Digital manufacturing industry gets £53m government funding boost

Money will be used to create five digital manufacturing research centres, a digital supply chain innovation hub and to fund 37 industry projects

The government is pumping £53m into digital manufacturing, aiming to support the industry to innovative and boost competitiveness through digital technology.

The funding, which comes from the Made Smarter programme, a collaboration between the government and industry, will be used to drive the development of the latest technologies in the digital manufacturing space.

Almost £25m of the fund will be used to create five industry-sponsored digital manufacturing research centres across the UK, which aim to accelerate the development of “cutting-edge digital solutions”.

The five centres will each focus on a different area of manufacturing. The Digital Medicines Manufacturing Research Centre, based at the University of Strathclyde, Cambridge and Loughborough universities, will create digital supply chains, enabling medicines to be supplied on demand, while the Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics, based across five different universities, will work on eliminating barriers to adopting robotics.

Meanwhile, the Research Centre for Connected Factories, based across Nottingham, Cambridge and Sheffield Universities, will create a “morphing factory”, aiming to repurpose production in response to changing demands in the marketplace, while the Materials Made Smarter Research Centre will aim to overcome technological challenges that are preventing adoption of new materials and processes needed to help achieve net zero emissions.

The final research centre, People-Led Digitalisation, will aim to achieve the highest level of manufacturing productivity by increasing digital knowledge and awareness.

Announcing the funding, investment minister Lord Grimstone said that as the UK embarks 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”.

He added: “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.”

Some £10m of the funding will be used to create a digital supply chain innovation hub, which will work to develop “breakthrough solutions” that help to create fully connected, resilient and sustainable supply chains. The hub will be delivered through a collaboration led by Digital Catapult, and the hub network will aim to make innovation more accessible for businesses through providing access to clusters of test beds and laboratories.

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The remaining £18m has been awarded to 37 projects through a digital supply chain competition, aiming to support their development of innovations to help manufacturing supply chains become more sustainable.

Successful projects include Jaguar Land Rover investigating the use of blockchain technology when tanning leather to improve traceability and reducing social, environmental and economic risks, as well as a project by Armagh-based Food for Thought, which is working to improve the use of robotics and technology to increase food traceability and better use of cold-storage infrastructure.

UK Research and Innovation’s Made Smarter Innovation Challenge director, Chris Courtney, said 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”.

He added: “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.  

“We have seen tremendous demand for this area across all sectors, company sizes and locations, and real evidence of the vibrant community of innovators in the areas of digital manufacturing and supply chains. I am excited to see how this powerful coalition transforms the future of manufacturing and its supply chains.”

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