£50 million data innovation hub to accelerate digital tech

A female worker in a warehouse, walking with a tablet, doing an inventory check.

New digital manufacturing hub at Ulster University to help UK manufacturers accelerate the development of digital technologies.

UK manufacturers are to have their productivity and competitiveness boosted thanks to a new digital smart factory and testbed at Ulster University. This is backed by £20 million of funds from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s Made Smarter Innovation challenge.

The £50 million Smart Manufacturing Data Innovation Hub (SMDIH) will support small and medium size manufacturers to capture and better utilise their data, helping them increase:

  • productivity
  • growth
  • sustainability.

Latest data-driven technologies

Businesses in sectors spanning food and drink, aerospace and many more will be supported to develop, test and adopt the latest data-driven technologies.

Nearly 10,000 manufacturers are expected to benefit from the hub and 13,000 jobs will be supported, helping to boost economic growth and level up regions across the UK.

The hub will be backed by:

  • £20 million of government funds
  • £30 million of business co-investment.

Implementing cutting edge production

Industry Minister Lee Rowley said:

As we embrace the digital manufacturing revolution, it is vital manufacturers across the UK can capitalise on the productivity and growth gains that come with adopting the latest data-led digital technologies.

The SMDIH, backed by £20 million of government funds, will support companies to implement cutting edge production and process techniques themselves, helping bring the next generation of products to our shelves in a more efficient and sustainable way.

The hub will host an online manufacturing data exchange platform that will enable companies to submit their manufacturing data and receive recommendations. In return, the platform can help businesses to improve their products and processes.

Grants for improvements

A dedicated £5 million fund will then provide companies with grants to make further improvements in areas of critical importance to their business.

Virtual manufacturing testbeds will allow companies to create a ‘digital twin’. This creation will simulate the implementation of digital technology on their own processes, harnessing data from other manufacturers that have already adopted the technologies to encourage investment.

The SMDIH will also provide manufacturers with expert analysis of their emissions and energy data from support staff specialising in data analytics and engineering.

This will help them target reductions in waste, energy use and ultimately, improve sustainability.

Innovative collaboration

Pro Vice Chancellor Research at Ulster University Professor Liam Maguire said:

Made Smarter provides the opportunity for innovative collaboration that will be transformative in driving industry competitiveness.

At Ulster University, we have a strong track record of collaboration; using our research and technology to act as a catalyst for change, innovation and positive economic, social and environmental impact.

Made Smarter is another important project in the broader realisation of the Derry and Strabane City Deal agenda, further enhancing the attractiveness of investment and driving economic growth.

A connected collaborative ecosystem

Made Smarter Innovation challenge Director, Chris Courtney said:

Made Smarter Innovation is creating a connected collaborative ecosystem for digital manufacturing that can transform UK manufacturing making it more productive, competitive and sustainable.

Ulster University has created a compelling approach and strong consortia and I’m excited about launching this work and making it a critical part of the overall approach for Made Smarter, linking closely with the wider innovation programme and the Made Smarter adoption programme.

Accessible across the UK

The SMDIH will first be accessible by small and medium sized manufacturers in Northern Ireland in the coming months, before going live for companies across the rest of the UK.

The programme will be supported across the rest of the UK by 12 delivery partners, including:

  • University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing
  • Industry Wales
  • Scottish Engineering.

Further information

About Made Smarter Innovation

Made Smarter Innovation is a national programme to help businesses who make things capitalise on new digital technologies.

Our programme will support the transformation of UK’s manufacturing capabilities through the development and innovation of industrial digital technologies.

We give UK manufacturers access to a digital innovation ecosystem that helps prove their idea, quickly develop it with experts and scale it.

The £300 million partnership between government and industry will provide match-funding, specialist advice and result in radical manufacturing solutions. It is delivered by UKRI.

Find out more about Made Smarter.

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