Where science and business meet

New EPSRC centres designed to take engineering research to business, and open up new industries and markets in growth areas.

Announced with the Budget this year, the government’s Plan for Growth included a strong manufacturing component, much of which focused on the collaboration between universities and industry in the need to exploit technology.

The most eye-catching of these was the provision of £51m seed funding to kick-start nine new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Innovative Manufacturing (£45m) and fund new EPSRC Manufacturing Fellowships (£6m). Together with three existing centres, the 12 centres’ combined research themes – from additive manufacturing to ultra precision optics – were identified as the most promising areas of manufacturing research in terms of convertible value, with end-user sectors including aerospace, automotive, bioscience and pharmaceutical industries.

The core purpose of the centres is to feed new ideas and discoveries through to business to stimulate new industries and markets in growth areas.

On reviewing the 12 Centres, two things stand out. Firstly, they are all overwhelmingly built around a common purpose of practicably applying research to manufacturing industry. These are not flaky research projects that will remain locked up in university laboratories. On the contrary, they all need industrial participation to achieve qualified results. Companies – the usual big suspects but crucially small companies too – will benefit directly from this research. Secondly, the way the centres and the EPSRC’s Manufacturing Fellowships are devised and constructed are strongly aligned to the manufacturing mandate of government’s Plan for Growth. The centres are based on high tech industries, they target emerging market segments and have a strong focus on leadership. Almost certainly EPSRC was consulted in shaping the Plan for Growth.

This special feature summarises the 12 EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing, looks at three of the centres in more detail, and attempts to identify the potential value of the some of this advanced research to the UK economy. Specifically, how will SMEs as well as big companies benefit from all this meritorious brainwork? Dr Mark Claydon-Smith, head of manufacturing at EPSRC explains the research council’s mandate, the nature of investment, the Manufacturing Fellowships, the new High Value Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre – or TIC – and the new Industrial Doctorate Training Centres.

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The EPSRC Centres for
Innovative Manufacturing

The three original centres launched in January 2010 are in the fields of:

Liquid Metals – developing innovative technologies for the reuse and recycling of metal. Led by Professor Zhongyun Fan at Brunel University, academic partners include Birmingham University and Oxford University.

Photonics – the science and application of light using optical fibres to revolutionise the internet and telecommunications. Led by Professor David Payne at the University of Southampton. It has numerous industrial partners including spin-outs SPI Lasers and Fibrelogix Intl, plus big firms like SELEX Galileo. Prof Payne is the inventor of the optical fibre amplifier that revolutionised optical communications and enabled the development of fast internet worldwide.

Regenerative Medicine – therapies to enable damaged, diseased or defective tissues to work normally again. Led by Professor David Williams at the University of Loughborough, academic partners include the University of Nottingham and Keele University. The work is particularly focused on scaling-up the manufacturing processes for regenerative medicine techniques like stem cell growth.

PictureEPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing

Will combine multi-material, multifunctional devices with amalgamated electrical, optical and structural properties in a single manufacturing process using additive manufacturing.

Led by Loughborough University, the centre leader is Prof Richard Hague.. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £3.2m from industry partners. Industrial partners include a range of organisations involved in additive manufacturing like 3TRPD, MTT Equipment Supplier, TWI, and the National Physical Laboratory.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Advanced Metrology

Will create and develop a ‘factory on the machine’ linking measurement and production to minimise cost and allow ever increasing complexity and quality in manufacturing. Led by the University of Huddersfield it partners with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The grant will total £4m, with an additional £3.2m from industry partners. Centre leader is Professor Xiangquian (Jane) Jiang, industrial partners include Carl Zeiss, CIP Technologies, Renishaw and Rolls-Royce.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites

Will develop the next generation of composite manufacturing processes based on low cost, short cycle times, efficiency and sustainability. Led by the University of Nottingham, it partners with Bristol, Cranfield and Manchester universities. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £1.8m from industry partners. Centre leader is Professor Andrew Long, industrial partners include Airbus, Bentley, Caparo and Vestas, among others.

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EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation

Will take forward the move from batch manufacturing to fully continuous manufacturing processes for high value chemical products. This will lead to higher levels of quality, lower cost and more sustainable production. Led by the University of Strathclyde, the grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £1.8m from industry partners that include the three biggest pharma companies in the UK, plus SMEs including Prosonix and Solid Form Solutions. Centre leader is Professor Alastair Florence and there are five academic partners including Heriot-Watt University and Cambridge University.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Emergent Macromolecular Therapies

Will create the capabilities by which UK companies will be able to select drug candidates for clinical trials, both on the basis of clinical efficacy manufacturing feasibility, resulting in greatly reduced costs. Led by University College London, the academic partners are Imperial College and the London School of Pharmacy and an assortment of other higher education institutions including 10 foreign HEIs. The grant will total £4.9m, with an additional £3.9m from industry partners. The centre leader is Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, industrial partners include 24 UK companies from blue chips to SMEs, and six Knowledge Transfer Networks.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Industrial Sustainability

Will rapidly reduce the resource and energy-intensity of the production of existing goods, and investigate options for a radical redesign of the industrial system. Led by Cranfield University, the centre leader is Professor Stephen Evans. It partners with the universities of Cambridge, Loughborough and Imperial College and has no less than 12 industrial partners from Shearline Precision Engineering to IBM and Unilever. The grant will total £4.5m, with an additional £1.3m from industry partners.

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EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Intelligent Automation

Will capture and advance human skills and develop automated processes. Led by Loughborough University, it partners with Cranfield and industrial partners Aero Engine Controls, Airbus Operations, Ford Motor Company, one of the Manufacturing Technology Centres and Rolls-Royce.The grant will total £4.8m, with an additional £334,000 from industry partners. Centre leader is Professor Mike Jackson.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Through-life Engineering Services

Will design high value systems such as aircraft engines that require less engineering service, and incur less whole life cost. Led by Cranfield University with Durham University, the centre leader is Professor Rajkumar Roy. Its industrial partners include ARM Holdings, BAE Systems, Bombardier Transport, the UK Ministry of Defence and Rolls-Royce. The grant will total £4.8m, with an additional £3.5m from industry partners.

EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Ultra Precision

Will create ultra high precision manufacturing tools that can make products with nanoscale precision. Centre leader is Professor Paul Shore, and academic partners include the University of Cambridge and the NPL. Industrial partners are Microsharp Ltd, an SME, Hexagon Metrology and Fives – Cinetic. The EPSRC grant value will total £5.2m, with an additional £1.2m from industry partners.

In addition to the 12 Centres, the £6m-funded Manufacturing Fellowships aim to create more effective links between business and research. The five-year Fellowships will provide support for at least six exceptional engineers and technology specialists from business who are able to bridge university and industrial cultures.