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£53m of funding aims to drive digital manufacturing in UK

29 July, 2021

The UK Government has announced £53m of new funding to drive the development of digital manufacturing technologies, including the establishment of five new research centres, a digital supply chain innovation hub, and 37 projects intended to digitalise and transform manufacturing supply chains.

The funding has been awarded though the national Made Smarter programme. The aim to drive the wider adoption of technologies such as advanced robotics, smart machines, AI and blockchain to help manufacturers boost productivity, become more sustainable and build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nearly £25m will be invested in five new industry-sponsored research centres around the UK, designed to accelerate the development of cutting-edge digital technologies that could transform manufacturing in many sectors. The university-based centres will help to make supply chains faster, more efficient, and more resilient. Each will focus on a different area of manufacturing and will include the:
Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics, based at Loughborough, Strathclyde, Cranfield, Bristol and Warwick Universities, which will work on eliminating barriers to adopting robotics and accelerating their wider use in manufacturing;
Research Centre for Connected Factories, based in Nottingham, Cambridge and Sheffield Universities, which will work to create a “morphing factory” where production can be repurposed easily in response to changing market demand – as happened, for example, during the pandemic when drinks manufacturers transformed their production lines to make hand sanitiser;
Materials Made Smarter Research Centre, based in Sheffield, Cambridge and Loughborough Universities, which will work to overcome technological challenges preventing the adoption of new materials and manufacturing processes needed to become more sustainable and help achieve net-zero emissions;
People-Led Digitalisation, based in Bath, Nottingham and Loughborough Universities, which aims to achieve the highest level of manufacturing productivity by increasing digital knowledge and awareness among manufacturers; and the
Digital Medicines Manufacturing Research Centre, based in Strathclyde, Cambridge and Loughborough Universities, which aims to create digital supply chains that enable medicines to be supplied on demand and enable clinical trials to operate more flexibly.

A further £18m has been awarded through the Digital Supply Chain Competition to 37 collaborative projects supporting the development of innovations aimed at helping manufacturing supply chains to become more productive and sustainable. The projects include:
• One led by Jaguar Land Rover that will investigate the use of blockchain technology to improve traceability and reduce environmental, social and economic risks when tanning leather;
• One led by Durham-based Pragmatic Printing that aims to use digital technology and intelligent automation to track and sort packaging waste for recycling;
• One led by technology provider Circulor, which has developed a blockchain platform that allows businesses to monitor and track the origin and quality of raw materials in their supply chain, including dynamic tracking of CO2 emissions;
• One called Food for Thought, based in Armagh, which will use robots and other technologies to increase food traceability and make better use of cold storage infrastructure; and
• One led by Perpetual Labs, which aims to create a digital model-driven approach to manufacturing which makes information accessible in one place in one standard language for all involved in the supply chain, allowing for improved work methods.

Announcing the new programmes, minister for investment Lord Grimstone, said: “As we embark on a digital manufacturing revolution, we want to make sure our manufacturers are bolstered by the latest cutting-edge technology as we all work to build back better from the pandemic.

“Improving productivity and becoming more competitive is not just about sophisticated manufacturing, but also about smarter manufacturing, and we want to make it as easy as possible for companies large and small to make the changes needed to take full advantage of the innovative technology being developed.”

Lord Grimstone: making it easier for UK manufacturers to take advantage of innovative technologies

Some £10m in funding has also been awarded to the new Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub to help develop ways of creating supply chains that are connected, resilient and sustainable. Delivered through a collaboration led by the Digital Catapult, and bringing together businesses, universities and research technology organisations, the new Hub will help make innovation more accessible for a wide range of businesses, including manufacturers and technology providers, large and small. The hub will give them access to clusters of testbeds and other practical laboratories.

The latest announcements follow £300m of joint government and industry funding made available through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge and the £8m government funding given to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers to take advantage of industrial digital technology under the UK government’s Made Smarter Adoption programme. This programme includes free impartial, expert advice, funded digital internships, access to specialised leadership and management training, as well as match-funding for digital transformation projects.

The next round of collaborative r&d, focusing on sustainable smart factories, will open for applications in late 2021.

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