Creating a visible and effective innovation Ecosystem

Posted on 16 Dec 2020 by The Manufacturer

Digital Manufacturing Week 2020 concluded with the Made Smarter Emerging Tech Show, a bleeding-edge disruptive technology event like no other. The platform showcased new and developing technologies from more than 50 early-stage companies that promise to revolutionise the landscape of manufacturing.

The wealth of industrial digital technologies available today have an almost infinite number of potential applications and represents a £455bn opportunity, according to the Made Smarter Review.

When it was published in 2017, the Review offered four key areas of recommendation: Skills, Leadership, Adoption and Innovation. A number of initiatives have been launched in the years since to address these areas, spearheaded by Enginuity, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Made Smarter North West Pilot, among others.

Chris Courtney kicked off the Made Smarter Emerging Tech Show by charting the progress made in recent years and introducing an exciting new initiative, the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator.

“The Made Smarter Review highlighted the opportunity to use digital technologies to boost productivity, improve sustainability and to drive the creation of new products and services, as well as the opportunity to grow a digital technologies sector that underpins that,” he noted.

The Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge is the mechanism by which those two objectives will be delivered, supported by £147m from the ISCF and matched by industry.

“The target for this programme of work is to enable a 30% improvement in productivity, a 30% reduction in the manufacturing sector’s environmental footprint, and a much more interconnected and dynamic set of supply chains,” Chris explained.

Regards growing a vibrant UK digital technologies ecosystem, the primary goal is to enable digital innovators to work alongside manufacturers in order to accelerate the translation from concept to adoption, and then increase the export of these solutions around the world. This is where the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator plays such a vital role.

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‘The age of acceleration’

Manufacturers, particularly those in the UK, often struggle to innovate and adopt digital technologies due to lengthy investment decisions, a lack of technical skills and the perceived need to ‘sweat’ existing assets.

These barriers need to be overcome if UK manufacturing is to forge stronger ties with the digital sector and retain its competitiveness on the international market. The Technology Accelerator has been developed to support and drive forward this shift and expedite UK designed and developed technology directly into industry.

Facilitated by Digital Catapult and funded through the ISCF, the Accelerator is one of Europe’s largest industry-led manufacturing programmes and has four tiers of engagement:

  • Industry Challenge Owners will set and define industry-wide challenges to directly address current and future growth. These large manufacturers will have direct access to the leading innovative start-ups who will join the programme and develop prototypes that address these challenges and prove the value of the technology.
  • Tech Sponsors have the opportunity to play a crucial role in the transformation of the industry by driving innovation and development through the use of their products and platforms in collaboration with large manufacturing customers and start-ups to solve business challenges.
  • Industry Attendee Members can engage with a cross-section of manufacturing challenge owners and start-ups and learn about how to deploy innovative solutions to solve problems faced by industry.
  • SME members can gain access to the innovation community and challenge owners, as well as attending all events. Over the next 12 months, eight Challenge Owners will set 20 challenges to be tackled by a cohort of 20 digital innovators working in collaboration with those Challenge Owners and Tech Sponsors.

Industry challenges will be set within five core themes:made smarter

  • Intelligent factory management and control
  • Intelligent product verification and validation
  • Transparent and data driven procurement
  • Digitally enabled factory workforce
  • Resource measurement and analytics

Following a three-month prototyping phase, three of the prototypes will undergo a five-month scale-up phase before being showcased to the wider industry.

“Changes in technology, globalisation and climate change are accelerating,” explained Digital Catapult’s George Belias. “This is a great opportunity to be at the forefront of that change, to collaborate with likeminded businesses to transform the manufacturing industry, to drive the Made Smarter mission forward and gain invaluable experience of working with tomorrow’s technologies today.”

People power

The UK benefits from a wide variety of innovation activity taking place via a number of different growth programmes, funding pots, research centres, innovation hubs and agencies. However, determining exactly which bits are right for you and your particular business can prove tricky.

That’s where the Manufacturing Made Smarter Network comes in, helping to ensure that technology advancements aren’t just made, they are adopted, exported and ultimately maximised to the benefit of all.

“The network will help support the cross-generation of ideas and cross-fertilisation of technologies and knowledge from all the activities that are happening,” explained KTN’s Nicole Ballantyne.

“We don’t want to create a new network; we want to connect all the networks that are out there and are working in an effort to create something greater than the sum of its individual parts. In that way, we will help to grow a vibrant, cohesive community of industrial digital technology providers, developers and users.”

A number of events are planned to help make this “network of networks” visible, accessible and connected, including speed-dating activities, best-practice sharing, sandpit and sprints, cohort activities, factory visits and knowledge sharing webinars.

More information

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The session ended with an interactive panel discussion, enabling Chris Courtney, George Belias and Nicole Ballantyne to share their insights with the audience.

What are the best ways to evaluate new technologies for potential business value?

made smarterChris Courtney: It starts with determining where the business value is for you and being ambitious around what that is. It’s not about whether you should adopt AI, for example; it’s about what you’re trying to do with your business, what’s the opportunity or change you’re trying to create, and then exploring how technology can enable that.

Having done that, it’s important to then form strategic alliances with the likes of the KTN, the Catapults, Made Smarter who can connect you with digital ecosystems and provide guidance around business cases, mentoring and skills.

How can manufacturers apply to become involved with the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator?

George Belias: Visit our website which provides resources such as an industry briefing, FAQs, a registration form, and contact information –

What are the hot technologies for the manufacturing sector, or those you are seeing the most interest in?

Nicole Ballantyne: The Made Smarter Review identified five key areas and most technologies can fit in one of these: additive manufacturing; immersive & simulation; robotics & automation; IoT & connectivity; AI, machine learning & data analytics, and emerging tech.

In terms of the technologies on display at the Emerging Tech Show, around half of the 50 or so exhibitors are involved in AI, ML and data analytics.

For me, the real drive is about getting real time data and enabling management teams in factories to make real time decisions based on real time information. If we can enable that to happen, then they know where their next bottleneck or challenge is that they need to address. However, all five technologies have a part to play.

Why does the UK struggle to fully commercialise the technologies that we appear to be quite good at incubating?

CC: One of the routes to commercialisation is to have start-ups working with industrial players as much as possible. That achieves two things; it tests whether or not a solution is viable, and it engages manufacturers with technology providers and the innovations coming out of universities or start-ups.

We are working to bring that community together – manufacturers, tech providers and start-ups – to solve real world problems.