Lancashire will be a leader in manufacturing innovation and sustainable economic growth, the UK's regional growth minister said as he welcomed construction starting on the £20m University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in the North West of England.

Luke Hall, Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, made the comments to mark the first steps in building the 4,500m2 applied research centre at the heart of the Samlesbury Aerospace Enterprise Zone in Preston, Lancashire.

"We are delighted to be backing the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) North West with a £20 million Local Growth Fund investment," said MP Luke Hall.

"This project will place Lancashire as a leader in innovation-driven, sustainable economic growth and will act as a catalyst for further inward investment.

 "It will also support the creation of highly skilled jobs, bringing opportunities and prosperity to the local community."

The flagship facility is being built using a £20m grant from the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal and extends the University of Sheffield AMRC's footprint across the north. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, a turf cutting will be held virtually bringing together key figures involved in the major development.

Steve Foxley, CEO, University of Sheffield AMRC, said that while the ceremony will take place in the virtual world the new facility will have real-world impacts for the region. "We've taken another huge stride in realising our vision to make things better, for Lancashire and for the North," he said. "This state-of-the-art facility will keep the Lancashire region at the forefront of advanced manufacturing and technologies and support its businesses to innovate and drive up productivity, leading industry towards a green recovery and a smart, sustainable and resilient future."

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: "The University of Sheffield AMRC has a long history of driving manufacturing and productivity growth in the Sheffield City Region and we're really proud to be sharing our world-leading expertise and experience in Lancashire.

"AMRC North West is already having a significant impact in supporting businesses to innovate and strengthened by this new facility, will be a beacon for innovation and advanced manufacturing across the north. It is collaborations like this that will be crucial to levelling up the regions and supporting the country's post-Covid recovery."

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Innovation at the University of Sheffield, added: "The University of Sheffield AMRC has a long-standing reputation for developing specialist regional hubs that provide engineering expertise and access to advanced capabilities tailored to the needs of local industry sectors. We are delighted to be expanding our tried and tested model for innovation to support local industry and the manufacturing sector in the North West."

Even before the first spade hit the dirt for the new facility, the creation of a high-performing technical R&D team at AMRC North West is already having impact, having supported more than 100 small and medium sized firms across the region in the first year, and the recent announcement of a £10m funding win to put Lancashire and North West manufacturing at the cutting edge of 5G technology with the 5G-Factory of the Future​ programme. Led by AMRC North West, the programme will develop a 5G industrial testbed to unlock the potential of industrial digitalisation and improve the performance of manufacturers across the North of England.

James Hughes, Research Director for AMRC North West, said: "It is hugely exciting for everyone involved in the AMRC North West project to see our new facility becoming a reality. This new state-of-the-art building will really enable us to showcase the cutting-edge R&D we are conducting in advanced manufacturing. We are looking forward to supporting the region's manufacturers with innovative solutions to their manufacturing challenges and welcome them to come and visit us, to see it in action for themselves."

Melissa Conlon, Commercial Director for AMRC North West, said: "Our new facility will help accelerate manufacturing growth, supporting the supply chains in the region to drive up productivity and attract inward investment to create a sustainable future for advanced manufacturing in the North West. We have already worked with more than 100 Lancashire SMEs to accelerate their adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies to improve performance and quality and ensure that they are able to compete in the global economy."

Steve Fogg, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: ''It is fantastic that work has now started on the AMRC North West facility on the Samlesbury site.  The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership has invested £20m from our Growth Deal programme as we are confident in the AMRC's ability to drive growth and increase productivity to ensure Lancashire remains at the forefront of innovative and cutting-edge technologies. Not only is the LEP confident that the AMRC can deliver a step-change to how our businesses operate, the fact that they have decided to locate in Lancashire is testament to Lancashire's strong manufacturing and innovative heritage."

Stephen Young, Executive Director of Growth, Environment, Transport and Community Services at Lancashire County Council, said:  "This is a prestigious investment for our Enterprise Zone, which is a strategically important employment site that will play a key part in the levelling up agenda for our region. The AMRC facility will stand proudly at the 'gateway' to the site as a beacon of excellence.  We believe Lancashire is the perfect place for this investment. Manufacturing is in our DNA and we have the right environment, skills and businesses to work with high-value manufacturers."

Robertson was awarded the £11m construction contract for AMRC North West. Alongside Robertson a full design team is in place, including Cartwright Pickard Architects, Curtins Engineers, Arup, Gardiner and Theobald, and Rex Procter and Partners. Work is expected to complete during the second half of 2021.

Dirk Pittaway, managing director, Robertson North West, said: "Any start on site represents an exciting new chapter and the start on site at University of Sheffield AMRC North West heralds a host of new opportunities.  With more than 80% of our orders already placed with local supply chains and SMEs, the construction of the facility will play a fundamental role in boosting the local economy.  We look forward to working with the entire team to deliver an outstanding facility which will be a showcase for both Lancashire and advanced manufacturing technology."

Currently operating from an interim facility provided by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the centre of Preston, the AMRC North West team's permanent new home will be a gateway development on the Samlesbury Aerospace Enterprise Zone which is part of the wider Lancashire Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Cluster.

The cutting-edge research centre will combine modern office workspace with a flexible high-tech workshop facility and a triple-height atrium will form the social hub of the office space where occupants can interact and exchange ideas. A 'social heart' space will overlook the workshop where innovation-led R&D will be carried out with a focus on digital and additive manufacturing, vehicle electrification, battery assembly and lightweighting technologies.​

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