AFRC Set to Revolutionise SME Machine Processes

By Sam Scane
With an investment of over £4mn, AFRC seeks to level the playing field for SMEs...

The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) in the UK spoke in a North-West Europe wide project designed to transform the machining sector, helping 1300 SMEs to stimulate turnover and employment through the uptake of Industry 4.0 technologies.” 

Despite the machining sector itself seeing an annual turnover of over £23bn, the lack of innovation and increased competition from low wage countries over the last five years, has left SMEs (small to medium enterprises) within the machining sector a little behind, but following an investment of over £4mn into the three-year project funded by Interreg, that could drastically change. 

The North-West Europe machining sector itself is made up of over 6,000 SMEs, and unfortunately, its rate of innovation has failed to maintain pace with ever-evolving customer needs, perhaps especially with global changes due to COVID. As a result of this, production within the region itself has shifted to low-wage countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, while the UK, Germany and Switzerland are highlighted as front running regions that have taken advanced steps to adopt new Industry 4.0 technologies. 

The How 

The AFRC is the only UK partner, with the other nine based in countries across North-West Europe. The project itself is set to help 1300 SMEs in total embrace new and innovative technologies in a number of ways: 

  • 1,000 SMEs will receive knowledge on innovative manufacturing technologies 
  • 250 SMEs will be encouraged to experiment with new technologies and collaborate with research and development partners 
  • 50 SMEs will receive intensive business support 

AFRC is a world-leading innovation centre and the only High-Value Manufacturing Catapult in Scotland, and as such is bringing its high level of expertise in advanced machining strategies to the party. Currently, they’re developing a legacy machine tool, designed to be integrated with low-cost sensors for extracting information to improve future machining processes, alongside analytical tools to help users make more informed decisions. 

The Why 

Kareema Hilton, project lead at the AFRC, put it best: 

“The consortium is bringing together different areas of expertise to provide practical help for machining SMEs looking to innovate within North-West Europe. Along with the other six Catapult centres across the UK, we’ve been working with SMEs for some time to help them identify innovative technologies and process improvements that will save on costs and materials and shorten lead times across various sectors,

Machining 4.0 provides us with a fantastic opportunity to share the vast knowledge and practical examples that we’ve developed across the important areas of machining and materials characterisation here at the AFRC,

Using these complementary areas of expertise, we’ll help firms better understand their products and the effect that manufacturing processes, such as machining, have on those products. This will help them boost efficiency and ultimately become more competitive.”

The ARFC has also teamed up with the Machining Technologies Association (MTA), a combo designed to help identify ten SMEs across the UK in need of support from AFRC. 

The saying goes “competition breeds innovation”, and that much is clearly a belief of the AFRC and their combined efforts with other countries and manufacturing entities dedicated to up the game of SMEs globally. 


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