Businesses with creative ideas to boost the UK’s manufacturing capabilities, including using robotics, AI and augmented reality, are set to receive £300m of joint government and industry funding, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed at London Tech Week today.
Through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, the government will invest £147m – backed by further funding from industry – to support businesses implementation of new tech to boost their manufacturing productivity, helping them reach new customers, create new jobs, cut carbon emissions and reduce prices for consumers.
The first £50m of the funding is being allocated to 14 cutting-edge manufacturing projects involving around 30 small or medium businesses, 29 larger enterprises and nine universities, with the rest of the funds due over the next five years.
The Manufacturing Made Smarter programme will also support SMEs through growth accelerators – partnerships between the government and the private sector where experts will work with businesses to identify barriers to growth and ways to overcome them. It will also create a national network of innovation hubs where businesses can partner or share advice, to help spur growth and creative ideas.
A company behind one winning project - the Digital Designer Robot – aims to offer machine-to-person digital assistance. When a business needs a bespoke product, it will be able to use a digital robot to help design it and upload the design quickly onto a supplier’s website, so that the product can then be sampled, prototyped and manufactured by the supplier. The virtual assistant would also offer expert advice and guidance, by ‘conversing’ with businesses to ask questions, listen to feedback, and provide suggestions.
Another company is developing lightweight, aluminium bikes for children using robots, whilst another is pioneering the use of AI to help businesses design new products.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive.
“By helping manufacturers to reduce costs, cut waste, and slash the time it takes to develop their products, this multi-million pound uplift will help fire up the cylinders of productivity as we build back better from the pandemic."
Other winning projects include A Smart Connected Shop Floor. GKN Aerospace is leading a cross-sector team trialling digital technologies, including AR headsets for engineers, so manufacturing businesses can guide them through repairs. The project will also use ‘smart’ devices to exchange information between old and modern computer systems.
The Digital Sandwich is a project created by Raynor Foods, a leading UK sandwich supplier. It is creating a piece of software that will enable food and drinks businesses to connect online to share data. This information exchange aims to increase productivity, improve cashflow, help boost food quality and reduce waste within the supply chain.
Finally, Dialog is a project led by Atlas Copco IAS UK, which brings together affordable, automatic and human-interacting robots to help machines make quicker and better decisions, making production more efficient.