£20m invested in two new manufacturing research hubs

Posted on 23 Nov 2015 by Callum Bentley

Two £10 million manufacturing research hubs to address major, long-term challenges facing the UK’s manufacturing industries, and capture opportunities from emerging research have been announced by Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

The hubs will be based at the University of Southampton and London’s Brunel University, and will work in collaboration with academics at universities across the country.

Funded for the next seven years by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), each will have a programme of innovative research in the engineering and physical sciences, related to the challenges in commercialising early stage research.

The hubs will feature high quality, multidisciplinary research, that has strong engagement with manufacturing industries, and will take a leadership role in their national network.

EPSRC’s £20m investment will be enhanced by £14m from the universities, and a further £58m from industry.

Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

The Minister commented: “From cars to smartphones, our world-leading research drives innovation and growth in the UK’s manufacturing industries.

“With this £92m investment, these new manufacturing hubs will develop the next generation of high-tech products in communications and healthcare, as well as tackle industry challenges such as rising materials costs.”

EPSRC chief executive, professor Philip Nelson added: “These two new manufacturing hubs will help manufacturing industries respond to the opportunities and drivers in the sector.

“They also build upon EPSRC’s previous investment successes of Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres and EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing, and we have recently announced a call for proposals for further hubs. We are confident universities and industry collaborators will embrace this new opportunity to invest in the future of UK manufacturing through research.”

The EPSRC Manufacturing Hub in Future Liquid Metal Engineering led by Professor Zhongyun Fan at Brunel University:

Metallic materials are the backbone of manufacturing and the fuel for economic growth.

The UK metal casting industry adds £2.6bn/yr to the UK economy; employs 30,000 people; produces 1.14m tons of metal castings each year, and underpins the competitive position of every sector of UK manufacturing.

However, the industry faces severe challenges, including increasing energy and materials costs, tightening environmental regulations and a short supply of skilled people.

The Future Liquid Metal Engineering hub aims to address these challenges.

The core hub activities will be based at Brunel strongly supported by the complementary expertise of academic spokes at Oxford, Leeds, Manchester and Imperial College London with more than £45m investment from industrial partners, in addition to the £10m invested by EPSRC.

 Impact of the hub will initially be in the UK automotive industry and its supply chain and then the wider transportation industry. The hub will be a technology proving ground, and will provide:

  • shortened lead time from technology concept to industrial production;
  • advanced manufacturing technologies to provide technological advantages over competitors;
  • recycling-friendly advanced metallic materials with reduced cost;
  • improved sustainability due to reduced CO2 emissions, conservation of natural resources and consequently reduced environmental impact

This will make a major contribution to rebalancing the UK economy.

Further economic impact will be through retaining and recycling aluminium scrap into high value automotive castings, extrusions and sheet for lightweight vehicles with an opportunity to add £800m in terms of added value each year.

The EPSRC National Hub in High Value Photonic Manufacturing led by Professor Sir David Payne at the University of Southampton:

The Future High Value Photonics Manufacturing hub will underpin growth of the UK’s £10bn photonics industry and support the £600bn of UK manufacturing output that depends on photonics.

It will do this by being the go-to place for the UK photonics industry who are interested in:

  • improving existing manufacturing processes for production of photonics components
  • supply of prototype components and sub-systems to their designs
  • a one-stop-shop for trialling user ideas and developing new manufacturing processes

In addition to this user pull, the hub will push out new processes that enable hitherto difficult or expensive device/component ideas resulting from EPSRC investments in advanced photonics research.

The primary economic impact of the hub will be the creation of new photonics manufacturing processes that will enable rapid commercialisation of emerging photonics technologies.

This will result in new products and services and new UK manufacturing jobs, both directly in the photonics industry and in the industries enabled by photonics. Thirty-seven companies have so far promised a total of £12.5m support across the UK – including many SMEs – throughout the value chain in markets that include security, communications, space, semiconductor manufacturing and healthcare.

The hub will also have a critical role in defence and security where sovereign capability in photonics manufacturing is of vital importance to the nation.