Made Smarter Innovation Network: Accelerating digital innovation in manufacturing

Posted on 25 Aug 2022 by The Manufacturer

Nicole Ballantyne, Made Smarter Innovation Network Lead at Innovate UK KTN, shares how the Made Smarter Innovation Network is the glue that holds together all the strands of the Made Smarter Innovation programme to accelerate digital innovation in manufacturing.

The Made Smarter Innovation Challenge is a connected, collaborative ecosystem of technology solution providers, manufacturers, academics, and research centres that is accelerating innovative solutions, faster. This is an ecosystem with people at its core: we embrace innovators and disruptors from all backgrounds and cultures to work together to create compelling, adoptable solutions that help deliver the future we all want. We strive to achieve the following: future solutions to create a net zero world; a transformational future of work within manufacturing; and strengthen resilience and sustainability to help grow the UK economy.

The programme was funded by the Department of Business (BEIS), in response to the recommendations from the Made Smarter review. The collection of interventions was created by Innovate UK to pioneer the development and integration of industrial digital technologies (IDTs) – artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics, additive manufacturing, robotics and automation, virtual reality and augmented reality, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connectivity (5G, LPWAN) – to enable the manufacturing sector to become more resilient, flexible, productive and sustainable.

There are multiple communities and networks across the UK working in these IDT areas but not necessarily answering the call of manufacturers. The aim of the Made Smarter Innovation Network delivered by Innovate UK KTN, is to bring these communities together under one umbrella to expand the existing vibrant community of digital technology providers, developers, users and manufacturers who can access investment in R&D, as well as exposing collaboration opportunities across all manufacturing sectors within the UK and globally. We want to demonstrate to these communities that manufacturing is a great place to be to develop new ideas and to create new innovation.

Innovation Alley runs through the heart of Smart Factory Expo, the exhibition area of Digital Manufacturing Week

Innovation Alley runs through the heart of Smart Factory Expo, the exhibition area of Digital Manufacturing Week

Manufacturing is a great place to be!

Manufacturing is a challenging but exciting place to be. I studied Mechanical Engineering at university as my passion lies in making things better, more efficient and more productive. After 15 years working in factories across the UK and Europe for a large multinational, and four years for an SME manufacturer, I understand the challenges facing many manufacturers. No solution is ‘plug and play’ but innovation using digital solutions is definitely the answer.

Challenges for the sector include:

  • Technology providers and manufacturers are not currently working collaboratively nor in sync. We need to encourage open communication between technology providers and manufacturers to facilitate greater integration.
  • There isn’t a universal open communication standard (so solutions become bigger challenges of integration).
  • IT and OT need to work seamlessly – skills, collaboration and people are the biggest enabler, but finding those people is hard.

By telling stories and showcasing how technology providers and research organisations have succeeded in this exciting arena, we are inspiring others to innovate. A great example is how global packaging manufacturer, IPL Global, collaborated with Ameresco, a cleantech integrator, to create an emissions tracking tool which accelerates its transition to a low carbon future.

We want to hear from you if you are:

  • A manufacturer that used technology that has been transformative in your business.
  • A technology solutions provider that has worked with other partners (such as university spinouts) to create something truly innovative.
  • Working with manufacturers and have seen technologies being used to solve issues.
  • Working in innovation support and know of companies that have technologies that could be applied to the manufacturing sector.

And of course, if you are an innovative technology developer under five years old, with less than ten employees and have solutions that would be great to showcase on Made Smarter Innovation Alley in November 2022, please apply online. We’d love to see you on the alley.

Made Smarter Innovation Alley will be taking place in Liverpool on 16-17 November

Made Smarter Innovation Alley will be taking place in Liverpool on 16-17 November

Developing a community

Running through the heart of Smart Factory Expo, the exhibition area of Digital Manufacturing Week, the Made Smarter Innovation Alley (which is happening again this year in Liverpool on 16-17 November) has been a conduit to evolving these communities and is the leading showcase of new, innovative technologies from across the UK.

Over the last four years, Innovate UK and Innovate UK KTN have provided full funding and support for over 300 start-ups and scale-ups who are less than five years old and employ less than ten staff. This support spans across AI, machine learning, additive manufacturing, robotics, XR, and IIoT to explore how their ideas and innovations will work across the manufacturing sector, both in the UK and globally.

Companies who have been on the alley have used it to test their ideas, find new partnerships and build relationships with new customers – a fantastic opportunity for everyone. Companies on the alley also have the opportunity to get involved in a light touch investor readiness programme and present to a select group of investors looking to invest in this exact area of technology and sector.

Companies attending will benefit from:

  • Reaching the right audience (over 5,000 manufacturers attend Smart Factory Expo every year).
  • The opportunity to build partnerships to make technology developers’ offerings more appealing to larger manufacturing customers
  • Market testing new ideas and solutions with the people who would be using them.

Previous Ally exhibitor Andre Wegner, CEO at Authentise said: “Innovation Alley was an exciting opportunity to test new products for the first time. We’ve perfected our data-driven and connected workflow management tools in the additive manufacturing industry over the last decade, after some challenging and interesting discussions on Innovation Alley.”

Right up your alley

To find out more about how to exhibit at Innovation Alley visit:

About the author

Nicole Ballantyne is the Made Smarter Innovation Network Lead at Innovate UK KTN