Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future two will deliver a programme of innovative research in the engineering and physical sciences, related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research and manufacturing.
The hubs will feature high quality, multidisciplinary research, strong engagement with relevant manufacturing industries, and will take a leadership role in their national network. In particular, they will demonstrate a cross-cutting and embedded approach to environmental sustainability, and promote active equality, diversity and inclusion action planning and delivery.
Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future two will complement and refresh EPSRC’s existing portfolio of future manufacturing research hubs and the first round of manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future, and contribute to delivering EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan.
As such, you must clearly demonstrate in your application how your proposed hub will contribute to at least one of the following EPSRC priorities:
- engineering net zero
- artificial intelligence, digitalisation and data: driving value and security
- transforming health and healthcare
- quantum technologies
- physical and mathematical sciences powerhouse
- frontiers in engineering and technology
- digital futures
What is a hub?
Hubs are expected to deliver:
- high quality, multidisciplinary research
- a strong ethos of skills development for staff
- efficient management of hub operations
- a clear path to realising impact
Hubs will be leaders within the landscape, driving forward the national manufacturing research agenda in their area and connecting with other players in the community, including users, policymakers, and other public investments (for example Catapults, other hubs and EPSRC investments).
The hub and spoke model will be used, with the hub and spokes working cooperatively towards achieving the overall vision. The lead institution is responsible for the oversight, core management and running of the hub, and the role of the surrounding academic or industrial spokes in different parts of the UK is to input specific expertise in areas that complement those from the lead institution. Grant funding may be used for spoke activities provided the spoke meets EPSRC’s organisational eligibility requirements.
The hub is expected to deliver added value (be more than the sum of its parts) by demonstrating strong connectivity between all hub partners and offering additional facilities, training and development than what is already provided by individual institutions.
Hub partnerships and impact should span all scales, building on the successes of previous similar investments to deliver impact in regional economies while also playing a national role in an international context.
In line with UK Research and Innovation’s objective to build world class places through research and innovation, you should bring together the right people and organisations from places across the UK, to tackle the challenges relevant to your chosen research area and relevant places. You should consider how your hub:
- aligns with the strengths and needs of places
- delivers positive outcomes for specific places in the UK
- aligns with and supports industrial and civic ambitions or priorities
- supports local and regional specialisation and innovation
Funding opportunity objectives
The objectives are to:
- deliver a programme of high quality, multidisciplinary research related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research and manufacturing
- create strategic advantage and drive forward the national manufacturing research agenda in a particular area, as leaders within the landscape
- centre and embed environmental sustainability throughout hub aims, objectives, operations and research outcomes, considering the context of each hub’s specific research area
- engage with diverse and relevant partners to ensure that research is co-created and co-delivered with users
- embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within hub operations and activities by developing and delivering an EDI action plan, led by the hub EDI lead, which takes into account the specific EDI context and challenges within the hub’s research area and community
This opportunity is to support innovative research programmes in engineering and the physical sciences, related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research within manufacturing.
The hub research programmes should:
- draw on advances in underlying science and technology
- focus on the design and development of new and existing manufacturing processes, systems and networks
- explicitly consider the pathway to manufacture, including production scale up and integration within the wider industrial system
You will need to articulate the hub’s strategy at each stage of the value chain (discovery, understand, integrate or adapt, and demonstration and deploy).
We welcome applications focusing on diverse research areas and diverse sectors and we expect all hubs to integrate environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process. By this, we do not mean that hub research must focus on sustainable manufacturing as a research area. Instead, we expect hubs to:
- embed environmental sustainability in all aspects of the hub, ensuring that environmental impact and mitigation is explicitly considered at all stages of the research lifecycle and throughout the lifetime of the hub
- identify the major challenges relating to environmental sustainability in the chosen research area and integrate these as part of the hub research programme. You should consider ambitious challenges, which may be at a lower technology readiness level but will support a step change in future sustainability, as well as how to improve and embed sustainability in technology that is closer to commercialisation
- demonstrate leadership in environmental sustainability by carrying out hub operations in an environmentally sustainable way, with consideration of how to minimise the negative environmental impact of running the hub. You should seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners
Sustainability may be used to cover three broad areas: social, economic and environmental.
While hubs may wish to consider some aspects of social and economic sustainability as part of their programme, this is not the focus of this funding opportunity. Environmental sustainability may include consideration of such broad areas as:
- reducing carbon emissions
- protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
- waste or pollution elimination
- resource efficiency and circular economy
Environmental sustainability is complex and there are often conflicting drivers. Hubs will need to take a whole systems approach to enable consideration of the trade-offs, risks and mitigations associated with different approaches and ensure research outcomes are used to support industry and government partners to make informed choices and mitigate unintended consequences.
We are seeking to refresh and complement our existing future manufacturing hubs portfolio. Therefore, we will not fund two hubs in the same research area as each other. We are also not accepting applications in the following areas, as we have sufficient coverage from our existing hubs portfolio:
- vaccines manufacture
- cellular agriculture
Further to this, there are additional existing hubs continuing work, where EPSRC would not fund substantial overlap, and you are advised to ensure this is the case:
EPSRC staff will check outlines for remit and if we identify that the proposed research has significant overlap with these areas, we will not progress the outline to panel and the application will be rejected as out of scope. We will make this assessment on the basis of the outline, as written, including the cover letter (where you may include information for EPSRC that will not be seen by the expert panel), so please ensure that the research challenges you propose to address are clearly stated.
Where multiple outlines are submitted within similar areas, we will seek the advice of the panel and consider the portfolio balance across high quality proposals as part of the decision.
Proposals must demonstrably lie primarily within the remit of EPSRC and must be within the scope of this funding opportunity. The research challenges must lie primarily within manufacturing. Any proposals that EPSRC deems out of remit or scope may be rejected without reference to peer review.
EPSRC expects a hub director to have a track-record of collaborating with users and for the hub proposals to demonstrate cash and in-kind support from relevant and diverse sectors.
A recent evaluation of EPSRC manufacturing research has set the bar for future leverage and impact high. Therefore, while there is no required level for cash and in-kind contributions at the point of application, we expect that throughout the lifetime of the hub, the number of project partners will increase, and cash or in-kind contributions will rise to a level at least equal to the EPSRC funding contribution.
To ensure that research outcomes from the hubs can be maximally exploited by industry, we are looking for clear evidence of genuine, substantive partnerships, with co-creation and co-delivery of projects and activities, in addition to financial contributions.
The strategy for engaging with industry should include plans to engage with a new and emerging range of relevant manufacturing companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, throughout the lifetime of the hub. In the hub governance procedures, advice from users must be appropriately used in the hub decision-making strategy to grow user engagement in terms of funding and numbers of users.
To evidence your approach to developing strong partnerships, you are asked to include a user engagement strategy (mandatory attachment, two pages) in your outline application.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
As leaders in the community, hubs will be expected to embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the hub. If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI.
Hubs must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively. This must include at least one costed staff post with responsibility for EDI (the hub EDI Lead).
EPSRC does not specify any particular full-time equivalent (FTE), salary level or career stage for this post. Hubs may decide what is most appropriate for their programme, while giving due consideration to flexible working.
At stage two (full proposals), hubs should include information on EDI resources requested (including the mandatory costed staff post for the EDI Lead and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops and data exercises).
The total EPSRC funding available for this opportunity will be up to £55 million, to fund up to five manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future. Funding for each hub will be from £10 million to £11 million, awarded over seven years.
Start dates must be within 1 April and 31 July 2024 and will be awarded with a possible slippage of up to three months from that start date. We will award 80% of the full economic cost of the project, and your organisation must agree to find the balance.
This opportunity is the second in a series of planned opportunities for manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future over the coming years.
Learn about the costs you can apply for.
Funding is available in this opportunity for items of equipment dedicated to the hub, costing up to £400,000 (including VAT). These funds will be awarded at 80% of the full economic cost.
Learn about EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.
You are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.
If you are planning to include international collaborators on your proposal, you should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.