Announced by the UK Business Secretary, the Right Honourable Alok Sharma, at London Tech Week on Friday, the 11th of September, manufacturing firms innovating in areas that include robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR) are collectively set to receive £300 million of joint government and industry funding.
Two industry professionals discuss engineering notes in a manufacturing facility. Image Credit: Getty Images via UK Research and Innovation.
Manufacturing Made Smarter
The Manufacturing Made Smarter (MMS) challenge is a UK government initiative that’s currently open to applications from UK businesses that seek to secure funding for the development of innovative digital technologies for the UK manufacturing supply chain.
As part of the MMS challenge, the government will look to invest £147 million—backed by industry funding—to support businesses and help them boost their manufacturing productivity by 30% overall. It’s thought that this funding will help recipients to reach new customers, create thousands of skilled jobs, and reduce prices for consumers.
The Manufacturing Made Smarter challenge opened in early July 2020 and will close on the 7th of October.
Where’s the Funding Going?
According to the UK government, the first £50 million will be allocated between fourteen “cutting-edge manufacturing projects” that involve roughly 30 small and medium-sized enterprises, 29 larger enterprises, and nine research universities. The remainder of the funds will be allocated over the next five years.
Business secretary Alok Sharma, who announced the £300 million funding boost. Image Credit: BBC News.
One company set to benefit from the funding is behind the winning Digital Designer Robot project. This initiative aims to offer machine-to-person ‘digital assistance’ (such as, for example, when an engineer requires a bespoke product). In this use case, the system will be able to use a digital robot to help design the product and upload it to a supplier’s website, so that the product can then be sampled, prototyped, and manufactured. According to a spokesperson for the project, the robot will also be able to offer expert counsel by asking engineers questions and listening to feedback.
Other projects that are set to receive funding include augmented reality headsets to help engineers make repairs and robotics that are designed to weld metal parts.
The UK government says that this investment will provide a “crucial lift” to industries, including automotive and aerospace, which have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This £300 million funding boost is the latest in a series of initiatives contributing to the government’s commitment to increase both productivity and earning power in the UK by spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.