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UKRI ISCF Manufacturing Made Smarter Research Director Pre Call Announcement

In September 2020 UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), intends to announce an open competition for a Manufacturing Made Smarter (MMS) Research Director to develop and support the creation of a much more visible and effective digital innovation ecosystem to accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs). UKRI intends to fund the Research Director for an initial period of five months to engage with key stakeholders and develop a detailed proposal for a MMS Network+ to ensure that the full range and depth of social and economic science insights are accessed across the MMS Challenge and wider UK manufacturing sector. The MMS Network+ will operate until December 2024.This notice is being issued now to maximise time for potential applicants to develop proposals, partnerships and collaborations.


The aim of the MMS Challenge, as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), is to help UK manufacturing become more productive and competitive through the innovation and diffusion of digital technology. This includes IDTs such as additive manufacturing, robotics, virtual/augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. The MMS ISCF Challenge will invest up to £147m delivered by ESRC, Innovate UK and EPSRC on behalf of UKRI.

The Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge has a number of objectives to which the MMS Research Director and subsequent network will be expected to contribute:

  • Increase UK manufacturing sector investment in industrial digitalisation R&D and increase the adoption of new Industrial Digital Technologies
  • Increase cross-sector collaboration between UK manufacturing sectors to drive the creation of common digital solutions
  • Increase the number of digital technology companies providing solutions for manufacturing industries
  • Increase the number of collaborations between SMEs and larger, more established companies up the value chain
  • Increase UK manufacturing and digital manufacturing solution exports.


Effective innovation requires an understanding of human, economic, and business model issues as well as technical issues. Therefore, the economic and social sciences have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the full potential and impact of IDTs are realised in the UK. The role of the Research Director is to develop and oversee the implementation of a MMS Network to ensure that the full range and depth of social and economic science insights are accessed across the MMS Challenge and wider UK manufacturing sector. The Research Director will work closely with the UKRI MMS Challenge Director and team in the development of the Network+. It is expected that the Research Director will also draw upon existing UKRI investments including other ISCF activities in the development of the Network+.

The Network+ investment will provide a new multi-disciplinary academic-led community for the programme. The investment will draw on a wide range of expertise, knowledge and experience across business and research stakeholders.

The Network+ will provide academic leadership across the sectors and organise networking activities such as workshops, events and communications, to build sustained engagement and collaboration. We expect the successful grant to play a strategic role in bringing together relevant participants that cross disciplinary boundaries and stakeholder groups (particularly those from business and industry).  In addition, the leadership and management team will also administer a devolved budget for research led projects, encouraging applications from both within and beyond the network membership to apply for these.

Applicants for the Research Director position can come from any academic discipline relevant to the MMS Challenge but will need to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the economic and social sciences as they apply to innovation and diffusion of new digital manufacturing technologies. They will be able to demonstrate their commitment to interdisciplinary working, and ability to build new collaborations between different social, economic and other disciplines including engineering

Joint applications for Co-Research Directors are welcome where a clear split of responsibility is given. In this instance applicants will need to explain how they will ensure good governance and management of the Network+.

The Research Director will need to demonstrate an understanding of the needs and demands of the manufacturing sector in the UK. They will have a proven track record of engaging collaboratively with industry and academic partners and have strong networks in the manufacturing space.

Through the five-month scoping phase, the MMS Research Director will work with the UKRI MMS Challenge Director and team to identify how the economic and social science communities can most effectively support the UK manufacturing sector accelerate its innovation and diffusion of IDTs. Industry engagement will be critical, including SMEs, as will the engagement of other key stakeholders including the Made Smarter Commission and Northwest pilot, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The scoping phase will also need to ensure that the proposed Network+ and wider MMS Challenge are aligned and able to respond to key developments such as major fiscal events, EU Withdrawal, and the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

Following this scoping phase, the Research Director will lead the Network+.

The Research Director and the Network+ will enable the MMS Challenge to apply a detailed understanding of what is happening in the UK manufacturing sector now and over the lifetime of the MMS Challenge on the use and impact of IDTs.

The Research Director and Network+ will have a key role to play in building excellent relationships between academics and businesses to directly support the increased innovation and diffusion of IDTs in the UK.

Funding and eligibility

Funding available: This call is the first stage to fund an conomic and Social Science Research Network+ as part of the ISCF MMS Challenge. UKRI, via ESRC, will meet 80% of the full economic costs on proposals submitted for this stage.

In total, UKRI ISCF will invest up to £4 million at 100% full economic cost (fEC) through this competition (stages 1 and 2).

  • Stage 1: UKRI, via ESRC, will support one successful MMS Research Director over five months from March to July 2021 (with a mid-point review panel at 3-months) to scope, develop and submit a proposal for an MMS Network+. £125,000 is available for this stage at 80% fEC.
  • Stage 2: UKRI, via ESRC, will provide funding for the Research Director and their MMS Network+ from October 2021 to December 2024. A total contribution of £3.9 million is available.

All proposals to this call must be from a researcher based at an eligible UK Research Organisation (RO); see the UKRI website for a list of eligible organisations (www.ukri.org/funding/howto-apply/eligibility/). Proposals will need to be submitted electronically via the Research Councils’ Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system using the guidance provided when the call is launched. Assessment will include interviews of shortlisted applicants. The Research Director will be expected to commence by March 2021 and further details of requirements and priorities for the initial phase of activity will be included in the call specification.

The successful candidate will be invited to develop a full proposal and submit via Je-S in July 2021. Only the applicant successfully appointed as Research Director will be invited to submit to the second stage. Other applicants may be part of the second stage as Co-Investigators.

Provisional timetable

Full guidance on eligibility, closing dates, how to apply to the call and assessment criteria will be published on the UKRI website in September 2020. A provisional timetable is shown below.

  • Call launch – 30 September 2020
  • Deadline for submitting proposals (Stage 1) – 25 November 2020
  • Interview panel – early February 2021
  • Research Director start date – March 2021
  • Mid-point review panel – June 2021
  • Deadlines for full Network+ proposal (Stage 2) – July 2021
  • Peer Review Panel – September 2021
  • Network+ start date – late October 2021
  • Grant ends – December 2024

Please note that this timetable is provisional and may be subject to change.

Further information

Please note we will not be able to provide additional information about the call in advance of its publication.