UK’s New 3D Printing Hub Set to Transform Historical Industrial Town

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In May 2024, the town of Darwen in the UK received approval for a new multi-million-pound manufacturing and research center, marking a significant milestone for the community. This development, part of the £100 million Darwen Town Deal, includes the UK’s first Additive Manufacturing Accelerator and aims to create a cluster of advanced industrial units.

A joint venture between construction firm Barnfield Construction and local government authority Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, the project is supported by the University of Sheffield‘s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), a leading institution in industrial innovation, which will be the anchor tenant.

Wayne Wild, Chair of The Darwen Town Deal, pointed out that “We want our plans for the town to be truly transformational, including creating opportunities around employment growth and business innovation too. The AMRC facility could be the first of its kind for the country, pioneering additive and 3D printing technology and creating opportunities for local businesses to thrive. Darwen has a long industrial heritage, and so we’re proud to be able to support plans for this new manufacturing and research centre and securing this planning permission is a fantastic step forward.”

According to Tracy Clavell-Bate, head of development for Barnfield, the town is a prime location for a manufacturing development, and they are advancing discussions with the AMRC to be the anchor tenant at the future new site.

“It would be the first Additive Manufacturing Accelerator of its kind in the UK, bringing with it a whole host of opportunities for the town. Having an AMRC in Darwen would be a huge coup.”

The University of Sheffield AMRC campus is on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire. Image courtesy of the University of Sheffield.

Having the University of Sheffield’s AMRC as the anchor tenant would be a major win for the area. The center is renowned for its cutting-edge research and innovation in manufacturing, collaborating with over 120 industrial partners, including giants like Boeing, Rolls-Royce, McLaren Automotive, and Siemens. Its focus is on advanced manufacturing technologies and aims to drive industrial transformation through innovation and sustainability.

One of the AMRC’s significant collaborations is with Boeing, which has been a partner since the center’s inception in 2001. This partnership has led to numerous advances in aerospace manufacturing, including the recent £80 million COMPASS project, which aims to develop new composite manufacturing technologies. These innovations are crucial for creating lighter, more efficient aircraft and meeting the aviation industry’s net-zero targets by 2050.

In additive manufacturing, the AMRC has pioneered 3D printing techniques to produce complex metal components for aerospace and automotive. This includes projects with industry leaders to optimize 3D printing processes for large-scale production, ensuring high quality and reducing material waste.

The AMRC also collaborates with IBM to enhance AI-driven manufacturing processes. Using IBM’s advanced AI and machine learning technologies, it has developed systems for rapid and precise quality inspection, significantly improving manufacturing efficiency and reducing waste.

Moreover, this extensive network of partnerships and its focus on high-tech manufacturing make the AMRC an ideal anchor tenant for Darwen’s new center, promising to bring notable economic growth and innovation to the region.

Researchers using AM at the University of Sheffield AMRC campus. Image courtesy of University of Sheffield.

The Darwen Town Deal, securing £25 million from the government and £75 million from the council and private investors, is a major investment plan to transform the town. Darwen is one of just 55 towns across the country to have been awarded this funding as part of the Government’s Long Term Plan for Towns scheme. Moreover, this initiative is expected to boost local employment and business innovation, revitalize Darwen’s industrial heritage, and drive significant economic growth.

Wild was enthusiastic about the project, emphasizing its potential to create jobs and spur economic growth. He also highlighted the town’s rich industrial history and the exciting opportunities this new development brings.

Much more than just business development, the new manufacturing and research center represents what many in Darwen are calling a broader vision for the town’s future. With advanced manufacturing capabilities, including the groundbreaking Additive Manufacturing Accelerator, local businesses will have access to new technologies and research. This will attract new companies to the area and support existing businesses in expanding and innovating.

As the planning and development phase progresses, the community can expect significant changes. The Darwen Town Deal continues to focus on various projects to enhance the town’s infrastructure, from improved broadband connectivity to new sports facilities. The manufacturing and research center stands out as a flagship initiative and marks a pivotal moment for the community.

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