The EPSRC MtF theme has recently refreshed its research priorities, with input from numerous members of the manufacturing research and innovation community. The topic of ‘digital technology for manufacturing’ has emerged as one of the theme’s updated research priorities.
In 2018, MtF held a strategic retreat to explore the future manufacturing research and innovation landscape and examine future strategic opportunities.
The outputs were further developed through a series of community engagement activities, forming the basis of a MtF strategic priorities workshop in 2019.
During the 2019 workshop, the importance of ‘digital technologies for manufacturing’ as a priority area for future manufacturing research was reaffirmed.
This was envisioned to cover novel research required to enable accurate simulation of products and processes through their lifecycle. Subsequent discussions with the MtF strategic advisory team and input from the Early Career Forum in Manufacturing Research, and a community digital manufacturing workshop, developed this opportunity.
Find out more about the manufacturing futures retreat 2018.
Read the workshop report on EPSRC MtF regional meetings 2018 to 2019 (PDF, 12.5MB).
Read the report on MtF research priorities workshop (PDF, 884KB).
The Made Smarter review (2017) set out a vision for growth and increased productivity across the manufacturing sector by unlocking the potential of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs). This opportunity hopes to continue UKRI’s focus on research and innovation elements of Made Smarter in the form of manufacturing specific standard mode grants that focus on key challenges in the area raised by the community.
Stage two applications (full proposal)
Stage two will probably need to be submitted via the Je-S system.
At stage two, applicants will need to provide:
- workplan: illustrated with a simple diagrammatic work plan, such as programme evaluation and review technique (PERT) or Gantt chart
- case for support: a description of the proposed research and its context
- justification for resources
- CVs: for named and visiting researchers, and researcher co-investigators only
- project partner letters of support: applicants must provide a letter of support from all named project partners. The letters must be on headed paper, and signed and dated within six months of the proposal submission date
- letters of support: in exceptional circumstances a maximum of three letters can be submitted
- additional documents: applicants will also need to provide a manufacturing sustainability statement.
We’ll give successful applicants more detailed guidance at stage two.
Applicants who are successful at stage one will be invited to submit a full proposal at stage two. This second stage will probably be conducted using the Je-S system. Stage two applications will be assessed by postal peer review against the stage two assessment criteria below.
The research excellence, making reference to:
- the novelty, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
- the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
- the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact. (for multidisciplinary proposals please state which aspects of the proposal you feel qualified to assess).
National importance (secondary major)
How the research:
- contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
- meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world leading activity
- complements other UK research funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio.
Applicant and partnerships (secondary)
The ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:
- appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s)
- balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators.
Resources and management (secondary)
The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:
- any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
- any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation.
Alignment of the research programme to the aims and scope of the opportunity.
As part of the stage two application process via the Je-S system, you’ll be invited to nominate up to three potential reviewers who you feel have the expertise to assess your proposal. Make sure any nominations meet the EPSRC policy on conflicts of interest.
For more information about the reviewer selection process, use the related content links.
Guidance for reviewers
You can find out more about the peer review process by reading EPSRC’s reviewer forms and guidance notes. This includes guidance for reviewing standard grants.
For the opportunity-specific criteria section of the reviewer form, address the opportunity-specific criterion: alignment of the research programme to the aims and scope of the opportunity. Refer to the ‘what we’re looking for: scope’ section to make your assessment.
Guidance for applicants
For advice on writing proposals, read ESPRC’s guidance on what to include in your proposal.
Answers to questions raised at the digital manufacturing webinar
General information about this opportunity
If you missed the ‘manufacturing the future’ webinar, you can watch a recording of it.
Projects can run for up to 36 months; however, there is no requirement that all projects must run for 36 months.
Currently, the new funding service is only being used for stage one, with stage two being run on Je-S. The required additional features are in the process of being built. If they are ready, it may continue on this service, in which case, we will inform applicants in advance.
There is no restriction on the number of proposals from any given institution. If you are making a joint application between two or more institutions, only the lead organisation should submit the proposal and lead the application.
Multidisciplinary projects are welcomed. However, proposals are expected to lie within the remit (minimum 50%) of the EPSRC MtF theme and address at least one of the key digital manufacturing research challenges. At the outline stage, the expert assessors will be expected to assess the suitability of the proposed programme and how well the proposal fits the scope of the opportunity.
Research projects may be in scope regardless of their likely location(s) of impact. However, please note that the stage two assessment criteria include reference to the UK specifically, under the ‘national importance’ section. It is important to consider how well your proposal addresses this criterion.
Irrespective of the scale of the project, applicants should make a robust case against all of the assessment criteria in order to ensure their application will be competitive. This opportunity is run through the MtF theme budget, but we work with each of the engineering themes (as well as information and communication technologies or artificial intelligence) to deliver the appropriate scope for EPSRC, with a manufacturing focus. Should there be particularly high demand meeting the criteria and of sufficient quality, other themes may contribute funds. The barriers in this case should not affect applications.
This opportunity does not have a portfolio balancing assessment process in place so geographic and/or topic spread will not be considered. Instead, decisions will be made in a rank ordered list based on assessment criteria.
Final selection of projects will occur in quarter four of the financial year 2022 to 2023, projects are therefore anticipated to start from March 2023 onwards.
About who can apply
Investigators must be academic employees (lecturer or equivalent) of an eligible organisation.
Post-doctoral (or equivalent) research assistants who are not eligible to apply for a grant in their own right, but who merit appropriate recognition for making a significant contribution to developing the grant proposal and/or whose input is essential to its successful outcome, may be identified as a researcher co-investigator. Check eligibility status.
Please note that researcher co-investigators are not included in the ‘add applicants’ section at the outline stage but should be included as named applicants at stage two and are of course suitable to be included in the ‘project team’ section of the stage one case for support.
Students are not generally eligible to apply for EPSRC grants and PhD studentship costs aren’t eligible for inclusion in standard research proposals (as in this opportunity).
At the outline stage, applicants restricted under the repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy may submit unlimited applications for this opportunity. However, they will only be able to submit one at the full proposal stage (this will count as the one application you can make in the following 12 months). Likewise, applications to the outline stage are not included in the calculation of applicant status, but applications to the full proposal stage are taken into account.
In respect of further interpreting the wording in the opportunity document, for example:
- ‘…virtual testing, to facilitate non-destructive testing
- …design space exploration and optimisation
- …the balance between materials modelling and manufacturing process modelling
- …individual manufacturing processes versus a full production line
- …recycling and upcycling’,
we cannot do that at this stage.
This is because EPSRC staff do not assess whether applications fit the opportunity’s scope. Instead, this assessment is made by the expert panel and peer reviewers. We would recommend considering whether you can make a strong case that the research you are planning aligns well to the wording in the opportunity document, and then making a clear argument in the proposal for how your research fits the scope. Unfortunately, if we give further interpretation at this stage it may conflict with the assessment of the panel.
Please note that proposals must address a manufacturing challenge in order to fit within the MtF theme remit. In respect of whether simulation can be integrated with a physical process as a verification means (specifically regarding costs of physical infrastructure like a robot) the best approach depends on the challenge you’re addressing. Including a physical process as a verification means may well be a suitable approach. At the outline stage, the expert assessors will be expected to assess the suitability of the proposed programme and how well the proposal fits the scope of the opportunity. We would generally recommend asking an independent colleague to read the scope and your proposal to see what concerns might be raised by an assessor.
About this opportunity’s scope
Proposals must meet the specific scope requirements for this digital manufacturing opportunity, addressing one of the key research challenges identified at the beginning of this guidance. They may address current or future manufacturing processes. Expert assessors may of course take a view on the appropriateness of the subject addressed by a proposal, for example, under the ‘national importance’ criterion.
Proposals are expected to lie within the remit (minimum 50%) of the EPSRC MtF theme and address at least one of the key digital manufacturing research challenges. At the outline stage, the expert assessors will be expected to assess the suitability of the proposed programme and how well the proposal fits the scope of the opportunity.
There is no set requirement to connect your proposal and other significant EPSRC investments, such as ‘materials made smarter’. If you wish to connect to other investments in the landscape, that is always welcomed, where appropriate. As long as the new application is not a resubmission, it can be a standalone project.
Software engineering usually fits within the remit of EPSRC (fundamental engineering and physical science). For this opportunity, proposals must also fit within the remit of the MtF theme. Therefore, proposals must focus on fundamental engineering and physical sciences research into manufacturing technologies, the manufacturing process or its design and operation.
EPSRC supports fundamental and applied research at the earliest stages in the development of any new technology. The TRL1-3 expectation is required due to the nature of EPSRC’s funding remit. We would look for proposals which had a clear intention to develop new/novel technology/processes but appreciate there are more applied elements to manufacturing research. We usually expect at least half of the work packages/proposal to be clearly in EPSRC remit, i.e., TRL 1-3, in this case at least half of the proposal must constitute manufacturing research.
Business and industrial partnerships
Businesses aren’t normally eligible for EPSRC funding but check the webpage as sometimes there are exceptions. However, they are very welcome to contribute to projects as project partners. Find out about which organisations are eligible.
Applicants are encouraged to consider industrial engagement. For example, building plans to engage with a range of relevant manufacturing companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, throughout the project. There is no strict requirement to have a formal industrial partner, but the assessors will be expected to consider the appropriateness of the whole project team, including collaborators. Industrial partners are not entered formally at the outline stage. They will be added formally at the full proposal stage. You can of course mention them as part of your outline as you feel appropriate. An industrial partner may be listed as a project partner.
There are no prioritised industrial sectors in this opportunity. However, project partners’ role and contributions to the project should be detailed in the track record section in the case for support as they are considered part of the research team. Industrial involvement does not need to include cash, it could also be in-kind contribution such as staff time or use of facilities.
In respect of IP issues where an industry partner is involved, we would recommend reading our approach to intellectual assets.
Letters of support and pvc/institutional letters
At this (outline) stage, this information is not required. Letters of support will be required and pvc/institutional letters can be included at stage two (full proposals). You can of course mention your industry partners as part of your outline, as you feel appropriate. If you have a specific issue to raise which you would usually include in a cover letter, you should contact the UKRI helpdesk adding your unique application number to the subject line content.
Funding from companies or for academic partners overseas
If a partner is listed as a project partner, they can receive small amounts of funding from the grant, such as for travel and subsistence to attend project meetings. These will need to be requested by the principal investigator and will need to be fully justified. Read our guidance on including visiting researchers in the proposal. The costs associated with the visit may be included in the grant application.
Companies inside and outside the UK can be included as project partners or subcontractors. Please note that subcontractors will be subject to the procurement rules of the host organisation. Read our guidance on working with business.
Working with partners, for example: NHS hospitals user groups and research institutes
Find out about which organisations are eligible.
Organisations which are not eligible to host principal investigators or co-investigators may be included as project partners. A project partner is a collaborating organisation who will have an integral role in the proposed research. This may include cash or in-kind contributions such as expertise, staff time or use of facilities. A project partner cannot be from the same higher educational institute that is hosting the principal investigator or co-investigator.
About funding and costs
There is up to £7 million available under this opportunity. As projects may vary in size it is hard to predict how many will be funded. The success rate at stage two (by number of grants) is also dependent partly on the size of projects, and the number of high-quality outlines invited to the second stage.
In respect of success rates, we usually aim for higher than 25%, therefore the number of proposals invited to the second stage depends on the size of the proposals submitted. If sufficient quality applications are submitted, we would usually try to invite back around double the amount we have funding available for.
There is no strict upper limit to the amount of money that each project can apply for. However, applicants who intend to request more than £1 million at 80% FEC value (projects with a FEC of over £1.25 million) are strongly advised to contact the UKRI Funding Service helpdesk before applying.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this opportunity. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) can be included as part of the outline costs section of the application. Annual renewal of software licenses falls under other costs, so they do not count as equipment.
We recommend that you work with your research office to enter your best estimate of the costs at the outline stage (stage one), as the overall cost of applications at stage two is expected to be within 10% of the cost recorded at stage one. Project partners may be added and/or removed between the two stages. Small changes in other aspects of the application are acceptable, and of course more detail will be added in stage two.
The stage two application should clearly resemble the stage one application, with most of the aims and methodology remaining the same. All stage one (outline) proposals will be considered against the outline stage assessment criteria, and this is likely to be a highly competitive stage. Therefore, EPSRC would not expect to see proposals materially altered between the two stages in such a way that the panel might have come to a different decision, as this would be unfair to the unsuccessful applicants.
Reviewers are selected by preference from members of the EPSRC Peer Review College and their expertise is matched to the particular project they will be invited to review. This pool of reviewers is made up of experts from academia, industry, local and international organisations.
Equality impact assessment (PDF, 143KB)