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Digital manufacturing projects win £11.4m of EPSRC funding

03 July, 2018

The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £11.4m in funding to seven projects aimed at creating novel digital tools, techniques and processes to support the use of digital technologies in the manufacturing sector. The projects will bring together academics and industrial partners.

One project – called Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring and led by the University of Cambridge – will address worries that recent developments in digital manufacturing are unlikely to be accessible by SMEs because of the cost of upgrading their computing and communications facilities. The project, which has received a grant worth £1.6m, proposes a different approach to the digital evolution of manufacturing that focuses on non-industrial approaches to industrial automation and information. It will seek to exploit low-cost, commercially-available technologies for mobile computing, sensing and AI, and tackle the challenges associated with integrating these safely and securely into small-scale manufacturing. Partners in the project include BTL Precision, EEF, the MTA and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

A second project, led by the University of Bristol, and including Renishaw, Autodesk and the Moulton Bicycle Company as partners, will look at improving product development by integrating revision control and twinning digital-physical models during prototyping. The project, which has also attracted £1.6m of funding, is based on the premise that a lack of revision control in twinning of physical-digital models can lead to multiple, near-identical models, in turn contributing to issues of process management, traceability, decision-making, design duplication and inefficiency. The project will redefine revision control and twinning for digital and physical models from a manual, cumbersome, error-prone and expensive procedure, to one that is integrated (digital-to-physical and physical-to-digital), rapid, reliable and “knowledge-rich”.

A third project, attracting £1.9m of funding, will aim to deliver an open-access suite of digital tools to enable real-time capture and prediction, allowing digital technologies to be optimised for manufacturing system performance. Called DigiTop (Digital toolkit for optimisation of operators and technology in manufacturing partnerships) and led by the University of Nottingham, it will use new human factors theories and data analytics to design tools to inform human requirements for workloads, situation awareness and decision-making in digital manufacturing. The industrial partners include BAE Systems, Babcock International and Jaguar Land Rover.

The other projects being supported under the programme include:

•  one on artificial intelligence for integrated, ICT-enabled pharmaceutical manufacturing, which is being led by the University of Strathclyde and will receive £1.9m;

The machined parts specialist BTL Precision is one of the participants in the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project

•  a project on science-based design and manufacturing of dynamic materials and structures, led by the University of Sheffield and receiving £.16m; and

•  one focusing on data-driven intelligence for the circular economy, led by Cranfield University and receiving a grant worth £775,000.

“The adoption of advanced ICT techniques in manufacturing provides an enormous opportunity to improve growth and productivity within the UK,” says the EPSRC’s executive chair, Professor Philip Nelson. “The effective implementation of these new technologies requires a multidisciplinary approach and these projects will see academic researchers working with a large number of industrial partners to fully harness their potential, which could generate impact across many sectors.”

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