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AMRC and Boeing to open £80 million R&D centre

Aim is to develop large-scale automated manufacturing processes.

20th July 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Sheffield, United Kingdom


An £80 million boost to composites research and development for aerostructure manufacturing in the UK has been announced, with a new research facility to be built in South Yorkshire with Boeing as its first major research partner.

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has secured £50 million to establish the Compass (Composites at Speed and Scale) facility in Sheffield to enable a groundbreaking research programme with Boeing at the centre. The investment was announced by UK Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, as part of the South Yorkshire Investment Zone.

“Our first Investment Zone is a shining example of how we will drive growth across the country,” Hunt said. “It’s already secured more than £80 million of private investment, including backing from Boeing, and will help support more than 8,000 jobs by 2030.”

Compass is a major boost to aerospace research and development for the UK, helping solve composites manufacturing challenges needed to meet future demand for lighter commercial aircraft and help the aviation industry reach net zero.

It will be home to AMRC’s largest ever collaborative R&D programme with Boeing, in partnership with Spirit AeroSystems and Loop Technology. It aims to de-risk and develop high-rate sustainable structures, with the potential to reduce large component process times from around 40 hours to just four.


On the back of the research, Boeing has committed to procuring in excess of £2 billion of UK-manufactured goods for export per year to support the production of the company’s next civil passenger aircraft – with the potential to create up to 3,000 high-skilled jobs by the mid-2030s.

AMRC CEO Steve Foxley hailed the deal as a landmark for the AMRC and the region, helping unlock economic potential for South Yorkshire through new opportunities in technology and innovation, employment and investment, supply chains, skills development and training.

“Compass will help to establish South Yorkshire as the leading R&D centre of excellence in the manufacture of composites at speed and at scale, enabling future production capabilities that currently don’t exist,” he said. “This facility, alongside our existing pedigree and the work on hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels in the wider University of Sheffield, are cornerstones of a future green aerospace cluster in the region.”

The research with Boeing builds on more than 20 years of collaboration with the AMRC.

The building is being jointly funded by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA), Sheffield City Council, University of Sheffield and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. It will be home to a raft of state-of-the-art equipment secured through a £29.5 million grant from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to support new capabilities, technologies and processes to reduce cost, waste, production time and associated carbon emissions.

Time consuming

The majority of large composite components are currently manufactured by hand, placing layers of ‘prepreg’ or dry-fibre material onto a tool. Once deposited the material is either cured in an oven or autoclave or infused and cured. It is a time-consuming process, with inconsistency through the risk of human error. 

The aerospace industry now needs to disrupt current production and technological limitations by building more sustainable, large-scale aerospace assemblies at appropriate rates with reduced part counts – while maintaining the quality levels and accuracies required for components within the aerospace sector.

Drawing on relevant state-of-the-art R&D with industry Compass aims to:

- Enable the run-at-rate demonstration of large-scale automated manufacturing processes.

- Develop precise pick and place and in-line inspection technologies to support the tolerances required by aerospace.

- Develop a digital twin of the facility and process. This will allow the industry to start development work virtually and support existing research into virtual commissioning.

- Use fully-sensored processes and equipment, linked together in a flexible control architecture, providing a single source for the validation of parts and processes and enabling active control responding to changing process environments.

The data, gathered over time, will enable future research in artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques for factory-scale process optimisation.

“Together with our world-leading industry partners, this investment is poised to revolutionise aerospace manufacturing to meet global demand, while supporting vital jobs and growth in the UK,” said Maria Laine, president of Boeing UK.

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