The funding has been awarded though the national Made Smarter programme, a collaboration between UK government and industry to support the development and use of emerging technologies.
Government believes that adoption of AI and blockchain in supply chains, or advanced robotics and smart machines in manufacturing, will help manufacturers increase productivity and become more sustainable.
Nearly £25m will be invested in five new industry-sponsored research centres set up at universities throughout the UK to accelerate the development of digital solutions that can transform manufacturing businesses.
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 Sheffield, 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
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
In a statement, Lord Grimstone, said: “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 winning projects, including an effort at Jaguar Land Rover to investigate the use of blockchain technology when tanning leather to improve traceability, and Armagh-based Food for Thought’s project to improve the use of robotics and technology to increase food traceability and better use of cold storage infrastructure. Another winning effort, SORT-IT by Durham-based Pragmatic Printing – is aiming to use digital technology and intelligent automation to track and sort packaging waste for recycling.
£10m has also been awarded to the new Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub, a collaboration led by Digital Catapult to develop breakthrough solutions that create supply chains that are fully connected, resilient and sustainable.
Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult, said: “The Made Smarter Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub will demonstrate how the tangible impact of emerging digital technologies can affect the nation’s supply chains, mitigating against the kinds of component shortages experienced during the pandemic, boosting efficiency, reducing waste, and supporting some of the UK’s most important industrial sectors through fostering a culture of innovation."
Commenting on the announcement, Saar Yoskovitz, CEO at Augury, said: “The government has rightly identified manufacturing, AI and advanced computing as some of the key industries for the UK to demonstrate R&D and industrial strength globally. However, it’s vital that legacy businesses across these sectors benefit from the increased investment - not just newer start-ups.
“To help the UK compete on a global scale, especially in a post-Brexit world, the government needs to work with the manufacturers that already have significant experience and trusting customers. By supporting these companies with projects that champion technology and collaboration, like accelerating the adoption of Industry 4.0 and AI in manufacturing settings, the overall sector will benefit from increased innovation to deliver new solutions at scale.”