Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future 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 will complement and refresh EPSRC’s existing portfolio of future manufacturing research hubs and contribute to delivering EPSRC’s strategic priorities, which could include:
- artificial intelligence
- resilient digital technologies
- transformative health and healthcare
- creative engineering and manufacturing solutions.
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 lead institution responsible for the core management and running of the hub and surrounding academic or industrial ‘spokes’ inputting specific expertise in areas that complement those from the lead institution.
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 the government’s levelling up agenda, hubs should bring together the right people and organisations from places across the UK, to tackle the challenges relevant to their chosen research area.
Funding opportunity objectives
The objectives are to:
- deliver a programme of high quality, multi-disciplinary 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 the engineering and 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 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, or in an area of research where there is an existing EPSRC future manufacturing hub ending after 31 March 2023.
Proposals must demonstrably lie primarily within the remit of EPSRC and must be within the scope of this funding opportunity. 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.
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 similar 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 strong partnerships, you are asked to include a user engagement strategy (mandatory attachment, two pages) in your outline application, and you may optionally include up to three project partner letters of support.
You will have the opportunity to include additional project partner letters of support (unlimited) at stage two (full proposals).
Equality, diversity and inclusion
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, whilst giving due consideration to flexible working.
At stage two (full proposals), hubs should include information on EDI resources (including the mandatory costed staff post for the EDI Lead and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops and data exercises) in the justification of resources document.
The total EPSRC funding available for this opportunity will be up to £24 million, to fund two manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future. Funding for each hub will be up to £12 million, awarded over seven years.
Grants are expected to be awarded with a start date of 1 April 2023, with a possible slippage of up to six months. We will award 80% of the full economic cost of the project, and your organisation must agree to find the balance.
This opportunity is intended to be the first 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.
At stage two (full proposals), three quotations will be required for equipment costing more than £25,000 and, additionally, a two-page equipment business case will be required for equipment costing more than £138,000.
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 whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.