, super-fast broadband and big data to measure and control production processes remotely.

T-ERA and the MTC believe this will reduce the significant expense of setting up stand-alone production facilities, while also giving UK companies the opportunity to establish manufacturing footprints in new markets relatively quickly.

It is a new approach that one British technology firm is already working with T-ERA and the MTC to take advantage of, as it moves its technology from first commercial field trials through full design for manufacture ready for commercial production.

"Many companies need specific production capabilities near to where they make big assemblies, but often ship them in at great expense," says Neil Rawlinson, strategic development director at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

"We have designed a method for deploying capacity in other countries very quickly, but managed remotely from the UK and capturing the added value and knowledge of our manufacturers. This know-how would be a British export and deliver new jobs."

He adds: "Factory in a Box could also be the answer to increasing the UK's ability to commercialise the R&D it has developed, offering greater speed to market and flexible production opportunities."

Having helped to develop the concept of Factory in a Box, Dearman, a Croydon-based clean energy technology specialist, is planning to work with T-ERA and the new Advanced Thermal Manufacturing Centre to use the model to scale-up rapidly the manufacture of its cryogenic liquid air engines internationally.

Toby Peters, Chief Executive of Dearman, said:

"The days of establishing mega factories that churn out vast amounts of low value, volume product are rapidly coming to an end. Getting innovative, responsive new technologies into international markets quickly relies upon a new model for manufacturing which can be established here in the UK, allowing us to export not just technology but also manufacturing know-how. At Dearman, we see this as a way to produce a game changing technology, at the right price, that can be tailored to local demands, while establishing international presence in fast growing economies."

T-ERA is part of the Energy Research Accelerator programme announced in the 2015 Budget, with £60 million of government funding supporting a further £120 million private sector and university investment, to develop energy storage and cold energy technologies. Six Midlands universities are in the consortium: Aston University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and the University of Warwick.

Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute and leader of T-ERA, said:

"This is a fantastic opportunity for ERA to invest in a facility that will not only help drive UK productivity, but will be a research platform for universities to position themselves at the cutting edge of innovation in manufacturing."

Siemens, employing around 6,000 people in engineering-related jobs in the UK, will provide some the core technology in the box factories.

"Virtual tools, advanced automation and remote engineering technologies will play a vital part in accelerating the innovation cycles of the ongoing developments and customisation challenges this programme will bring," says Alan Norbury, Siemens' industrial chief technology officer.

"Siemens is one company that is capable of offering this broad spectrum of interconnected and integrated technologies supporting the MTC, keeping ownership and the technology knowhow in the UK."

The MTC has been at the forefront of leading the UK's processes for Industry 4.0, or what is fast becoming known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and is to date running more than 10 projects aimed at helping companies access digital factory technology involving Government and European Commission funds totalling over £15 million.