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£14 million funding for sustainable smart factory research

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced projects awarded £14 million for research into smart factories. The investment comes from the organisation's latest funding opportunity, the Sustainable Smart Factory competition, part of the Made Smarter innovation challenge.

The collaborative research and development competition sought to identify and support digital innovations to improve the sustainability of manufacturing processes, resulting in either reduced material or energy consumption.

Chris Needham, Innovation Lead in the Made Smarter innovation challenge said: "Effective digital technologies can have a substantial impact on the manufacturing sector, bringing outdated, inefficient and unproductive products and processes up the standards needed for a net zero industry of the future."

"It’s clear from the wide range of applications we received just how far waste and energy issues extend across different industries, Needham continued. "The successful applicants clearly demonstrated real innovation and showed just how the right use of data and technology can make a significant difference to businesses. We now look forward to working alongside them to deliver successful outcomes."

Projects applying for funding were required to show an innovative development and application of data or digital technology that could help optimise material usage, reduce, reuse or separate waste materials; and lower energy consumption to increase sustainability throughout an area of production.

In total, 12 projects were successful in their applications, which involved: securing between £1 million and £8 million in funding each; offering solutions for a wide range of manufactured goods and industrial processes across a number of sectors. This includes food, aerospace, automotive, plastics, electronics and various engineering disciplines.

The successful projects range from 2 to 10 participant organisations each, making a combined 55 organisations taking part overall.

They were made up of both small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large manufacturers, technology developers, universities and research and technology organisations.

Cleaner manufacturing economy

It is estimated the projects could create 1,000 jobs in the 3 years after their completion, while reducing manufacturing carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000 tonnes a year. This is the equivalent to taking nearly 65,000 cars off our roads.

The winners include:

  • Photocentric’s solution for digitally manufactured, 3D-printed parts that can be created entirely autonomously and will challenge existing injection moulding techniques from overseas
  • Deep.Meta project, which will use novel artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to help reduce energy use and carbon emissions in the steel industry
  • PragmatIC Semiconductor’s project, which is looking to tackle the pollution within the electronics industry by building a new high-volume manufacturing facility that will help substantially reduce annual carbon emissions

Projects will run for up to 2 years and are expected to open the door to significant carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) savings and a cleaner manufacturing economy.

Details of all of the Sustainable Smart Factory competition winners can be found in the further information section.

Find out more about the made smarter innovation challenge.

Maximising potential using technology

UK Industry Minister Jackie Doyle-Price said: "Creating and adopting the latest in digital technology solutions will be key to the continued success of our manufacturing sector. It is now critical that companies in industries as varied as baking to advanced robotics are maximising their potential using technology such as AI and virtual reality."

"The projects awarded funding today will cut energy consumption and boost growth for businesses in regions right across the UK, while helping our manufacturers keep pace with ever-growing global competition."



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