More funding will be available for manufacturing technology research for selected universities under a new scheme to improve industrial links and attract European Union money.
Twenty university-based Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres are to be set up by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) over the next five years, with funding of £25m annually.
They will develop manufacturing process technology in collaboration with large and small firms that want to invest. The projects will range from laser processing to e-manufacturing and transport. Philip Burnell, innovative manufacturing programme manager, said the centres would benefit from the EU’s new funding policy.
‘The EU is focusing its sixth framework research programme on large research centres only and this is why we have taken the approach we have,’ said Burnell.’But the EPSRC will also provide £60m over the next five years, with a further £60m-plus expected from industry and other government agencies including the DTI.’
Speaking at the launch in London on Monday, science minister Lord Sainsbury outlined the government’s aims for the new funding initiative. ‘We hope to see more clearly the impact of this research. We do need to have a good return on the investment.
‘We will see more than £100m injected over five years. This will concentrate research in focused areas to make a greater impact. It is important that we develop the competitiveness of UK manufacturing. There has never been a more important moment to do so.’
More than 50 universities that previously received grants from the EPSRC will be left out of the new arrangement. But a spokesman said that they would still have access to other EPSRC budgets.
Meanwhile, the advantages of co-operation with the selected university centres were set out by Dr David Clarke, who is responsible for university research for Rolls-Royce.
‘We need these universities to help us,’ he said. ‘They have specialist skills we couldn’t access anywhere else. What we offer academics is the challenge of a tough problem, while we want to have a long-term partnership and agreed investment and exploitation strategies.’
One of the institutions that is seeking a long-term partnership is the University of Liverpool’s Manufacturing Science and Engineering Research Centre. Its principal experimental officer Dr Christopher Sutcliffe said that the new funding arrangement would give stability.
‘It gives us five years where we know what we’re doing, and that’s a good thing to retain staff and develop our structure,’ said Sutcliffe. ‘Now we can be much more reactive and can do the things we want to do pretty quickly.
‘We can run small and big projects and work a lot more with industry,’ said Sutcliffe. ‘Before this we spoke to industry, they came in for a chat and then we’d wait for six months before anything happened. Now it’s quite different because we can tell the companies we’ve got the money to do projects now and that we can start tomorrow.’
Other research centres include the Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, the Loughborough Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre, the Nottingham Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre and Warwick’s Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre.