Last month a new high-tech manufacturing research and development facility was opened in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The £7.5 million (US$9.9 million) Low Cost Automation Centre (completely revamping the original center established 30 years ago, and based at the Northern Ireland Technology Centre at Queen's University Belfast) is designed to help industry become more competitive and increase productivity. It has been supported by the UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy; Innovate UK; and ATI.
“The new facility will have an open door to industry partners, currently including RLC Global Point, Moyola Precision Engineering, J W Kane Precision Engineering, Travan Precision Engineering, and Retec Engineering Solutions,” said an NITC statement.
The facility, which AIN toured just before the official opening, is part of Centre for Intelligent Autonomous Manufacturing Systems (i-AMS) at Queen's and aimed at “making Industry 4.0, the new industrial revolution, a reality."
Two years ago, NITC applied for funding by way of a £5 million (US$6.6 million) capital investment from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), itself part of £1.8 billion (US$2.4 billion) earmarked for aerospace (based on 50:50 industry-government participation. The total that was later doubled to £3.6 billion (US$4.8 billion).
In October this year, NITC will celebrate its 50th anniversary, at a point when the focus is switching to the “fourth industrial revolution” (aka Aerospace 4.0). “The third industrial revolution was in the 1960s with automation,” said NITC head Colm Higgins.
Higgins said the facility also provides Northern Ireland with “an important regional link to the well established UK High Value Manufacturing Catapult and research technology organizations, as well as the emerging Irish Manufacturing Research Centre.”
Higgins said aerospace would account for approximately 50 percent of the center’s work and 70 percent of the manufacturing research and development. “We aim to be complementary to the capability that exists in the UK,” he added.
He showed AIN a 3-D factory simulation (using Dassault Systemes’ “Quest” software package) of the C Series wing plant (created before it was built), which NITC was instrumental in helping to conceptualize for the Canadian OEM. The center has also been helping Airbus in its bid to simulate A320-family production as it has brought in rate increases in Hamburg and Toulouse.