Digital is our opportunity to lead the world in sustainable manufacturing

In March this year, the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, published an Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. Of the approximately 370 megatonnes (Mt) CO2e (ā€˜eā€™ is a suffix indicating CO2 equivalence) produced by the UK, about 70 Mt CO2e ( about one fifth) is a result of industrial activity. By 2030 these emissions need to reduce to 40 Mt CO2e and by 2040 to 10 Mt CO2e.

To state the obvious, this will not be easy, but work within the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge during the past year, points toward the UK as being perfectly positioned to rise to the challenge. Dr Ben Farmer, UK Research and Innovation, Made Smarter Innovation Deputy Challenge Director explains how.

Two thirds of industrial CO2e abatement required by 2030 needs to be delivered by Resource Efficiency and Energy Efficiency (REEE)

Digital is key to REEE. To know where to start, however, needs data. Once data is available, efficiencies can sometimes be immediately obvious.

But if not, a common digitalisation pathway has been identified that can be used to optimise existing linear operations – a point to revisit later.


Key: REEE – Resource efficiency and energy efficiency; CCUS – Carbon capture and storage; BECCS – Bioenergy with carbon capture
Strategy (BEIS)
Key: REEE – Resource efficiency and energy efficiency; CCUS – Carbon capture and storage; BECCS – Bioenergy with carbon capture
Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial

One of the two pathways to net zero for industry, identified in the BEIS Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, features extensive national infrastructure networks for CCUS and hydrogen. Common to both pathways, is that about two thirds of annual CO2 abatement in play by 2030 is a result of REEE.

The sooner emissions are reduced the better

Digital delivers CO2 reductions and does so quickly. Research conducted with the Made Smarter Innovation Advisory Group has shown that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the only industrial digital technology that is considered as strategically important to all manufacturing sectors. Made Smarter research also shows the UK has the greatest investment in early-stage AI companies anywhere in Europe and, when compared to the size of the economy, is ahead of North America and Asia. Not only that, these start-up and scale-up companies are ideally placed to move fast.


Investment in UK early-stage AI companies versus EU and rest of the world: Source: Made Smarter Innovation

Investment in UK early-stage AI companies versus EU and rest of the world Source: Made Smarter Innovation
Investment in UK early-stage AI companies versus EU and rest of the world
Source: Made Smarter Innovation

Digitally enabled REEE represents better value and less risk than other abatement contributions

The necessary digital capabilities already exist. Research reveals that very little of the globally competitive UK AI capability is currently orientated towards manufacturing. The key question is why manufacturing doesn’t already use this capability? The answer is complicated and still emerging. Made Smarter is already running interventions, such as fast start collaborative research and development and the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator, to demonstrate that these do facilitate digital companies that previously have not worked in manufacturing to do just that.


UK Tech Investment: Source: Made Smarter Innovation

UK manufacturing tech investment
UK tech investment vs UK manufacturing tech investment
Source: Made Smarter Innovation

Investment in UK early-stage AI companies dwarfs investments in other technologies. Investment in UK early-stage AI companies applied to manufacturing technologies is, however, comparable with other industrial digital technologies.

Digitally enabled REEE also delivers resilience and productivity. Digitally enabled transparent and provenanced supply chains, combined with reduced material and energy resource usage, reduce sensitivities to variable material availability and price, allowing more to be done with less

Digitally enabled REEE can go further than is currently planned by facilitating the shift to circularity. AI, blockchain, digital twins and digital design are key to industrial symbiosis and scalable circular manufacturing, further reducing industrial resource and energy use, thereby mitigating other costly and risky CO2e abatement technologies.

Digital manufacturing also facilitates reduced use phase emissions. Technologies, such as robotics and additive manufacturing, allow designers greater freedoms to create products that emit less CO2 during their use (and re-use), and more value creation across the whole value chain, including UK-wide based manufacturers.

The elephant in the room – 89% of the emissions associated with the UK’s demand for manufactured products occur outside of the UK. Once developed, industrial digital technologies can be exported at scale. Industrial digital technologies, where the UK is strong, are relevant to the economies of other industrial nations with industries such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, aerospace and automotive.

Made Smarter strategy

Made Smarter has identified a universal, challenge orientated (technology agnostic) digitalisation pathway. The first half of which, and the focus of the Made Smarter Innovation challenge, is the optimisation of linear processes and supply chains. The second half, and where thoughts shift to beyond the current challenge, is the digital facilitation of industrial symbiosis and large-scale circularity. Throughout, Made Smarter will build in the UK’s leading capabilities in ethics and human adoption.


Challenge-orientated (technology agnostic) pathway to digitalise linear processes and supply chains before moving to enablement of circularity Source: Made Smarter Innovation
Challenge-orientated (technology agnostic) pathway to digitalise linear processes and supply chains before moving to enablement of circularity
Source: Made Smarter Innovation

Strategy in action: The £1m Made Smarter Technology Accelerator (MSTA), delivered by the Digital Catapult through 2021, attracted over 90 technology start-up and scale-up company applicants. They were competing for one of 14 places to address the industrial challenges posed by seven companies from a wide range of sectors.

Each start-up and scale-up company, many of which hadn’t previously worked with manufacturers, were awarded £20k to develop a proof of concept before four were selected to receive £100k to develop a minimum viable product (MVP).

One of these companies was Machine Intelligence, who worked with BAE Systems on the scalable AI for visual inspection challenge. They used a novel machine learning technique, to identify defects in manufacturing, with the goal of reducing waste, improving the quality of the product, and ultimately saving money.

You can find out more here: https://madesmartertech.uk/

The £20m Sustainable Smart Factory Collaborative Research and Development (CR&D) competition. UK registered businesses and organisations from 1st November 2021 until 26th January 2022 can apply for a share of up to £20m for digital innovation projects that increase the resource and energy efficiency of manufacturing processes in factories.

To find out more head over to https://www.madesmarter.uk/made-smarter-innovation/current-opportunities/

Upcoming and future opportunities

Made Smarter are in the process of respectively competing and launching a £20m Smart Factory Innovation Hub and a £10m Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub. Each will feature test-bed projects and far-reaching novel initiatives to engage companies in the development and novel application of new industrial digital technologies.

Building on the successful model of the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator, the future £5m portfolio of accelerators is shifting focus towards addressing REEE, by orientating world-beating technology start-up and scale-up companies, to the challenges of large industrial emitters, and the long-tail of companies with low-level emissions.

Made Smarter’s £10m global activity is focused on countries where these same world-class UK digital capabilities can be put to work reducing the emissions of some of the biggest emitting industries internationally – thereby generating export opportunity whilst pro-actively addressing UK consumption emissions.

What happens after the Made Smarter Innovation challenge?

Research has shown that Industrial Innovation is the next big opportunity in tech, and that significant private capital is at the ready to be invested in the right ideas. The problem is that currently, according to some investors, there aren’t sufficient ideas. To spark these ideas, future interventions, following on from Made Smarter Innovation, will link the REEE challenges of companies of all sizes, to the world-class digital talent in the UK to:

  1. Deliver REEE quickly: AI enabled autonomous factories and linear supply chain technology delivered by start-ups and scale-ups.
  2. Deliver REEE further: Autonomous value chains for scalable circularity. Technological innovation to enable platforms for global circularity.