Advanced search

Roundtable debate: What is Advanced Manufacturing?

It’s the latest buzz-phrase for the future of the UK industry, but what exactly is Advanced Manufacturing? The Engineer - in association with the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) - invited a panel of leading UK technologists to a roundtable debate at London’s Royal Society to find out.

The Engineer's roundtable debate

The Panellists (clockwise from bottom left)

Jon Excell
Editor, The Engineer

Ian Godden
Chairman, ADS

Dr Clive Hickman
Chief Executive,Tata Motors European Technical Centre

John Ransford
Manufacturing Advisor,Manufacturing Advisory Service

Prof Richard Hague
Loughborough University, Additive Manufacturing Research Group

Stuart Nathan
Features Editor, The Engineer

Marc Saunders
General Manager, Renishaw UK and Ireland

Jason Aldridge
Managing Director, Arrowsmith Engineering

Andrew Bromley
Engineering Director, David Brown Gear Systems


The Engineer: What do we actually mean by advanced manufacturing? Does it refer to exotic new non-traditional techniques,

improvements to existing production methods or a mixture of the two?

John Ransford: Advanced manufacturing is so wide and varied. What may be advanced in one area may not be advanced in another. I think it’s companies climbing a ladder from where they are to a higher level using different techniques.

John Ransford, Manufacturing Advisor, Manufacturing Advisory Service

John Ransford Manufacturing Advisor Manufacturing Advisory Service

Ian Godden: I’ve got a different view. In the UK, at least, manufacturing had become denigrated as unacceptable, because everyone assumed that it’s all going to low-cost manufacturing in China and India. Therefore we’ve had to invent the term advanced manufacturing in order to justify that this is the bit that’s going to stay here because it’s ‘very advanced’. It doesn’t define anything; it makes that statement.

Marc Saunders: We mustn’t confuse manufacturing with production. Renishaw employs 2,200 people and only a third of them make things. A third of them design things and a third of them support the others. The importance of manufacturing enterprises to the UK isn’t just the business of screwing things together and cutting metal. Ian’s right to say that ‘advanced’ is the stuff that we can retain. But why is that? It’s because it’s in some way differentiated. It may be the product itself, it may be the way it’s made, or it could just be down to the proximity and responsiveness of the supply chains to the prime supplier.

Ian Godden, Chairman, ADS Group

Ian Godden Chairman ADS Group

Jason Aldridge: But it’s also the areas of new and evolving manufacturing. It’s the marketplace that leads use there. Nuclear and renewable energy are now coming in, and new materials to make aircraft and cars lighter: we’re having to make advancements in those areas.

John Ransford: We use the term ‘high value’. We don’t think we are going to make 10,000 right-angled pieces of metal with a couple of holes in them anymore; it’s got to be something more refined and it tends to be higher up the value chain. We’re seeing a lot of our engineering companies moving into some really intricate machining.

Marc Saunders: And therefore the skill set that is needed is not a bloke standing next to a machine; it is a manufacturing engineer that can understand how to hone a process to a level that’s automated, efficient and high quality. That’s the skill-set of the future.

Marc Saunders, General Manager, Renishaw UK and Ireland

Marc Saunders General Manager Renishaw UK and Ireland

Richard Hague: For me it’s moving away from commodity items that are probably best made in the lower-wage economies and moving towards high-value products. It’s not just a single technology. Engineering design is absolutely critical to this and we’ve always been heralded as a nation that is excellent at engineering design, but there’s a view that it doesn’t matter where we make the things. Of course, it absolutely matters, because if you don’t know how to make things, you will eventually forget how to design them.

Ian Godden: I think you have to be careful with that. High volume doesn’t mean commodity and commodity doesn’t mean low-value manufacturing. A Coca-Cola line fills 2,000 cans per minute and is very advanced, but it’s a high-volume commodity product. I see lots of high-volume, very advanced commodity manufacturing.

Clive Hickman: For me, there are two words that capture this territory: reducing variation, whether it’s in low or high volume. If I look at car plants, when I went out to India all of the bodies were being built by people with spot-welding guns and you can guarantee that someone working on the shopfloor is not going to be the same day to day. One of the first things I wanted was a fully automated body manufacturing facility, because without that I couldn’t get a consistent product. Once I had a consistent body, everything else fell into place.

Jason Aldridge: We do a lot of R&D work where variation isn’t so relevant because you’re making very small numbers.

Prof Richard Hague, Loughborough University, Additive Manufacturing Research Group

Prof Richard Hague, Loughborough University Additive Manufacturing Research Group

Clive Hickman: That doesn’t matter, because I think that in low volume you can get high variety and still achieve low variation.

Richard Hague: Can I challenge your point? I work in an area that is basically 3D printing of components. But it’s not necessarily high volume. One of the advantages of this is the creation of economic low volume. Most people would define that as advanced manufacturing, but our repeatability is shockingly bad. Does that make us not advanced?

Clive Hickman: You’re at the point in the programme at the moment where your repeatability is bad. But as you carry on and do your development, I guarantee you in 10 years, you will improve the repeatability.

The Engineer: Whether we’re talking about advanced products, processes or a combination of the two, what are the key sectors that are driving advancement in all these areas?

Ian Godden: If you look at our world market share in certain areas, that must be a definition of us being good at something. We’re at three per cent in automotive, which is exactly our wealth in the world, and the reason it’s still here is that you don’t want to ship loads of goods around; it needed to be in Europe. A lot of Japanese companies invested here because of the tax and business environment. We’ve got three per cent of the demand in the world and we are good enough at doing it to justify the fact that it’s here. Aerospace is 17 per cent of the market share — we’re second only to the US, so we must be good at that. That’s engines, wings, some cockpit for the military. And our market share is growing.

Jason Aldridge, Managing Director, Arrowsmith Engineering Ltd

Jason Aldridge Managing Director Arrowsmith Engineering Ltd

Marc Saunders: Other obvious ones are medical devices; oil and gas; these are areas where we have significant clusters that are driving innovation.

Jason Aldridge: Renewables and nuclear, we may not be world forces in, but we’ll have to be.

Richard Hague: For renewables, it’s like car assembly, we have to make them where they’re going to be used; it’s much more efficient. That’s why we’ll get an industry in that area.

Jason Aldridge: But historically, that’s when you’re the most innovative, isn’t it? I think the British are very good when we are forced into that situation and certainly with the SMEs we’re now forced into a position where we’ve got to shake ourselves down and get it right. And that is happening.

John Ransford: SMEs are absolutely fantastic at taking new ideas on board and giving them a try. From that we have got some of the top Formula 1 teams, we have got a lot of development centres for the bigger car makers. We are really good at coming up with ideas and giving it a try.

Dr CLive Hickman, Chief Executive, Tata Motors European Technical Centre

Dr CLive Hickman Chief Executive Tata Motors European Technical Centre

Clive Hickman: We’re also very good at coming up with good ideas and giving them away.

The Engineer: So how do we hang on to our expertise?

Richard Hague: That’s a matter of culture, isn’t it?  Ever since I’ve been an engineer, manufacturing and engineering have been dirty words. It’s only in the last couple of years that people have realised you actually have to make something to make any money in a country.

Jason Aldridge: But in the last four or five years there’s been an absolute transformation.

Ian Godden: I think that’s right, but there is an elephant in the room. There’s a reason that we have a 17 per cent market share in aerospace. Every time there’s a new aircraft model, the government puts huge amounts of risk money into it. Lord Mandelson put a billion pounds into the aerospace industry last year. For the A350, the government put 12 per cent of the money up. We know perfectly well that our share of the A350 will be 12 per cent. That’s the game. Now, risk money will go into civil nuclear. Although the government is saying ‘no subsidies’, the signalling they are giving will determine whether we have advanced manufacturing and engineering in civil nuclear, and the amount of tax subsidy we give to renewable energy will determine whether or not we have a sector there. We’ll fool ourselves as engineers if we think that we’re wonderful and so we can overcome the fact that’s the way the world competes.

Andrew Bromley, Engineering Director, David Brown Gear Systems

Andrew Bromley Engineering Director David Brown Gear Systems

Clive Hickman: And we need to look at the intervention that the government is giving now to the manufacturing centres being set up around the country, in Loughborough, Coventry, Strathclyde, Bristol and Sheffield. They’re getting a vast sum from the government to form the link between university-based research and the sharp end of volume production. It’s a massive opportunity for UK plc and if we don’t seize on that now, we’re in real danger of falling by the wayside. I think this is just as important as the money going into aerospace because it is spread over such a wide spectrum.

Marc Saunders: It is. I chair the technical board of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre [AMRC] in Sheffield. It is aerospace-dominated — the AMRC was founded by Boeing and Rolls-Royce has got on board in a big way, and is now largely driving it. The Advanced Forming Research Centre [AFRC], the Manufacturing Technology Centre [MTC] in Coventry and the composites centre at Bristol have come about because of Rolls-Royce’s lobbying power. Those centres are strong in getting technologies out of the conceptual stage and towards a clear demonstrable stage on representative equipment. There’s still a gap where it gets dropped into real factories, and that’s where our key primes need to develop their ability.

Tata Motors' Dr CLive Hickman

Tata Motors’ Dr CLive Hickman

Jason Aldridge: You’ve got to pull the supply chain along with the primes. There’s no point having technology centres with all the primes putting money in and getting massively advanced and then leaving the supply chain behind.

Ian Godden: That’s the one criticism of it, that the SMEs aren’t engaged enough with it yet.

Jason Aldridge: And do you know why? We’ve looked at joining the one in Coventry and it’s very expensive. You almost have to become a big company to get involved and we have to watch that. We can’t have this gap between top-drawer primes and third-division SMEs scuffling around down there.

Richard Hague: But the top-drawer primes have to say that using these new techniques is okay, so if they don’t get involved it’s going to be difficult at the lower levels.

Andrew Bromley: This is all fantastic but we haven’t got the skilled engineers that are going to pick up this technology and make it work for us. The investment in apprentices and graduate engineers stopped about 10 years ago.

L to R: Ian Godden, Clive Hickman

L to R: Ian Godden, Clive Hickman

Ian Godden: If the government cuts defence by 20 per cent we’ll have a surplus of engineers looking for jobs. That would cut 20,000 engineers out of the UK economy.

Marc Saunders: I will have a few of them!

The Engineer: What kind of production techniques and technologies are being developed?

Marc Saunders: There are four main technology strands at the AMRC. There’s a big focus on machining and cutting metal, and cutting aerospace alloys in a much more productive way. They’re also looking at combinations of additive processes and machining to produce composite components that are lighter, stronger and can replace metal. There’s an assembly process where they’re looking at how to put engines and airframe components together. There’s innovative materials processing, with a lot of additive processes and a structural testing looking at the performance of the components made using these techniques. It is not an academic research lab that’s hived away; the kit is very representative of the equipment you would expect to see in aerospace companies of the future.

Jason Aldridge

Jason Aldridge

Clive Hickman: The MTC in Coventry, again, is aerospace-led. It is looking at high-integrity fabrication, laser-welding, net-shape manufacturing, isostatic pressing, direct laser fabrication and advanced tooling. There’s also a stream looking at reconfigurable tools to do different types of jobs; they’re looking at intelligent automation, again focusing on reducing variation and they’re looking at how you can get high variety and low volumes.

The Engineer: What do we have to do to get this expertise from the R&D sector into a manufacturing area?

Richard Hague: Give me more money!

John Ransford: And how do we keep it in this country?

Marc Saunders: Make sure that link is maintained from the universities through the whole supply chain and not just to the primes.

Clive Hickman: Get that supply chain together through the three links and all of a sudden you’ve got something that’s unique.

Richard Hague: The funding of these advanced centres is very important. If you look at research as a pipeline, if you stop funding the low-technology-readiness stuff, eventually you’ll have nothing to take out to industry. Funding of good engineering and manufacturing is vital, and I’ll give the EPSRC credit, it insists on these new centres being user-led. Even though it’s low-technology-readiness-level activity, it has to have an end-goal of use.

L to R: John Ransford, Richard Hague

L to R: John Ransford, Richard Hague

Clive Hickman: Industry is prepared to help to do that. If I could get an end-of-line test from four hours to 10 minutes, that’s worth a lot of money and I would be prepared to put some money in to research. Then I wouldn’t want to make that equipment, so there’s an opportunity for SMEs to pick that up and make it into a tool based on the research that’s funded by someone else.

Richard Hague: The EPSRC will only fund low-technology-readiness-level stuff, but the centres have to have a portfolio spanning up the technology readiness levels. It’s effectively only a quarter of the funding; they also have to engage with industry. But the reality of it is, you have to have government funding. Research is research and some of it will work and some of it won’t. There was this ridiculous quote from the government: 90 per cent of research is useless. Of course it is! A lot of research doesn’t work, that’s why it’s research!

The Engineer: So are there areas we can really push forward?

Clive Hickman: There’s a big opportunity for the auto industry, particularly when you start to look at how you manage big batteries. We’ve got good batteries starting to be manufactured, but they’re giving us a vehicle range of about 150km on one charge and we really need to get to 300km, and we need the battery to be half the price. Battery manufacture is very much advanced manufacturing, there’s very little interaction with individuals to make the cells themselves, but building the cells into batteries is labour intensive. How can we make that an automated process that takes the labour cost out and gets better quality?

L to R: Ian Godden, Clive Hickman, John Ransford

L to R: Ian Godden, Clive Hickman, John Ransford

Richard Hague: Britain also has a strong lead in additive manufacturing. Basically we’re talking about 3D printing, where you start with a CAD model, cut it into slices and print those slices on top of each other. It’s fairly well established with polymers and it’s getting more established with metallics, but there’s a fair way still to go, especially on repeatability. The main benefit is the design freedom.

Marc Saunders: It frees you from restrictions. You don’t have to make parts you machine and bolt together. You can reduce the part count and connect functional bits in different ways.

Richard Hague: You have part consolidation with topological optimisation; you can define the outside boundaries, define the load it has to carry and effectively grow the part rather than having the constraints of getting a machine tool in there. We’re starting to take it one stage further by embedding some functionality, printing in condition monitoring. We’re leading on a research level in the UK but certainly not on an exploitation level.

Andrew Bromley: How do the properties of additive components compare with more conventional machined parts?

Marc Saunders: We use them for dental implants and it’s strong enough to withstand bite forces, which are pretty large. Those are structural, every one’s unique and we can make lots of them; it’s high-volume manufacturing.

L to R: Jason Aldridge, Andrew Bromley

L to R: Jason Aldridge, Andrew Bromley

Richard Hague: Small and complex parts are perfect. In-ear hearing aids are made like this. For metals, it’s similar to wrought characteristics, so really very good. For small complex parts, especially topologically optimised lightweight products, it is exceptionally cost-effective. 

Marc Saunders: And it can be combined with subtractive processes. There’s nothing to stop you machining critical features to get the tolerances that the additive process can’t quite hold. Or vice-versa, you can add lumps onto the cylinder of an engine case. It is an exciting area for a range of fields.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Advanced Manufacture means different things to different people depending upon what they do and how they do it – With Technology or Manual labour.

    For me Advanced Manufacture is all about 'Better, Quicker and Cheaper' - Things that one needs to explain.

    1) Better means development of new methods and techniques both to give more consistent and higher quality production AND the provide the new manufacturing methods and techniques to improve ones existing products and allow Design Engineers to develop design concepts into new products. For instance continual improvement in Gas Turbines (Industrial, Power Generation and Aero engine) revolves around the need to faster compress the inlet air and run hotter to expand the gas passing through the turbine to provide run more efficiently and provide more thrust to fly a plane (Aero Engine) or drive a generator (Power Generation and Industrial Gas Turbines) and provide mechanical drive for pumping and compression (Industrial Gas Turbines). Pushing materials and manufacturing processes to the limits and, in the case of welding (my speciality) finding new ways to weld with consistent high quality materials previously deemed unweldable. For example friction welding to inertia weld rotors and friction stir welding to weld materials that cannot be joined by fusion welding.

    2) Quicker to reduce lead times and costs – For instance the use of intelligent agile fixturing that adapts to a range of parts meaning one doesn’t need dedicated fixtures (Framework 6 AFFIX project – look up on an internet search)

    3) Cheaper – Technology and manufacturing organisation to reduce costs to remain competitive price wise with competitors AND location wise in competition with lower wage cost societies – For example Automation and Multi-manning where a single man mans several machines to reduce labour costs by through flexibility supported by Process Monitoring that enables the man minding the machines to divert his attentions to multiple roles. By process monitoring I mean using sensors to monitor what is happening in real time and prevent poor quality – for example, listening to what happens during machining and being able to tell when a ‘chattering condition’ exists (rejectable defect on rotating parts in gas turbines) and modify machining conditions to avoid rejects, identifying from load cell measurements when a machine tool/cutting tool is about to break and swap out without catastrophic part damage and monitor burr formation on broaching to identify when a broaching burr is acceptable and make a broaching tool change before the burr can grow to size when burring forms a substrate defect in the underlying turbine disk.

    Just a sampler of what can be done AND IS BEING DONE NOW in advanced manufacturing.

    Other specific Advanced Manufacturing examples include the:-

    • Ability to monitor machining loads during machining to identify forces so that fixture design can ‘learn’ to design to react loads properly to minimise applied loads and stresses during machining and hence the residual stresses imparted to the component during machining – TECHNOLOGY THAT ALSO ALLOWS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO TWEAK MACHINING TO TWEAK RESIDUAL STRESSES SO THAT WE IMPROVE COMPONENT LIFE. Do you machine components for minimum costs or do you machine for optimum component life – the balance between minimum cost and maximum value!

    • Lead times for new turbine blades design costs time and money to evaluate a design and validate it – traditionally a year for each design iteration as it involved sourcing forgings or castings of hollow turbine blades. The development by a Swiss machine tool company 20 years ago for a CNC machine that could Machine solid blades direct from the 3D design model saved considerable lead times and costs whilst increasing the number of validation cycles to improve the design. I have used rapid prototyping in polymer to make polymer replica’s of hollow turbine blades for flow checking (cooling air flow volumes) and frequencies. I also discussed the rapid manufacture of hollow turbine blades in metal from a laser powder bed so that metal replica’s could be obtained to improve the design loop further by enabling high temperature rig tests to measure temperature distributions at operating temperature so that the cooling air flow paths could be optimised to allow maximum gas path temperatures to be attained.

    • Rapid prototyping and manufacture.

    • ‘Additive manufacture’ – make near net shape in weld metal or hybrid near net shapes in which features are added with weld metal to a near net shape. Cost and lead time reductions compared to machining features in larger chunks of metal by ‘subtractive manufacture’

    • My current project for New Nuclear Builds is the automation of mechanised welding processes using feedback systems and Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmed into a computer controlled mechanised welding system. Main advantage is consistent high quality and reduced lead times combined with eliminating the need for 2 skilled site welders per welding station and replacing them with a machine setter. The main driver is consistent quality and reduced cost but equally important the UK is 2000 skilled site welders short of projected needs for New Nuclear Builds in the UK and companies working at site will be held to ransom by welders switching employers in such circumstances – we won’t be.

    My first paragraph stated “Advanced Manufacture means different things to different people depending upon what they do and how they do it – With Technology or Manual labour.” Using Fabrication and Welding as an example each of the following 6 stages is more ‘advanced’ than the previous:-

    1) Manual welding with preparation and pre-heating by hand held air plasma or oxy-propane heating/cutting equipment and hand grinding tools.

    2) Manual welding with a manipulator with preparation on an oxyfuel profile cutter and a nibbler and pre-heating using resistance heating blankets with individual controls.

    3) Mechanised welding with a column and boom manipulator with precision preparation on Laser profile cutter and pre-heating using resistance heating blankets with sequence controls.

    4) Manually operated CNC welding with precision preparation on Laser profile cutter or 5 axis Laser machining and pre-heating using resistance heating blankets with CNC controls.

    5) Fully Automated mechanised or 1st generation Robotic CNC welding with precision preparation on Laser profile cutter or 5 axis laser machining and pre-heating using resistance heating blankets with CNC controls.

    6) Fully Automated mechanised or 2nd generation Robotic CNC welding with modern vision systems and AI controls, precision preparation on Laser profile cutter or 5 axis laser machining and pre-heating using resistance heating blankets with CNC controls.

    One can do the same for machining:-

    1) Hand filing.

    2) Manually controlled machining.

    3) Manually controlled machining with a copier attachment.

    4) CNC controlled machining – manual tool changes.

    5) CNC controlled machining – automatic tool changes.

    6) CNC controlled machining – automatic tool changes.

    7) CNC controlled machining – automatic tool changes and Process Monitoring with stop warning device to advise potential machining problems.

    8) CNC controlled machining – automatic tool changes and Process Monitoring with AI for changing tools that are about to break or about to cause defective burrs and an AI for intuitive modification to machining parameters to prevent defects like chattering.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say


My saved stories (Empty)

You have no saved stories

Save this article