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£300m programme aims to transform UK manufacturing

14 September, 2020

The UK Government is investing £147m in the Manufacturing Made Smarter programme over the coming five years with the aim of boosting productivity by 30%, accelerating the move to net-zero emissions, creating thousands of skilled jobs, and reshaping the future of manufacturing. The government is hoping that a similar investment by industry will achieve a total expenditure of around £300m.

The first £50m of joint funding (£20m from government and £30m from industry) is being allocated to 14 manufacturing projects involving around 30 small or medium businesses, 29 larger enterprises and nine universities.

In one of these projects, called Smart Connected Shop Floor, GKN Aerospace is leading a team including organisations from the aerospace, automotive, and pharmaceutical industries, to trial a combination of digital technologies in live manufacturing environments. These technologies include AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning, intelligent robots, AR (augmented reality) and “smart” devices that can exchange information between old and new computer systems to achieve a better understanding the data. The project will create a more seamless flow of real-time information, enabling cost-effective manufacturing decisions across the supply chain.

A second winning project, the Digital Designer Robot, aims to offer machine-to-person “digital assistance”. When a business needs a bespoke product, it will be able to use a digital robot to help design it and upload the design to Web site of a supplier which can then sample, prototype and manufacture the product

Rich Ingram, director of the funding recipient Account Management Online, says the technology will provide “the opportunity to define made-to-order products and get a price in real time including bought in tooling, sub-assemblies and parts”. He predicts that it will deliver benefits “in many industries where design requirements are unique”.

Other successful projects include:

WeldZero, led by ATS Applied Tech Systems of Nuneaton, which will explore the use of robots, sensors and automation to improve the accuracy of welding metal parts on production lines. The machines will also collect data to help improve the manufacturing process, leading to higher-quality parts and faster production in industries including automotive and construction.

Dialog, led by Atlas Copco IAS UK, which will integrate automation with logistics to produce affordable, human-interacting robots that will help machines to make quicker and better decisions, thus improving production efficiency.

• The Digitisation of Aluminium Welding, led by Frog Bikes, which will use digital technologies and manufacturing techniques including virtual design and testing, and robots, to join bicycle components to create a lighter, better-performing bikes. The system will streamline production, cut costs, and, by allowing suppliers to use recycled materials, cut waste.

Alok Sharma: helping to fire up the cylinders of productivity

Announcing the funding, business Secretary Alok Sharma said that “increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive. By helping manufacturers to reduce costs, cut waste, and slash the time it takes to develop their products, this multi-million pound uplift will help fire up the cylinders of productivity as we build back better from the pandemic.”

The Manufacturing Made Smarter programme is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. It aims to create a connected ecosystem harnessing the power of small and large UK companies, technology developers, start-ups and spinouts, and research institutions. It is also supporting SMEs through growth accelerators – partnerships between the government and the private sector where experts work with businesses to identify barriers to growth and ways to overcome them. The programme is also creating a national network of innovation “hubs” where businesses can partner or share advice.

Applications for a second round of funding, focusing on digital supply chains, are now open. £20m of funding will be available to support feasibility studies and research projects. Industrial SMEs can apply for up to 70% funding towards projects costing up to £3m and running for up to two years, with applications closing on 7 October, 2020.

Chris Courtney, director of the Manufacturing Made Smarter challenge at UKRI, says that “digital technologies have the power to radically transform how we manufacture and deliver the products and services of today and the future. Our ambition is to support the UK to become a leader in the manufacturing industry and the development of the next generation of technology solutions that will shape how the world works.

“The current Covid challenges all sectors are facing only underline the vital importance of manufacturing in the UK across all sectors,” he adds. “There are enormous opportunities to innovate in this area, we have world-leading industries, a powerful scientific and research community, a vibrant technology sector, and I’m excited to see how this powerful coalition transforms the future of manufacturing.

The government has committed to raising productivity and earning power in the UK by spending 2.4% of GDP on r&d across the UK economy by 2027.

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