The Innovation Space -The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)

The Innovation Space -The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)

Mtc Building WebIn this edition we learn about The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), who are challenging the boundaries of UK manufacturing.

Tell us about your organisation and what they do

The MTC is a research and technology organisation, providing innovative manufacturing system solutions in an agile, low risk environment in partnership with industry, academia and other institutions. We specialise in proving innovative manufacturing processes, taking something that can work in a laboratory, and developing it to the point where it can be applied on a shop floor, or in a factory, ensuring that it will produce what is required and reduce the risk of not being fit for purpose and significant equipment investment. We help companies manufacture their products at a consistently higher quality, lower cost and faster.

 We operate some of the most advanced manufacturing equipment in the world, and employ a team of highly skilled engineers, many of whom are leading experts in their field. Our facility provides an unparalleled environment for the development and demonstration of new UK technologies on an industrial scale, offering flexibility to our growing membership and our research partners.

When was MTC set up?

MTC is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and was founded in 2010 by the University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, Loughborough University and The Welding Institute, with the objective of bridging the gap between academia and industry, taking ideas and developing them into commercial opportunities. The remit of the universities is to undertake early stage research, getting the process to Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) three, where we then further develop and mature it.

The MTC represents one of the largest public sector investments in UK manufacturing and, after four years of planning and a 16 month build, our facility opened at Ansty Park in Coventry at the end of 2011 with 16 industrial members, 44 staff and just a few key pieces of equipment in the ‘workshop’. Fast forward to 2016 and we employ 470 people, and have a diverse range of over 90 member companies across a number of sectors including aerospace, automotive, rail & transport, informatics, food & drink, defence, construction & civil engineering, oil & gas and electronics.

We offer a high quality environment for the development and demonstration of new processes and technologies on an industrial scale. Due to the history of British manufacturing, we are very proud that our facility showcases the kind of environment that British manufacturing takes place in. Modern factories are full of natural light, they’re very clean, and they have to be to be able to run the kind of tolerances and processes with the amount of computer control that’s required to be competitive in a modern manufacturing environment.

What challenges is MTC addressing, what are you helping organisations to overcome?

Our focus is on helping UK organisations to get access to the latest technology that’s available, and to show them how to use it to become more competitive on a global scale. We believe that unless the manufacturing industry stays ahead of competitors around the world, then manufacturing will be lost, and we will continue to lose it. For example, if you can introduce automation, and you can control the processes better, you can make a better, higher quality product, maintain the markets you operate in and continue to manufacture in the UK. Ultimately, it's getting value from manufacturing that allows us to do all the other things that are important such as cultural activities, maintaining health services and paying pensions as we get older. If you’re not adding value to products, you can’t afford to do any of that. Manufacturing is the foundation of the UK economy and is really important.

In terms of your services, do you offer a full turnkey service?

We’re very flexible and can work with companies in whatever way is best for them. Some people want us to manage the whole project, but typically we’ll do it as a partner in a project. In order for them to get benefit out of it, they need to be involved because all the learning that comes out of it is embedded in their own company. One of the benefits we offer is access to engineering expertise only when required, so when it is not, there are no concerns about keeping resource employed. As we have such a diverse and growing customer base, we are able to re-deploy this across projects.

Who are the organisations you work with?

We work with both large and small companies, from organisations as diverse as Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Unilever, Amey and Makita and their supply chain, through to a full SME outreach programme. We work across the vast majority of industry sectors and are pretty much sector agnostic. The skills required to develop and mature processes are the same and irrespective of the sector you reside in. Many industries are very innovative, and design and manufacturing orientated and there are other industries that require support but a lot less frequently.

Are there any sectors that you think will grow?Workspace Web

The sector where we are currently seeing growth is construction or infrastructure. With initiatives like the High Speed Two (HS2) rail network, there is a lot of work that needs to be undertaken to modernise UK railways. Linked to this is the construction of roads, bridges, etc and there’s a big recognition in this sector that a lot of the technologies that we’ve used for manufacturing can be applied to these industries and gain great benefit.

Industries have to evolve, and part of the challenge is that with a number of these, they can become quite conservative. They keep doing things the same way and it's only when they get into a crisis, do they start to question whether there is a better way of doing things. We want to encourage industries to develop new processes and technologies, and avoid getting to this point.

What do MTC hope to achieve in the future?

Our vision is that we would like to get manufacturing back to being 25 per cent of GDP in the UK, because this is when you’ve got a truly sustainable economy.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Due to the confidential nature of much of the work we do, we are unable to promote many of the projects we work on because they give British manufacturing a competitive advantage over their competitors. A few examples of our latest successes are: the design and production of the world‘s largest additively printed aerospace part; a world first in metrology-assisted robotic automation and a virtual reality solution for architectural designs. Additionally, we’ve put entire automated systems into factories, which has made them more efficient and more effective than competitive plants around the world, preventing supply chains going offshore.

The MTC is only five years old and one of the things we are really proud of is our workforce, and the people who work here. The areas we focus on are new, and you can’t just go and recruit specialists who are experts in those areas. We've employed individuals with a lot of potential but no experience so, then developed them. In total we employ 470 people, of which 100 are apprentices, who also get involved in our projects. One of our third year apprentices has just completed a project for an SME that has secured a £2m order. We have graduate, apprentice and PhD level employees, and we are fortunate to be able to make up whatever level of team is required. The beauty is that companies can have access to knowledge and expertise for the time period they need. We work very closely with our founding universities to develop graduates and post graduates who are used to drive innovation through industry. This is all part of our supply chain which is absolutely crucial as to how MTC operates.

How do companies get access to your services?

When companies make contact with us directly, we ask them to share their challenges. This is the hardest aspect, working out exactly what the opportunity is. The companies that we work with are sometimes too ingrained and what they think is the real problem is actually not. We have a great process that we use to work through with companies to identify what the underlying problem is, then we provide an innovative holistic solution to the issue, blending a range of our expertise and technologies to provide the customer with a more robust plan for the future. 

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