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Brompton Bicycle is a winner in £3.7m smart factory grants

21 February, 2024

UK Research and Innovation has awarded grants totalling £3.7m to 11 late-stage robotics and automation collaborative projects aimed at improving productivity, sustainability and resilience. The 9-15-month projects, covering areas such as process control, machine vision and gripper technologies, have each secured £107,000–£535,000. The winning projects involve a total of 30 organisations.

One winning group, led by Brompton Bicycle, has been awarded £512,660 to optimise bicycle production using robots and automation. Another, led by Rivelin Robotics, collaborating with GKN Aerospace and others, will use additive manufacturing, 3D vision and force control algorithms to automate the finishing of aerospace parts, orthopaedic implants and gas turbine components. The grant is worth £535,360.

UKRI’s Made Smarter Innovation (MSI) Challenge – delivered by Innovate UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Economic and Social Research Council – helps take the risk out of innovation for UK manufacturers, with the help of experts in digital technologies. It has a total budget of £147m from 2020–2025.

“The successful 11 projects have the potential to improve process automation and efficiency in environments where those kinds of gains are hard to come by,” says Chris Needham, the MSI Challenge’s innovation lead. “The importance of these kinds of innovations for the UK economy can’t be overstated. Our funding is designed to support them as they pave the way to a smarter and more resilient manufacturing landscape.

Each project has to deploy an in-factory demonstration in real-life conditions. The project partners can use the lessons learned to develop commercial processes.

The project led by Brompton Bicycle will use its MSI Challenge funding to optimise its production using robots and automation

The aim of the Brompton Bicycle project is to identify operations and to upskill its workforce to enhance productivity, quality, scale, safety and sustainability. The funding “will enable the team to drive forward an array of exciting technology projects, ultimately meaning that Brompton can continue to be a leader of innovation in the urban mobility industry,” says the company’s operations director, Phill Elston.

Other successful projects include:
• a low-cost, high-speed robot transfer system for automated 3D printing and finishing equipment, led by Photocentric (awarded £462,622);
• robotic picking-and-placing of ingredients into sandwiches, led by Industrial Robotic Solutions (£362,526);
• automated feedstock management for additive manufacturing, led by Autonomous Manufacturing (£474,568);
• using automation technologies to pack flowers, led by Flamingo Flowers (£199,409);
• robotic manufacturing of electroformed components, led by Ultima Forma (£107,648);
• automated production of aerospace pallets, led by Fergusson’s Advanced Composite Technology (£280,008);
• developing software for automotive and aerospace parts, led by Q5D Technologies (£454,172);
• adaptive self-learning robotic linishing and polishing, led by Advanced Automation and Assembly (£160,781); and
• automated precision alignment between micro-lenses and micro-images for security films, led by Optrical (£147,650).

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