Region’s manufacturers secure innovation funding


Businesses with creative ideas to boost the UK’s manufacturing capabilities, including using robotics, AI and augmented reality, are set to receive a share of £300 million of joint government and industry funding.

Through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, the government is investing £147 million – backed by further funding from industry – to support businesses which are implementing new technology to boost manufacturing productivity, helping them reach new customers, create new skilled jobs, slash carbon emissions and reduce prices for consumers.

The first £50 million of the funding is being allocated to fourteen innovative manufacturing projects involving around 30 small or medium businesses, 29 larger enterprises and nine universities, with the rest of the funds due over the next 5 years.

Ascot-based Frog Bikes is leading a project innovating the design of children’s bikes.

Using the latest digital technologies and manufacturing techniques (for example virtual design and testing, and automated, robotic techniques to join bicycle components together), they will create a lighter, better performing bike.

The system streamlines production, reduces cost, and, by allowing suppliers to use recycled materials, creates less waste. The project will bring these manufacturing techniques to the UK, securing control of the company’s supply chain and helping to reduce their carbon footprint.

Redditch-based GKN Aerospace is heading up a cross-sector team to trial a combination of digital technologies in live manufacturing environments.

These include artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, intelligent robots, augmented reality, and ‘smart’ devices that can exchange information between old and modern computer systems to enable a greater understanding of the data.

The £20m funding is enhanced by industrial investments worth £30m giving a total value of £50m invested in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and food and beverage.

The projects include IDT concepts such as digital twin, additive manufacturing, and Industrial Internet of Things.

The WeldZero project is led by ATS Applied Tech Systems Ltd based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. High integrity welding is a key enabling technology for UK manufacturing. WeldZero will develop and showcase the benefits of adopting intelligent welding robotic systems within a cyber-physical production system (CPPS).

WeldZero will develop and showcase the benefits of digital technologies applied to welding operations in industrial manufacturing to support a zero-defect strategy. It is hoped this will prove the effectiveness of digital welding and accelerate the wider adoption of the new Industry 4.0 strategies in the existing manufacturing systems – improving the competitiveness of the UK.

Two other successful projects from the region are Baxi Heating UK Ltd in Warwick with its Digital Servitization Demonstrator: From Sensor to Service to Business Success, and Raplas Technologies Ltd, based in Ascot, for its Rapid Sand Casting Production.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive.

“By helping manufacturers to reduce costs, cut waste, and slash the time it takes to develop their products, this multi-million pound uplift will help fire up the cylinders of productivity as we build back better from the pandemic.”.

Chris Courtney, challenge director for Made Smarter at UK Research and Innovation, said: “Digital technologies have the power to radically transform how we manufacture and deliver the products and services of today and the future and I am delighted that we have managed to secure the funding for this vital programme. Our ambition is to support the UK to become a leader in the manufacturing industry and the development of the next generation of technology solutions that will shape how the world works.

“The current COVID challenges all sectors are facing only underline the vital importance of manufacturing in the UK across all sectors. There are enormous opportunities to innovate in this area, we have world leading industries, a powerful scientific and research community, a vibrant technology sector and I’m excited to see how this powerful coalition”