Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Manufacturing the future theme

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) invests in manufacturing research, drawing on emerging opportunities from across the engineering, physical, biological and mathematical sciences. It connects the research, innovation and business landscape.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is pioneering a prosperous future for the UK by supporting the creation of new industries and jobs through innovative manufacturing businesses. Pioneering research led by EPSRC is crucial to the UK’s prosperity, helping ensure the economy is ready for future challenges and change.

Our research covers underpinning science, simulation and design, production, fabrication, systems and services. It is helping drive the innovation in high-value manufacturing necessary for competitive aerospace, pharmaceutical and healthcare engineering sectors.

We are unique in supporting basic manufacturing research through to the stage where applications can be developed by companies or agencies such as Innovate UK and the Catapult Network.

Manufacturing the future strategy

The UK enjoys world leadership in established manufacturing industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, electronics design and photonic technologies.

EPSRC plays a pivotal role in supporting these industries, enabling cutting-edge research and development of highly skilled people needed to support UK manufacturing innovation and underpin continued and sustainable growth.

The underpinning science and technology made possible by EPSRC support covers the entire manufacturing spectrum, to lead to successful processes and products including:

  • simulation
  • design
  • production
  • fabrication
  • systems
  • services.

Independent evaluations have shown the value of EPSRC manufacturing research to the UK economy and society more generally.

The challenge for the manufacturing the future theme is to promote a richer, more productive dialogue between world-leading manufacturing research and industry partners, and to ensure innovative manufacturing businesses play a significant role in shaping the research and taking forward the outputs and outcomes.

Priorities

Our aim is to create and capture the benefits of research for UK manufacturing industries, thereby supporting UK productivity and prosperity.

We will do this by:

  • investing in new growth areas, drawing on opportunities from emergent research across the engineering and physical sciences
  • accelerating the impact of our investments by connecting the research and innovation landscape, promoting collaboration between academia and innovative manufacturing businesses
  • fostering a research community with the appropriate skills and leadership in manufacturing research.

We are seeking a balanced portfolio of long-term, speculative research, as well as research where the benefits and manufacturing outcomes are clearly evident. Within this, we have developed four research visions that will deliver a productive, innovative, competitive manufacturing research portfolio.

Our approach

The strategy for the EPSRC manufacturing the future theme has been developed by working closely with other EPSRC research themes, academics, industry and the Manufacturing the Future Strategic Advisory Team.

During 2018, we developed six priorities that describe how we see advances in engineering and physical sciences contributing to a productive, innovative, and competitive manufacturing sector in the UK.

These are:

  • responsive manufacturing
  • digital manufacturing
  • sustainability and function
  • precision made and scalable at cost
  • whole systems analysis
  • advanced bio and chemical products manufacture.

Key engagement activities

We regularly engage with the Manufacturing the Future Strategic Advisory Team. The research visions evolved from the theme’s previous research challenges and were developed in collaboration with the Manufacturing the Future Strategic Advisory Team as well as through engagement with the research community, users and other funders.

The following activities and events occurred in late 2020 and 2021 to provide engagement opportunities with a variety of stakeholders:

  • EPSRC manufacturing community engagement activities conducted online
  • working with other EPSRC themes, notably the research infrastructure, circular economy and digital economy themes when developing funding opportunities targeting this theme’s priorities.

Early career forum in manufacturing research

In May 2012, EPSRC launched a call for expressions of interest for membership of a newly-constituted forum of early career academic researchers in the scope of the manufacturing the future challenge theme. The forum has been active ever since with refreshes occurring every few years.

Forum members have a strong focus on advancing the UK’s international reputation in manufacturing research, are open to developing interdisciplinary research agendas, and have an interest in participating in research policy development.

Find out who is on the Early Career Forum.

Research areas

You can find out more about:

Why we're doing it

We are investing in excellent manufacturing research to foster a research community with the appropriate skills and leadership in manufacturing research to support the manufacturing challenges faced by the UK in the future. We work in partnership with manufacturing businesses to shape the research we support, addressing the serious challenges they face to accelerate the impact of our investments.

The vision for the manufacturing the future theme is for the research we sponsor to help solve some of the most serious challenges facing the UK today, and in the future.

Manufacturing makes a major contribution to the UK economy but further investment is required, particularly in high-value and specialist manufacturing, underpinned by the research base.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

You can apply for funding to support an EPSRC research proposal in the area of manufacturing at any time under any open EPSRC scheme, including standard mode, programme grants and fellowships.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within EPSRC’s remit.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research theme connections and funding for manufacturing the future.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Past activities

Future formulation

Future formulation projects address challenges in formulation science that aim to develop and improve manufacturing processes for the production of complex structured products, based on interdisciplinary research in fundamental and applied science.

Manufacturing advanced functional materials

To capitalise on the strengths of the UK research base and the growing capacity in functional materials research, this activity addressed the manufacturing research challenges in developing applications, production technologies and future processes that incorporate advanced functional materials. It identified the most promising pathways for scale-up to applications and devices of these innovative materials.

Material substitution

The dynamic between product performance, economic factors (for example, production, system and whole life costs) and manufacturability has been critical to adoption of new materials technologies. This activity supported research that addressed the manufacturing challenges associated with novel replacements for materials that are scarce, difficult to source, expensive or deleterious to health and the environment.

Manufacturing engineering industrial doctorate centres

EPSRC-funded centres for doctoral training provide a supportive and exciting environment for students. Industrial Doctorate is an alternative to the traditional PhD for students who want a career in industry.

ICT-enabled manufacturing – cross-disciplinary research clusters

This activity focused on cross-disciplinary research and networking activities to help new information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform future manufacturing.

Innovative manufacturing processes – flexible and reconfigurable manufacturing systems

These programmes of up to five years in length, addressed the challenge of flexible and reconfigurable manufacturing systems.

Manufacturing fellowships

The aim of these fellowships was to support those outstanding individuals in industry who wish to move into an academic career or for academics who have recently moved from industry into academia.

Funded networks in redistributed manufacturing

The drive towards smaller-scale local manufacturing caused by changes in transport and labour costs, the availability of materials and energy, the need for sustainability, the availability and cost of small-scale equipment, and access to information led to EPSRC’s manufacturing the future theme and ESRC’s strategic priority for economic performance and sustainable growth. It identified redistributed manufacturing (RDM) as an area for research investment to help realise the opportunities of RDM for the UK.

Redistributed manufacturing has a broad working definition of technology, systems and strategies that change the economics and organisation of manufacturing, particularly with regard to location and scale.

Following a workshop and sift panel, six networks were funded, each of which were awarded approximately £500,000 for two years. Each network was expected to support up to four to six feasibility studies as well as engage with the relevant stakeholders in order to achieve the most impact.

RDM in healthcare research network

RDM may change the delivery of healthcare products, enhancing national competitiveness and citizen wellbeing. There are key challenges in realising these benefits including regulatory standards, new training patterns and quality assurance. This network aimed to explore these challenges using a multidisciplinary approach and by engaging with the relevant academic and user communities through workshops, events and feasibility studies.

Read more about the RDM in Healthcare Research Network (RiHN).

RECODE consumer goods, big data and redistributed manufacturing

This network aimed to develop a multidisciplinary vision and research agenda associated with the application of big data in the transition towards a RDM model for consumer goods. Improved understanding of skills and training required for interpreting big data and transforming industries ensure that the UK can take full advantage of opportunities for job creation.

Read more about RECODE Network.

Redistributed manufacturing networks – the role of makespaces

The main aim of the network was to develop a shared multidisciplinary vision and research agenda for the role of makespaces in RDM. A makespace is a catch-all term for an open access community fabrication workshop.

The network required a broad range of expertise from both academics and industrialists, including:

  • small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) manufacturing businesses
  • waste management and recycling companies
  • the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

3D printing RDM – defining the research agenda for 3D printing enabled redistributed manufacturing

The 3D printing RDM network defined the research agenda for 3D printing enabled RDM. The economics of 3D printing, protection of intellectual property and competitive advantage, manufacturing issues, education and skills issues, and manufacturing standardisation were identified as areas needing further exploration. The outputs of the feasibility studies provided insight into sector-specific features of 3D printing technologies that help enable RDM, and the barriers preventing their wider diffusion.

Read more about 3DP-RDM: Defining the research agenda for 3D printing enabled redistributed manufacturing.

Read the capturing the value blog.

Building sustainable local nexuses of food, energy and water – from smart engineering to shared prosperity (the local nexus network)

Local nexuses, focusing on sustainable local alignment of resources, production and consumption were a special chapter of RDM. Through collaborative engagement between engineering and social sciences, the network carried out feasibility projects and events to:

  • establish the technical and socio-economic state-of-the-art of local productions of food, energy and water
  • generate initial insights for guiding researchers, businesses, policy makers and communities who are enthusiastic about exploring the potential of local nexuses
  • develop an evidence-based research agenda
  • form an inclusive research and stakeholder community
  • inform other related research on RDM.

Re-distributed manufacturing and the resilient, sustainable city (ReDReSC)

This network explored the impact of RDM at the scale of the city and its hinterland, using Bristol as an example and concentrating on the issues of resilience and sustainability. The network aimed to explore mechanisms by which interdisciplinary teams may come together to address societal grand challenges and develop research agendas for their solution. These were based on working together using a combination of a:

  • collaboratory – a centre without walls
  • living lab – a gathering of public-private partnerships in which businesses, researchers, authorities, and citizens work together for the creation of new services, business ideas, markets, and technologies.

Read more about the Re-Distributed Manufacturing and the Resilient, Sustainable City (ReDReSC).

EPSRC-Jaguar Land Rover joint programme for simulation innovation

The Programme for Simulation Innovation (PSi) was a joint five-year research programme between Jaguar Land Rover Limited (JLR) and EPSRC.

Who to contact

Ask a question about the manufacturing the future theme

Lydia Gardner, Lead, Manufacturing the Future

  • theme lead
  • theme strategy
  • globalisation

Email: lydia.gardner@epsrc.ukri.org
Telephone: 01793 444528

Laura Totterdell, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • materials manufacturing
  • Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Made Smarter Innovation

Email: laura.totterdell@epsrc.ukri.org
Telephone: 07714 840842

Mark Tarplee, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • circular economy interface

Email: mark.tarplee@epsrc.ukri.org

Becky Cheesbrough, Portfolio Manager

  • production manufacturing
  • manufacturing technologies
  • fellowships contact
  • programme grants contact

Email: rebecca.cheesbrough@epsrc.ukri.org

Stephanie Williams, Portfolio Manager

  • process manufacturing
  • medicines manufacturing
  • Early Career Forum contact
  • responsive mode contact

Email: stephanie.williams@epsrc.ukri.org
Telephone: 07546 513277

Tochukwu Ajare, Portfolio Manager

  • sustainable manufacturing
  • engineering design
  • digital manufacturing
  • Strategic Advisory Team convenor

Email: tochukwu.ajare@epsrc.ukri.org
Telephone: 07395 832113

Ask a question about delivery support and peer review support

Teresa Andow, Delivery Support Administrator

Email: teresa.andow@epsrc.ukri.org

Val Hibberd, Delivery Support Manager

Email: valerie.hibberd@epsrc.ukri.org

Ask a question about biomanufacturing, materials, operations or redistributed manufacturing

Contact any member of the team.

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