25 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

Ulster’s £98m ‘factory of future’ will boost industrial innovation

Northern Ireland’s planned Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre is intended to act as a springboard for manufacturing innovation in the region

Plans for a £98m “factory of future” innovation centre for Belfast have been approved by local council. The 10,500m2 Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (Amic) will become Northern Ireland’s national centre for advanced manufacturing, accelerating innovation and collaboration between industry and researchers. It is due to open in 2026 at Global Point, Newtownabbey.

As part of the project, Innovate UK has announced a £1m investment to support Northern Irish businesses, starting within a few months. The funding will help them to build capabilities in automated food manufacturing, digital twins, and embedded digital verification technology. A series of digital manufacturing testbeds will be available to businesses to explore digital manufacturing technologies, use cases and how they can be applied to address business challenges.

The aim of Amic – being delivered by Queen’s University in partnership with Ulster University and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council – is to reinvigorate local industry and to address the future technology and skills challenges faced by the region’s manufacturing sector.

A report last year found that Northern Ireland manufacturing has a strong local competitive position, but a weak global one. Apart from a few large-scale and niche players, the economy is dominated by small companies with limited innovation capabilities that, without help, will struggle to take on new technologies and risk falling prey to more agile international competitors.

The UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive are providing £170m of funding for Amic and two other centres – the Global Innovation Institute and the Institute of Research Excellence for Advanced Clinical Healthcare – while a further £30m will be invested by Queens University and its partners.

“Northern Ireland has a vibrant and highly sophisticated advanced manufacturing sector,” says Steve Baker, Minister of State for Northern Ireland. “Amic will provide further support as a springboard for manufacturing, giving local companies access to the latest manufacturing technologies.”

Amic will build on 50 years of innovation at the Northern Ireland Technology Centre, the Polymers Processing Research Centre and the more recent NI Advanced Composites and Engineering university-industry partnership.

The near-term £1m funding will help to expand local manufacturers’ existing strengths in smart design, digitalised manufacturing, smart nano, and sustainable polymers and composites. The funding will also strengthen the relationship between Amic and the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult – the network of research and innovation centres established by Innovate UK to transform UK manufacturing.

“The £1m investment from Innovate UK will accelerate our partnership’s support for the Northern Irish manufacturing sector,” explains the HVM Catapult’s chief technology officer Professor Sam Turner, who has been seconded to Amic as interim chief executive. “The region’s full potential can be unlocked with the combined industry expertise and academic knowledge from Amic, HVM Catapult, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and the thousands of SMEs which are the sector’s backbone.”

“Innovate UK’s support will further strengthen the relationship between Amic and HVM Catapult,” adds HVM Catapult CEO, Katherine Bennett. “The businesses we work with will be even better equipped to make the most of exciting opportunities that manufacturing innovation has to offer across the whole of the UK.

“Manufacturing investment is a key driver of future growth,” she says, “and we must ensure that all manufacturers have access to new productivity, efficiency and sustainability-boosting technologies and approaches.”

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