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£53 million digital technology funding boost for UK manufacturers

Five new digital manufacturing research centres and projects to help supply chains become more productive are among recipients of £53 million of new government funding to drive the development of the latest digital manufacturing technologies.

The funding has been awarded though the national Made Smarter programme, a collaboration between UK Government and industry designed to support the development and increase use of these emerging technologies.

Adoption of the latest data-driven innovations, such as use of AI and blockchain in supply chains, or advanced robotics and smart machines in manufacturing, will help manufacturers to increase productivity, become more sustainable and build back better from the pandemic.

Nearly £25 million will be invested in five new industry-sponsored research centres set up around the UK, including at the University of Strathclyde and University of Nottingham, to accelerate the development of cutting-edge digital solutions that can transform manufacturing businesses across many sectors.

Based in universities throughout the UK, they will help to make supply chains faster, more efficient, and more resilient. Each centre will focus on a different area of manufacturing and include:

  • 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.
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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; and
  • 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.

A further £18 million has been awarded through the Digital Supply Chain Competition to 37 winning projects to support their development of innovations designed to help manufacturing supply chains become more productive and sustainable.

Some of the winning projects under the collaborate research and development funding are:

  • Automotive company Jaguar Land Rover’s project, investigating the use of blockchain technology when tanning leather to improve traceability and reducing environmental, social and economic risks;
  • Durham-based Pragmatic Printing SORT-IT project, aiming to use digital technology and intelligent automation to track and sort packaging waste for recycling;
  • Technology provider Circulor, which has developed a blockchain platform enabling businesses to monitor and track the origin and quality of raw materials in their supply chain, including dynamic tracking of CO2 emissions;
  • Armagh-based Food for Thought’s project, which is planning to improve the use of robotics and technology to increase food traceability and better use of cold storage infrastructure; and
  • Perpetual Labs’s project, which 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.

£10 million in funding has also been awarded to the new Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub to develop solutions that create supply chains that are fully connected, resilient and sustainable.

Delivered through a collaboration led by Digital Catapult, and bringing together businesses, universities and research technology organisations, the new Hub network will help make innovation more accessible for a wide range of potential businesses, including manufacturers and technology providers large and small. The hub will provide them with access to clusters of test beds and other practical laboratories.

Author
Neil Tyler

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