A three-year project funded by Interreg, Machining 4.0 has received an investment of €4.25m. It will help boost growth for SMEs within the machining sector, which despite an annual turnover of €24 billion, has suffered from a lack of innovation and increased competition from low wage countries over the last five years.

The AFRC is the only UK partner, with the other nine based in countries across North West Europe including lead partner Sirris based in Belgium, and the further eight based across France, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland.

The project will help 1300 SMEs in total. 1000 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; while a further 50 SMEs will receive intensive business support.

A world leading innovation centre and the only High Value Manufacturing Catapult in Scotland, the AFRC is bringing a blend of expertise in advanced machining strategies, materials characterisation and residual stress to the project.

It is developing a legacy machine tool, integrating it with low cost sensors for extracting information that will help inform and improve future machining processes.  Analytical tools will also be introduced to help users make informed decisions in key challenge areas, such as distortion of components during machining.

Each partner in the project is working alongside an associate partner.  The AFRC has joined forces with the Machining Technologies Association (MTA), which will help identify ten SMEs across the UK in need of support from the AFRC.

The North West Europe machining sector is made up of 6800 SMEs and 135,000 employees. Its rate of innovation has failed to keep pace with evolving customer needs, which are becoming increasingly complex due to demand for precise products within short delivery times.

As a result, production within the region has shifted to low-wage countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, which has seen a 4 per cent decrease in turnover and 5 per cent reduction in employment. The UK, Germany and Switzerland are highlighted as front running regions that have already taken steps to adopt new Industry 4.0 technologies and practices.

Kareema Hilton, project lead at the Advanced Forming Research Centre, said: “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.”