Businesses with creative ideas to boost the UK’s manufacturing capabilities, including using robotics, AI and augmented reality, are set to receive £300m of joint government and industry funding, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed at London Tech Week (11 September 2020).
Through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, the government will invest £147 million – backed by further funding from industry – to support businesses implement new tech to boost their manufacturing productivity, helping them reach new customers, create thousands of new highly skilled jobs, slash carbon emissions and reduce prices for consumers.
The first £50 million of the funding is being allocated to fourteen cutting-edge manufacturing projects involving around 30 small or medium businesses, 29 larger enterprises and nine universities, with the rest of the funds due over the next 5 years.
A company behind one winning project - the Digital Designer Robot – aims to offer machine-to-person ‘digital assistance.’ When a business needs a bespoke product, it will be able to use a digital robot to help design it and upload the design quickly onto a supplier’s website - so the product can then be sampled, prototyped and manufactured by the supplier.
The virtual assistant would also offer expert advice and guidance, by ‘conversing’ with businesses to ask questions, listen to feedback, and provide suggestions. This could reduce the time it takes to manufacture products, as well as cut costs and waste thanks to a more precise design process.
Another is developing super lightweight, aluminium bikes for children using robots, whilst another is pioneering the use of AI to help businesses design new products.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "Increasing productivity is vital for any business, and having the right new technologies in place can help manufacturers make better products to compete and thrive.
"By helping manufacturers to reduce costs, cut waste, and slash the time it takes to develop their products, this multi-million pound uplift will help fire up the cylinders of productivity as we build back better from the pandemic."
The Manufacturing Made Smarter programme will also support technology SMEs through growth accelerators - partnerships between the government and the private sector where experts will work with businesses to identify barriers to growth and ways to overcome them. It will also create a national network of innovation ‘hubs’ where businesses can partner or share advice, to help spur growth and creative ideas.
This announcement follows the opening of a competition in July under Manufacturing Made Smarter: Digital Supply Chain, where firms of all sizes can apply for up to 70% of the funding they need for industrial research projects.
The government has committed to raising productivity and earning power in the UK by spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.
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