Metrology To Drive Factories Of Future

Metrology News Editor was recently privileged to spend 2 days touring the Advanced Manufacturing Research Group (AMRC). Focused activity buildings include composites, nuclear, machining and castings operating under a methodology of cooperative technology development activities between the AMRC and industrial partners.

The AMRC was established in 2001 as a £15 million collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Boeing, with support from the European Regional Development Fund and additional local funding. Since this beginning it has developed and grown into a globally unique center of excellence for manufacturing research.

The AMRC with Boeing is part of the AMRC Group, a cluster of world-class centers for industry-focused research and development of technologies used in high-value manufacturing sectors. The group has specialist expertise in machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites, designing for manufacturing, testing and training. It has developed a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and has become a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry, worldwide. The group also includes the AMRC Training Center which provides training from apprenticeships through to doctorate and MBA level.

The AMRC casting facility boasts a Consumable Electrode Casting Furnace capable of melting the 1000kg of Titanium to produce 500kg castings. Molten Titanium is poured into a ceramic mold in the casting chamber incorporating a turntable that can spin the mold at up to 300 revolutions a minute creating a high quality centrifugal casting. In addition a new plant has been installed to make ceramic mold shells up to two meters in diameter x 2.5 meters long weighing more than 2.5 tonnes and is large enough to produce the largest variants of aero-engine intercases of up to 500kg, and other structural aerospace components.

The nuclear facility is equipped with the very latest manufacturing machining technologies including some of the largest machining centers, vertical turning lathes and lathes available.

Overall AMRC comprises the most impressive focused investment in advanced manufacturing technology available at a single location for industry to partner and solve existing manufacturing problems, improve existing processes or develop next generation manufacturing methods. Its no coincidence that Boeing, Rolls Royce and McLaren have set up ‘green-field’ manufacturing operations adjacent to the AMRC campus to leverage both the available high quality educated work-force and the manufacturing research prowess of AMRC.

Metrology is in evidence throughout the various AMRC facilities confirming the critical role that metrology will play in advancing manufacturing into its upcoming digital era. Projects witnessed during the tour included industrial robot tracking to improve robotic cell performance for aerospace drilling, machining and assembly operations, robot calibration to aid off-line programming and process control, dynamic error correction of large volume machine-tools and coordinate measuring machines (CMM) and on-machine  CMM style part inspection. Several active project were in evidence with construction industry partners whereby modular housing production concepts were under research with optical scanners and robots performing critical quality control roles to ensure seamless on-site module assembly.

The AMRC Factory 2050 is the UK’s first state of the art factory, entirely dedicated to conducting collaborative research into reconfigurable digitally assisted assembly, component manufacturing and machining technologies and is capable of rapidly switching production between different high-value components and one-off parts.

The AMRC 6,730 sq m Factory 2050 facility is located on the University of Sheffield’s new Advanced Manufacturing Campus. The landmark circular glass building and rectangular extension is home to the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group (IMG). IMG’s work spans robotics and automation, integrated large volume metrology, digitally assisted assembly and manufacturing informatics. The Group is developing ways of meeting demand for high variation and mass customization, intelligent machines and process that monitor and optimize their operations, techniques to shorten lead times and ramp production up and down rapidly, ways of handling and making sense of big data, human machine collaboration and techniques for digitally assisted assembly.

“Its enlightening to witness that in tomorrow’s manufacturing factories metrology will no-longer be the process that confirms you manufactured correctly but integral to the process itself that communicates the necessary data how to manufacture correctly.”

For more information: Factory-2050