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£8m intelligent automation centre is part of £51m manufacturing programme

17 March, 2011

The Government has announced a £51m investment aimed at ensuring that the UK stays at the leading edge of manufacturing research. A total of £45m will fund nine Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Innovative Manufacturing, while a further £6m will support manufacturing pioneers of the future.

The programme includes a £4.8m grant to establish an EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Intelligent Automation, led by Loughborough University, with an further £3.34m of funding coming from industrial partners that include Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Aero Engine Controls and Ford. The Centre is intended to capture and advance human skills and to develop automated processes. One goal is to automate manufacturing processes that have previously been considered too difficult to automate.

“This research will help to radically improve the effectiveness of manufacturing operations in the automotive and aerospace industries and in a broad range of companies in UK manufacturing supply chains,” says Mike Jackson, Loughborough’s Professor of Machine Systems, who will lead the Centre.

The package forms part of the Advanced Manufacturing strand of the Government’s Growth Review and is designed to help stimulate growth in the most promising areas of manufacturing research, including pharmaceuticals, aerospace and the automotive industry.

The national centres, run by universities including Nottingham, Cranfield and Strathclyde, will focus on emerging areas such as intelligent automation and novel composite technologies, helping to generate the new ideas that will fuel growth.

The £6m programme of EPSRC Manufacturing Fellowships aims to forge closer links between business and research. The five-year Fellowships will support at least six exceptional engineers and technology specialists from business who can bridge university and industrial cultures and who have the potential to transform UK research and manufacturing. Each Fellow will lead a £1m programme of research.

Announcing the new programme, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said that “partnerships between higher education and industry are increasingly essential drivers of innovation, opportunity and national prosperity. These new centres will combine inventive research and business acumen to develop the high-tech manufacturing industries we need to secure sustainable growth.”

“Manufacturing generates £140bn a year for the economy and accounts for 55% of total UK exports,” adds Mark Prisk, Minister for Business and Enterprise (above). “And increasingly, it is high-tech, advanced manufacturing that leads the way. But we need to do more to rebalance our economy. These exciting new partnerships between our universities and businesses will play a vital role in keeping UK manufacturing ahead of the game internationally.”

The EPSRC centres will work closely with businesses and are being backed by industry partners including GSK, Rolls-Royce and IBM, as well as small and medium-sized high-tech enterprises. The eight other centres are:

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Advanced Metrology will create and develop a “factory on the machine”, linking measurement and production to minimise costs and allow increasing complexity and quality in manufacturing.  Led by University of Huddersfield, it will receive a £4m grant and £3.2m from industry partners.

♦ The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Ultra Precision Surfaces which will create ultra-high-precision manufacturing tools for making products with nanoscale precision. Led by Cranfield University, it will be backed by a £5.2m grant from the EPSRC and £1.2m from industry partners.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing for Industrial Sustainability will reduce the resource and energy-intensity of the production of goods, and investigate options for radically redesigning industrial systems. Led by Cranfield University, it will receive a grant worth £4.5m, with £1.3m more coming from industry partners.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Through Life Engineering Services will design high-value systems such as aircraft engines that need less engineering service, and will have lower whole-life costs. Led by Cranfield University, it will receive a £4.8m grant and £3.5m from industry partners.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites will develop the next generation of composite manufacturing processes based on low costs, short cycle times, efficiency and sustainability. Led by University of Nottingham, it will receive a £4.9m grant and £1.8m from industry partners.

The EPSRC 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, it will be backed by a £4.9m grant and £3.2m from industry partners.

♦ The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation will take forward the move from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing of high-value chemical products. The aim is to achieve higher levels of quality, reduced costs and more sustainable production. Led by University of Strathclyde, the centre will receive a £4.9m grant, with an additional £1.8m from industry partners.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Emergent Macromolecular Therapies will help UK companies to select drug candidates for clinical trials, both on the basis of clinical efficacy manufacturing feasibility, resulting in lower costs. Led by University College London, it will receive a £4.9m grant and an extra £3.9m from industry partners.

The Government has also announced a High-Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC), which will play a key role in taking the research from the EPSRC Centres to the next stage of the innovation chain.

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