£14 million funding for sustainable smart factory projects

£14 million awarded to projects that harness digital technology to drive energy efficiency, productivity and growth across key manufacturing industries.

Today, UK Research and Innovation has announced the winners of almost £14 million in combined backing from its latest funding opportunity under the Made Smarter innovation challenge, the Sustainable Smart Factory competition.

The collaborative research and development competition sought to identify and support digital innovations to improve the sustainability of manufacturing processes, resulting in either reduced material or energy consumption.

Projects applying for funding were required to show an innovative development and application of data or digital technology that could help:

  • optimise material usage
  • reduce, reuse or separate waste materials
  • lower energy consumption to increase sustainability throughout an area of production

The successful projects

In total, 12 projects were successful in their applications, which involved:

  • securing between £1 million and £8 million in funding each
  • offering solutions for a wide range of manufactured goods and industrial processes across a number of sectors spanning:
    • food
    • aerospace
    • automotive
    • plastics
    • electronics
    • various engineering disciplines

The successful projects range from 2 to 10 participant organisations each, making a combined 55 organisations taking part overall.

These included participants from:

  • Scotland
  • the South West
  • Northern Ireland
  • East Anglia

They were made up of both small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and large manufacturers, technology developers, universities and research and technology organisations.

Cleaner manufacturing economy

It is estimated the projects could create 1,000 jobs in the 3 years after their completion, while reducing manufacturing carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000 tonnes a year. This is the equivalent to taking nearly 65,000 cars off our roads.

The winners include:

  • Photocentric’s solution for digitally manufactured, 3D-printed parts that can be created entirely autonomously and will challenge existing injection moulding techniques from overseas
  • Deep.Meta project, which will use novel artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to help reduce energy use and carbon emissions in the steel industry
  • PragmatIC Semiconductor’s project, which is looking to tackle the pollution within the electronics industry by building a new high-volume manufacturing facility that will help substantially reduce annual carbon emissions

Projects will run for up to 2 years and are expected to open the door to significant carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) savings and a cleaner manufacturing economy.

Details of all of the Sustainable Smart Factory competition winners can be found in the further information section.

Find out more about the made smarter innovation challenge.

Maximising potential using technology

Industry Minister Jackie Doyle-Price said:

Creating and adopting the latest in digital technology solutions will be key to the continued success of our manufacturing sector.

It is now critical that companies in industries as varied as baking to advanced robotics are maximising their potential using technology such as AI and virtual reality.

The projects awarded funding today will cut energy consumption and boost growth for businesses in regions right across the UK, while helping our world leading manufacturers keep pace with ever growing global competition.

Delivering successful outcomes

Chris Needham, Innovation Lead in the Made Smarter innovation challenge said:

Effective digital technologies can have a substantial impact on the manufacturing sector, bringing outdated, inefficient and unproductive products and processes up the standards needed for a net zero industry of the future.

It’s clear from the wide range of applications we received just how far waste and energy issues extend across different industries.

The successful applicants clearly demonstrated real innovation and showed just how the right use of data and technology can make a significant difference to businesses. We now look forward to working alongside them to deliver successful outcomes.

There are still further opportunities to get involved with the Made Smarter innovation challenge. The Made Smarter innovation digital supply chain innovation hub is open for expressions of interest to run supply chain test beds.

The next collaborative research and development funding opportunity will also be launching in January 2023, offering a combined £6 million for industrial readiness robotics innovation projects within manufacturing operations.

Further information

About the Made Smarter innovation challenge

The Made Smarter innovation challenge focuses on research and innovation elements for developing new digital technologies within UK manufacturing, as part of the national made smarter movement.

The £147 million investment, matched by a minimum of £147 million from industry, aims to deliver a resilient, flexible, more productive, and environmentally sustainable UK manufacturing sector. The challenge will support collaborations between UK manufacturing sectors to create innovative digital solutions.

Key digital technologies in this challenge include:

  • AI, machine learning and data analytics
  • additive manufacturing
  • robotics and automation
  • virtual reality and augmented reality
  • the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and connectivity (such as 5G, low-power wide-area network)

The challenge is funding projects focused on the following themes:

  • smart connected factories
  • connected and versatile supply chains
  • adaptable, flexible manufacturing operations and skills
  • new ways to design, test and make products

Sustainable smart factory competition winners

Butterfly, £3,997,856 (GKN Aerospace Services Limited)

Project Butterfly brings together a consortium of UK manufacturing organisations, solution providers and research organisations, working across a number of UK sectors. They share best practice and demonstrate the power of industry 4.0 to deliver near-term impact on the road to net zero manufacturing.

Small changes can have a big impact; this is known as the butterfly effect. It is this principle that Project Butterfly looks to use to accelerate progress to net zero.

The project has a specific focus on improving efficiency in the use of materials and energy by using manufacturing data to:

  • optimise processes
  • increase right-first-time yield
  • provide visibility of information to everyone in the factory

This can be done by using data to automatically update the schedule to deliver the most efficient use of energy. Using data from the process to improve the process by making it more efficient or increase the right-first-time yield.

Smart and sustainable manufacturing for baking industry, £610,168 (Rakusen Limited)

This project addresses very specific technological challenges. These challenges result from transforming a traditional food manufacturer, still producing on machinery more than 100 years old, to a sustainable, optimised, and efficient enterprise fully utilising digital technologies, including:

  • big data
  • IIoT
  • AI

It is underpinned by food science, to minimise its carbon footprint, maximise its capacity without compromising on its ‘traditional’ concept.

The project will transform the business to become a sustainable, optimised, and efficient enterprise in full control of all:

  • manufacturing processes
  • product consistency
  • supply chains
  • operating costs

This will help the company realise new market opportunities as a result of increased production capacity.

Project partners include 2 universities with established links to food producers ensuring that this project can act as a demonstrator showcasing carbon dioxide reduction opportunities to the other UK food manufacturers.

A scalable IoT solution utilising machine-learning to discover actionable insights to reduce energy or resource consumption utilising manufacturing process data, £915,702 (EdgeMethods Limited)

EdgeMethods and Victrex are developing reusable machine learning models to improve energy efficiency within an existing manufacturing plant, to both save on rising energy costs and help achieve sustainability objectives.

Following a successful proof of science project, EdgeMethods will implement its ‘Energy of Things’ software as a service solution within the Victrex polymer manufacturing site in north-west England.

The project will retrofit energy meters to existing plants and collect data from existing operational and business systems. Data will be processed on the cloud platform and presented to data scientists for analysis.

The project will align with Victrex’s digital transformation programme, sustainability programmes, following ISO50001 principles. The societal focus on climate change and energy efficiency in the future will attract investment and jobs, and this project will be well positioned to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Across the UK manufacturing sector, improved energy data analytics is thought to result in:

  • energy cost and carbon savings of 20 to 50%
  • high skilled data science jobs at every manufacturing plant

ECO-SPRINT: environment centred optimisation of SME productivity using realtime intelligence, £1,023,395 (FitFactory Technology Ltd)

ECO-SPRINT focuses on the aligned sustainability and productivity needs of manufacturing SMEs.

Starting with a focus on energy-intensive aerospace special finishing processes, it will go on to demonstrate scalability through deployment in other sectors.

The project will combine various cutting-edge technologies into which sustainability intelligence capability will be integrated, including:

  • vision intelligence
  • internet of things sensors
  • smart manufacturing execution system
  • ‘customer portal’ giving foresight of demand

ECO-SPRINT will take a triple bottom line approach and enable SMEs to:

  • capture appropriate insight into manual operations to enable optimisation, risk reduction and digitalised knowledge transfer
  • enable real-time optimisation of operations (for productivity and sustainability) based on customer demand, resulting in major savings in energy costs and carbon footprint
  • gather data on energy, carbon and material footprint that can be communicated and aggregated across supply chains (for example, through Valuechain’s supplier and customer portals)

INSPIRE: integrated sustainable production through innovative resource efficiency, £1,202,712 (PragmatIC Semiconductor Limited)

PragmatIC will lead a consortium of industry leaders for the development of new digital technologies and methodologies that focus on:

  • decreasing carbon emissions
  • improving resource efficiency
  • improving productivity of semiconductor manufacturing

INSPIRE will use sensors across the manufacturing process to create new AI data models to optimise the consumption, quality, recovery and recycling of energy and critical resources.

INSPIRE is an opportunity to develop best practices for sustainable, smart manufacturing, not just within the semiconductor industry but across other similar industries across the world.

New jobs will be created during the project across:

  • data analysis
  • software engineering
  • equipment engineering
  • maintenance
  • project-management
  • life cycle assessment or circular economy specialists

Successful exploitation of project outputs is expected to support additional job growth across the whole consortium and supply-chain.

Finding materials efficiencies with WasteMap, £510,410 (Topolytics Ltd)

One of the biggest barriers to scaling the circular economy is maintaining visibility and control over manufactured materials when they enter the waste system. The circular economy dictates that this material or product should be retained at its highest utility, ideally never becoming a waste in the first place.

This project aims to turn the waste system into an ‘efficient materials supply chain’ that will more readily enable the identification and recovery of industrial by-products or waste and post-consumer material.

The project builds on Topolytics’ existing position as a leading player in the global ‘wastetech’ sector, using mapping and machine learning to make the world’s waste visible, verifiable and valuable.

Topolytics WasteMap platform ingests, normalises and analyses waste data at scale, from a range of sources, in order to generate insights for:

  • waste producers
  • the waste industry
  • investors
  • regulators

The innovation in this project will enable Topolytics to bring together data from manufacturers of consumer products, industrial products and packaging.

It will further develop its data science approach to tracking material through the waste system in order to generate more and better insights for manufacturers that enable increased sustainability of UK manufacturing. This specifically includes tackling waste reduction, re-use of resources and associated reductions in carbon emissions.

Reducing energy consumption and material loss in steel production using predictive machine learning, £991,026 (Deep.Meta Ltd)

AI has a crucial role to play in building resilience into the UK steel industry.

The project is led by Deep.Meta, the UK based start-up whose founder is an Imperial College PhD graduate. It focuses on reducing energy usage in steel production and subsequently carbon emissions across the supply chain through efficiency gains using AI.

Efficiency gains at steel plants will be passed on to end users using steel in construction. Hence, it reduces the embodied carbon from waste in this sector by some 6% over the course of the project while retaining competitive steel prices.

This will help to take UK steel producers to the next level of technological advancement.

It will also help them become increasingly competitive internationally with:

  • projected revenue increases of £80 million
  • the creation of 100 new jobs in the UK steel-tech sector in the next 4 years

AI 3D-printing factory network across the UK, £876,390 (Batch.works Limited)

Approximately 25% of global plastic production is manufactured in China. Reshoring manufacturing to the UK will drive 2 major impact reductions: carbon emissions and virgin plastic consumption.

Batch.works is a UK manufacturer that combines 3D-printing and recycled materials to produce products for UK brands, including lighting, stationery, fashion and homeware.

In this project they will integrate AI to reduce the fail rate of 3D-printing and automate their factor processes to:

  • increase use of recycled materials
  • reduce their costly printing fail rate to improve resource efficiency
  • improve life-cycle circularity for new products
  • reduce embodied carbon in our products
  • improve profitability as they scale
  • build UK manufacturing capability that is inherently adaptable, makes them more resilient and less reliant on global supply chains, which have been vulnerable under COVID-19

Smart digitisation of bed and fine wire spring manufacturing: building a predictive tool for resource or operational innovation, £677,413 (Spinko Limited)

This project will develop an application of digital technologies within wire coiling manufacturing and bed making.

Harrison Spinks is the UK’s leading innovator in bed and fine-wire spring manufacturing and is carbon-neutral accredited. Its recent innovations in ecologically advanced products and processes have reduced carbon dioxide significantly.

It now looks to be driving additional innovation in data capture and harvesting from its machining processes to identify waste and improve energy and materials management. This will allow large scale take up of carbon-neutral beds and wider cushioning products, replacing foam with spring technology in several sectors.

Consortium partners are:

  • Bespoke Automation Controls Solutions, with expertise in machine programming languages
  • Manufacturing Technology Centre, which has deep experience in digitised factory projects

The consortium will develop a demonstrator, based on Harrison Spinks production processes.

Additionally, a new tool will be developed for other manufacturers to support their take up of digitised solutions for carbon dioxide reductions.

The project will take 2 years and will draw on team experience and expertise in:

  • machine learning
  • networking
  • IIOT technologies

COMPASS: comprehensive machine and process analysis for sustainable production systems, £619,034 (Domin Fluid Power Limited)

Project COMPASS is a collaboration between Domin and AI Build to help Domin scale their additive manufacturing (AM) based manufacturing processes and address demand in the global hydraulics industry.

The application of AI, data science for process analysis and IIoT or connectivity is expected to:

  • scale Domin’s production capacity
  • yield strong improvements in resource efficiency (21.19 tonnes material, 34.65 tonnes CO2e) and energy efficiency (937.71 MWh, 218.39 tonnes CO2e) over 3 years from project completion

Domin will also accelerate the development of IIoT-enabled AM quality control tools for high-speed fatigue testing and AM metal depowdering, which will help global companies adopt and scale AM within their ecosystem.

The project outcomes are expected to contribute significant gross value added to the hydraulics and AM sectors. Further, the consortium will create 7 to 11 digital technology jobs in the UK during the project, with the scope to create hundreds of further new jobs within the following 5 years.

LEAD: low energy autonomous digital factory, £1,052,168 (Photocentric Ltd)

LEAD factory is a novel project that will establish and validate a new method of digitally manufacturing parts in scale, in a completely autonomous manner. Currently AM provides huge benefits, but virtually no product is mass manufactured with 3D printers.

LEAD is the culmination of years of development work by Photocentric, a UK research-based SME, into a new field of 3D Printing using liquid crystal display screens to harden liquids.

Creating parts digitally has numerous energy, productivity, and waste reduction benefits and parts can be supplied immediately in the quantity required here in the UK. This offers the potential of being a disruptive, game-changing alternative to injection moulding where tools are often made in China.

This project intends to be the trigger for starting the next digital industrial revolution of manufacturing in the UK, creating new digital manufacturing skills and jobs.

Smart people + smart process = smart factory, £1,242,345 (Raynor Foods Limited)

Food production and supply is the backbone of our society. It is also currently unsustainable.

Current challenges of climate and environmental change are a threat and the role of digital technology in facilitating solutions will be demonstrated in this project.

This project brings together over 220 members of staff from the factory, transport and office functions in the consortium lead, Raynor Foods. It will provide them with meaningful information that will change practice and behaviour so that measurable sustainable outcomes will be reported utilising gamification research to build ‘Carbon Hero’ games.

This project will deploy and fuse an array of digital technologies into Raynor Foods sandwich factory in Chelmsford. It will measure the CO2e footprint in real time and making it visible to all operational staff so that they act to reduce it.

The integrated use of industrial digital technologies will ensure that all factory processes and assets are measurable, traceable, trackable and controllable. This will provide instantaneous measures of resources and CO2e emissions that will be integrated with staff welfare.

Bringing together process and people data is transformative and enables remedial actions to be owned by staff and made in real time.

The process and people data will be input into a semi-autonomous management system (SAMS) using AI or machine learning. SAMS will assist staff to simultaneously reduce factory energy consumption, process waste and monitor and enhance staff welfare and engagement.

The digitally enabled solutions capturing data for energy reduction and production losses will help other industrial sectors that have similar challenges in needing to drive down carbon dioxide impact.

Top image:  Credit: gorodenkoff, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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