The UK government has announced £53m for five new digital manufacturing research centres and 37 projects to help supply chains become more productiv
The funding has been awarded though the national Made Smarter programme to drive the use of machine learning and blockchain in supply chains as well as advanced robotics and smart machines in manufacturing. Nearly £25m will be invested in five new industry-sponsored research centres in universities around the UK.
The Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics, based in Loughborough, Strathclyde, Cranfield, Bristol and Warwick Universities, will look to eliminate barriers to adopting robotics and accelerate their widespread use in manufacturing
The Research Centre for Connected Factories, based in Nottingham, Cambridge and Sheffield Universities, will work to create a ‘Morphing Factory’ where production can be easily repurposed in response to changing market demand, for example, during the pandemic when drinks manufacturers have transformed their production lines to make hand sanitizer
The Materials Made Smarter Research Centre, based in Strathclyde, Cambridge and Loughborough Universities, will work on overcoming technological challenges preventing 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, aims to achieving the highest level of manufacturing productivity by increasing the digital knowledge and awareness of manufacturers
The Digital Medicines Manufacturing Research Centre, based in Strathclyde, Cambridge and Loughborough Universities, aims to create digital supply chains that enable medicines to be supplied on demand and enable clinical trials to operate more flexibly
But industry warned against a focus on startups. “The Government has rightly identified manufacturing, AI and advanced computing as some of the key industries for the UK to demonstrate R&D and industrial strength globally. However, it’s vital that legacy businesses across these sectors benefit from the increased investment - not just newer start-ups,” said Saar Yoskovitz, CEO at Israeli machine health monitoring company Augury.
“The companies already at the heart of the UK manufacturing industry are already worth a combined £396.6bn, accounting for a quarter of the UK’s GDP. Overlooking these longstanding manufacturing and logistics companies, and instead allocating increased funding targeted at new businesses only, is a mistake that will be detrimental to the goal of increasing GDP.”
“To help the UK compete on a global scale, especially in a post-Brexit world, the Government needs to work with the manufacturers that already have significant experience and trusting customers,” he said. “By supporting these companies with projects that champion technology and collaboration, like accelerating the adoption of Industry 4.0 and AI in manufacturing settings, the overall sector will benefit from increased innovation to deliver new solutions at scale.”
A further £18 million has been awarded through the Digital Supply Chain Competition to 37 projects to support their development of innovations designed to help manufacturing supply chains become more productive and sustainable.
This includes PragmatIC’s SORT-IT project, aiming to use digital technology and intelligent automation to track and sort packaging waste for recycling as well as technology provider Circulor, which has developed a blockchain platform enabling businesses to monitor and track the origin and quality of raw materials in the supply chain.
A project from Perpetual Labs 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
“Digital technologies have the power to radically transform how we manufacture and deliver the products and services of today and the future delivering a productive, sustainable and flexible manufacturing sector and enhancing the future of work within it,” said Chris Courtney, Made Smarter Innovation Challenge Director at funding body UKRI. “There are enormous opportunities to innovate in this area, we have world leading industries, a powerful scientific and research community and a vibrant technology sector. It is vital we form a vibrant connected ecosystem from applied research to industrialisation in order to fully capitalise on that potential.
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