Manufacturing the future

Posted on 16 Apr 2010 by The Manufacturer

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) showcases the latest research which will safeguard and enhance the UK’s industrial future.

The research council’s event (held on April 15 in London) was designed to highlight research partnerships and accelerate the transfer of research concepts into manufacturing activity with economic and social import. With the help of a panel of internationally sourced industry experts and academics there was also an intention to benchmark how well the UK are doing in this arena compared with global competition.

Professor Brian Collins, chief scientific advisor to BIS, stressed the need for continued investment in manufacturing research with a forthright keynote presentation. He pointed to a future in which the manufacturing community will need to better understand the complexity of their industrial systems and supply networks, in which smarter infrastructure will support asset optimisation and responsiveness and in which organisational leaders take full responsibility for tackling social perceptions of their activities.

Within this context the role of innovation – not only in terms of products – but also in terms of process and management systems – is critical, a fact that EPSRC has recognised with its impressively diverse investments into research at its 18 Centres for Innovative Manufacturing nationwide.

Some of these institutions, and other EPSRC grant holders, attended the April 15 event to show case their research to EPSRCs advisory board – each with the hope of influencing the board members in their advice to EPSRC on future funding focus. The board members assessed poster presentations from the attendant researchers on the likely economic and social relevance of their research for the UK and crucially, on the diligence with which they communicated this value to industry partners.

Board member Dr Alistair Keddie, formerly of the Department of Trade and Industry, indicated that for him this latter point was the most important. “I am impressed by the phenomenal range of activities being presented here. They show a broad interpretation of ‘manufacturing’ which is very positive – our challenge now will be in assimilating the messages in order to form a clear plan for investment.

Looking at the quality of communication and interaction with economically active companies and organisations by these research groups is the most important thing for me in making this decision. It is one thing to put a partners’ logo on a poster but we need to delve more deeply and ensure that these relationships are really impacting on the progress of research.”

Some of the institutions exhibiting included Loughborough University, Imperial College London, the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University and the Health and Care Infrastructure Research and Innovation Centre (HaCIRIC). Their offerings ranged from research into additive manufacturing, the use of virtual reality for engineering training and product testing, regenerative cell manufacturing for bone and skin grafts and intelligent systems management. All stressed the current and future value that their research is feeding into the creation of a robust UK economy with a high standard of living.

A spokesperson from the HaCIRIC summed up the challenge for all those present in refocusing their perception s and realising that “Manufacturing is not a sector. It is a system or a process which is part of a greater whole. We need to move to a more integrated systems approach to the way we research and the way we disseminate that research for real progress to be achieved. As far as this collaborative approach is concerned the UK is currently a few steps ahead of many other countries.”

For more information on EPSRC research and funding please visit