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Five research centres established for digital manufacturing in UK

The UK government has announced £53m in funding to accelerate innovation in digital manufacturing through the establishment of five new research centres, an “innovation hub” and 37 individual projects to help digitise manufacturing supply chains.

The funding is being awarded through the 'Made Smarter' programme, a public-private partnership aiming to support the development of new digital technologies in manufacturing. The government said in a statement that adoption of data-driven innovations, such as use of AI and blockchain in supply chains or advanced robotics in manufacturing, will help manufacturers increase productivity and sustainability.

Nearly half the funding (£25m) will go towards five new research centres established at universities around the UK to accelerate the development of new manufacturing technologies. Each centre will focus on a different area of manufacturing:

  • The Digital Medicines Manufacturing Research Centre will aim to create digital supply chains which enable medicines to be supplied on demand and clinical trials to operate more flexibly.
  • The Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics aims to eliminate barriers to adopting robotics in manufacturing.
  • The Research Centre for Connected Factories will create a 'Morphing Factory' which can be easily repurposed in response to changing market demand.
  • The Materials Made Smarter Research Centre will work on overcoming barriers to adoption of more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.
  • The People-Led Digitisation Centre will aim to improve productivity by improving digital literacy.

Universities involved include Strathclyde, Cambridge, Loughborough, Cranfield, Bristol, Warwick, Nottingham, Sheffield and Bath.

“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,” said Lord Grimstone, investment minister. “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.”

A further £18m has been awarded through the Digital Supply Chain Competition to 37 projects focused on improving productivity and sustainability. Recipients include Jaguar Land Rover, which will investigate the use of blockchain technology when tanning leather to improve traceability and reduce environmental and social risks.

Meanwhile, £10m will go towards the new 'Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub', which the government says will provide access to clusters of test beds and other practical laboratories.

Chris Courtney, director of the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge, commented: “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.

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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