Made Smarter Innovation: Igniting the UK’s industrial revolution

Posted on 29 May 2024 by The Manufacturer

As the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation initiative enters the final year of a five-year programme, Deputy Challenge Director Ben Farmer reflects back on what the programme set out to achieve and the impacts that have been made across the programme.  

The UK’s manufacturing sector is undergoing a transformative change driven by the Made Smarter initiative, both from an innovation and adoption perspective. Underpinned by the Made Smarter Review published in 2017, the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge bridges the gap between the UK’s strong technological base and its manufacturing industry, propelling the nation towards Industry 4.0.  

This collaboration set out to achieve four ambitious goals: 

  • Productivity: Boost efficiency and competitiveness by creating a more productive and sustainable manufacturing sector, allowing the UK to compete on a global stage. 
  • Future-proof jobs: Create high-skilled jobs in advanced manufacturing, offsetting potential job losses in traditional sectors. These jobs are crucial for the future of the UK economy. 
  • Supply chain efficiencies: Strengthen and streamline UK supply chains, strongly impacted by the pandemic, fostering resilience against disruptions and optimising efficiency for a smoother flow of goods. 
  • Sustainable manufacturing: Minimise environmental impact by optimising processes and reducing waste. Made Smarter is not just about economic growth, it’s about achieving that growth in a way that protects the environment. 

 The Made Smarter review identified challenges that needed to be addressed: 

  • Leadership ignition: Inspiring ambitious and informed leadership within the manufacturing sector is crucial for embracing change and driving innovation. 
  • Digital adoption boost: Encouraging the widespread adoption of industrial digital technologies (IDTs) across all levels of the manufacturing sector, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is essential for widespread success. 
  • Innovation engine: Accelerating innovation and development of new IDTs is critical to maintain a competitive edge in the global market. 

The Made Smarter Innovation Programme: A connected, collaborative ecosystem 

The Made Smarter Innovation Programme, led by UKRI and delivered by Innovate UK, EPSRC and ESRC addressed these challenges head-on, with a collaborative spirit at its core. Funded by a joint effort from government and industry, the programme fostered a unique ecosystem: 

  • Connecting and collaborating: Bridging the gap between academia, technology sectors, and manufacturers to create a collaborative environment where knowledge and expertise flows freely across the entire innovation cycle, from initial ideas to real-world applications. 
  • People at the heart: The programme recognised that the human element is vital in digitalisation. It focused on empowering people to contribute effectively and ensure a smooth transition for the workforce throughout the adoption of new technologies. 
  • Building the future of digital manufacturing: Driving progress towards a future where manufacturing is not only digitalised but also: a productivity powerhouse, producing goods and services more efficiently than ever before; adaptable and agile, able to respond quickly to changing market demands and disruptions; a champion for sustainability, minimising environmental impact and leading the way towards a greener future; offers a thriving and sustainable workforce, with high-skilled jobs that contribute to a strong economy. 

Funding mechanisms for innovation 

The Made Smarter Innovation programme introduced various funding mechanisms to achieve these goals: 

  • R&D: Cutting-edge research in areas like AI and data, robotics, digital supply chains, and smart medicines manufacturing to accelerate innovation and boost productivity. 
  • Start-up and scale-up accelerators: Promising start-ups and scale-ups supported throughout the programme, focused on industrial digital technologies and sustainability, to foster a vibrant ecosystem of innovation. 
  • Collaborative innovation: Collaborative R&D (CR&D) projects exploring diverse areas within industrial digitalisation to unlock the full potential of innovation. 
  • Innovation hubs as launchpads: Innovation hubs like the Digital Supply Chain Hub empowering SMEs on their digital journey, and providing essential resources, guidance, and support to help these businesses create new technologies. 

Success stories: collaboration is key 

The Made Smarter Innovation Programme boasts impressive results: 

  • Over 500 companies engaged: More than 300 organisations have received funding of over £120m directly, or indirectly through the hubs, showcasing the programme’s reach and impact. 
  • Investment from industry: Significant co-investment of £147m from industry, demonstrating strong buy-in from business, and hurtling towards exceeding our £162m target.  
  • Jobs and Skills: 164 new jobs created, but even more staggering 1,558 increased skills in the use, development and application of IDTs across the programme.  
  • IDTs in practice: 186 new IDT solutions developed for manufacturers, with 130 companies using new industrial digital technologies to meet productivity and sustainability goals. 
  • AI: a game changer: Artificial Intelligence (AI) alongside data, communication and visualisation, has emerged as a crucial player in driving improved processes and products to answer the manufacturing industry’s call for AI to meet manufacturing challenges.  
  • Resource and energy efficient manufacturing: Digitalisation’s potential to contribute significantly to carbon abatement in process optimisation to improve resource and energy efficiency is gaining traction. Working with the Institute for Manufacturing in Cambridge, we have identified an additional 12 megatons of carbon reduction that will be realised by digitally enabled foreground efficiencies.

Live examples: Collaboration sits at the heart of the programme 

Digital Sandwich, a blockchain-based system for food supply chain security showcases innovation in a hugely labour-intensive process. 

CarbonVue is a digital platform developed with the support of Made Smarter Innovation funding to provide visibility of carbon throughout a supply chain, enabling integrated real-time carbon and productivity management.   

Another exciting project is the Factory of the Future headed up by BAE Systems’ Aerospace sector. It is aimed at creating a blueprint intelligent Industry 4.0 manufacturing environment, being a hybrid production and demonstration facility for the design, manufacturing, assembly, testing and support of future products. It is designed to help BAE understand and work to tighter and better quantified thresholds to lower emissions whilst ensuring there are no concerns around affecting critical manufacturing processes. 

Led by University of Ulster and working together with with Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) the Smart Manufacturing Data Hub has created a manufacturing data exchange platform to improve performance by bringing SMEs together to solve challenges.  A true example of collaboration in practice! 

The Made Smarter Innovation Showcase: A celebration of success 

The Made Smarter Innovation Showcase at Smart Factory Expo 2024 from 5-6 June serves as a crucial milestone. For the past four years, Made Smarter Innovation Alley at Smart Factory Expo has been a key platform for connecting technology companies with manufacturers, but this year it is all about celebrating the incredible achievements of organisations the industrial challenge has supported. 

This year’s Made Smarter Innovation Showcase will be a dynamic display of cutting-edge companies and academic organisations. These are the success stories – organisations that have leveraged the challenge’s support to become leaders in areas like carbon reduction, resilience, and productivity, with people running through the heart of the Showcase. It isn’t just about individual triumphs though. It’s a chance to see the collective impact of the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge, a testament to the power of collaboration in driving industrial digital transformation. 

Come and talk to the Innovate UK team where they will have industry leaders, research centres, and other parts of the Innovate UK ecosystem participating, waiting to explore the exciting possibilities at the intersection of digital technologies and manufacturing. This is your chance to learn from the best, network with key players, and get a glimpse of the future of a smarter, more sustainable UK manufacturing sector.   

Find out more and register here.

Ben FarmerDr Ben Farmer Ben is the Deputy Director of the Innovate UK-led £300m Made Smarter Innovation Challenge; a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the development and novel application of industrial digital technologies. Prior to this, Ben held positions at HiETA Technologies, Airbus Group, University of Bath and Cobham. He is also founder of Added Lightness, a technology strategy consulting business, and Atherton Bikes, which brings together multiple-world champion and world cup winning athletes with the latest composite and additive manufacturing technologies. Ben holds a degree in Materials Science and Engineering and an MBA from the University of Bath, a PhD in Materials Science and Metallurgy from the University of Cambridge and is a Chartered Engineer.

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