UK government invests more in innovative manufacturing

Multiple government-backed investments in UK manufacturing have been announced today. Business secretary Lord Mandelson named three new university manufacturing research centres, and the Technology Strategy Board said it was investing £5 million in 22 new research and development feasibility projects.

The three new manufacturing research centres will be headquartered at Southampton, Loughborough and Brunel universities, and will focus research efforts in the fields of:

* Photonics (the science and application of light using optical fibres to revolutionise the internet and telecommunications) at Southampton;
* Regenerative Medicine (therapies to enable damaged, diseased or defective tissues to work normally again) at Loughborough; and
* Liquid Metals (developing innovative technologies for the reuse and recycling of metal) at Brunel.

The three centres are the first part of a £70m government investment via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Each is due to receive around £5m of EPSRC funding, plus a similar amount from industrial partners.

“A highly skilled, innovative manufacturing sector is vital to Britain’s future economic growth,” Mandelson said. “This government funding will see universities and businesses working together to commercialise academic research. With more investment to bring these two sectors together we can strengthen our future innovation and growth.”

“EPSRC’s new manufacturing centres will focus on areas of pioneering research that have the potential to create new industries and new jobs for the UK,” added Professor David Delpy, chief executive of EPSRC.

“They will save lives through advances in regenerative medicine, develop recycled forms of metal which are environmentally friendly, and harness light to revolutionise the internet and telecommunications.”

“UK research in photonics has changed all our lives, allowing us to navigate airliners, power the internet, manufacture your iPhone, sculpt medical devices, and keep us safe from attack.”

In parallel, the Technology Strategy Board claimed that its latest £5 million investment highlights the government’s commitment to supporting innovation in high value manufacturing. It said this brings the total it has invested in this area to nearly £50 million, in over 80 projects.

The high value manufacturing innovation feasibility projects cover a broad range of enabling technologies, from digital printing to the manufacture of medical implants using laser melting techniques, and from robot-enabled 3D precision assembly to the development of special inks to improve the security of high-value branded products.

Explaining the background to the latest investment, Robin Wilson, the Technology Strategy Board’s lead technologist for high value manufacturing, said:

“The last funding competition we ran in this area was heavily oversubscribed and we received a huge number of outstanding applications.  We were unable to fund many of the requested projects, even though they met our assessment criteria.  So we were very pleased that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills made available a further £5 million, which has enabled us to fund these exciting and important projects as feasibility projects.”

With a total project value in excess of £10m, the collaborative research and development funding was awarded to 22 separate consortia, with grants ranging from £60,000 to £350,000 and benefiting over 50 UK companies, about half of which are small and medium enterprises. These feasibility projects are designed to be relatively short term, requiring work to be completed by the end of 2010, Wilson added.

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