The UK government has awarded a combined £13.7 million in funding to help improve energy efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of manufacturing processes, to smart factory projects that include 3D printing at a record scale, using AI to make steelmaking more productive, and using big data to make century-old baking machinery more efficient.
The Sustainable Smart Factory Competition, led by UKRI, provides funding for projects that harness digital innovations, such as AI, big data, and virtual reality (to name a few), to boost energy and carbon efficiency, while driving growth for manufacturers. The projects that were awarded funding aim to optimize the use of materials, reduce and reuse waste, or lower energy consumption to increase sustainability in production.
As part of the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge, the two 3D printing-based projects include LEAD Factory, led by Photocentric (£1,052,168) – the first technology that will enable products to be 3D printed at scale using recycled materials, and an AI 3D printing factory network across the UK, led by Batch.works Limited (£876,390) – integrating AI to reduce the fail rate of 3D printing and automate processes to increase the use of recycled materials.
Other funded projects include Smart and Sustainable Manufacturing for Baking Industry, led by Rakusen Limited (£610,168) – using AI to improve the consistency of the products produced by their century-old baking machinery and helping reduce energy consumption by 60%, WasteMap, led by Topolytics (£510,410) – using machine learning to develop a visual map of useful, reusable manufacturing products that can be extracted from our waste system, Reducing Energy Consumption and Material Loss in Steel Production Using Predictive Machine Learning, led by Deep.Meta (£991,026) – using machine learning to boost sustainability in the production of steel by predicting where inefficiencies lie before they happen, INSPIRE, led by PragmatIC Semiconductor (£1,202,712) – tackling global semiconductor shortages by using AI to optimize manufacturing productivity and efficiency, and Smart People + Smart Process = Smart Factory, led by Raynor Foods Limited (£1,242,345) – turning sustainability into a game at the Raynor Foods sandwich factory to enable staff to see and then act on their energy use and CO2 footprint in real-time.
“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 maximizing their potential using technology such as AI and virtual reality,” said Jackie Doyle-Price, Industry Minister for the UK. “The projects awarded funding today will cut energy consumption and boost growth for businesses in regions right across the UK, while helping our world-leading manufacturers keep pace with ever-growing global competition.”
It is estimated the projects could create 1,000 jobs in the 3 years after their completion, while reducing manufacturing CO2 emissions by 300,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking nearly 65,000 cars off UK roads.
The successful project consortiums each range from two to 10 participant organizations – resulting in a combined 55 organizations taking part. These included participants stretching from Scotland to the South West, and from Northern Ireland to East Anglia. They are made up of both SMEs and large manufacturers, as well as technology developers, Universities, and Research and Technology organizations.
“Effective digital technologies can have a substantial impact on the manufacturing sector, bringing outdated, inefficient, and unproductive products and processes up to 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,” said Chris Needham, Innovation Lead in the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge. “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.”
The £147 million Made Smarter Innovation Challenge supports the transformation of UK manufacturing by pioneering the development and integration of new and existing industrial digital technologies. The challenge helps take the risk out of innovation for UK manufacturers and supports the development of technologies that can be exploited commercially.
“The digital innovations we are backing today could help manufacturers of products as diverse as steel to semiconductors boost growth, create high-quality jobs, and enhance energy efficiency,” said Nusrat Ghani, Science Minister for the UK. “Through collaboration between leading UK researchers, technology firms, and manufacturers, these innovations will ensure British industry remains internationally competitive, while bringing benefits to businesses in regions across the UK.”