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Government funds digital manufacturing projects

The business secretary has announced £300 million of funding for virtual assistants, augmented reality and digital supply chain innovations

Cliff Saran
  • Cliff Saran, Managing Editor

The government has announced funding for 14 manufacturing projects across the UK – including projects to streamline manufacturing and supply chains.

Through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, the government will invest £147m – backed by further funding from industry – to support businesses implementing 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 funding is part of the government’s goal to increase research and development spending in the UK to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 in a bid to raise productivity and earning power in the UK.

Projects including the development of robots to help design products and augmented reality headsets for engineers are receiving a share of the first £50m government-industry investment from this pot.

Investment will give a crucial lift to aerospace, automotive, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage sectors as the UK builds back better from the pandemic.

Announcing the industry funding at London Tech Week, 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.”

Read more about government funding initiatives

  • A new Future Fund includes public-private match funding, which will give the government shares in the enterprises, as well as targeted research and development support.
  • New funding for innovative projects forms part of the government’s plan to increase research and development spending, which it claims will aid the UK’s post-Covid economic recovery.

One of the projects receiving funding is Digital Designer Robot, a virtual assistant which aims to offer machine-to-person “digital assistance”. The virtual assistant helps people send their product designs to a manufacturer over the web, to enable prototyping and manufacturing.

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 project, WeldZero, will explore the use of robots, sensors and automation to improve accuracy when welding metal parts on production lines. The machines will also collect and feed back valuable data to help improve the manufacturing process, leading to stronger and higher-quality parts, as well as quicker production, in industries including automotive and construction.

In the augmented reality space, GKN Aerospace has received funding for its Smart Connected Shop Floor application. The company is leading a cross-sector team trialling digital technologies, including augmented reality headsets for engineers, so manufacturing businesses can guide them through repairs. The project will also use “smart” devices to exchange information between old and modern computer systems.

On the supply chain side, UK sandwich supplier Raynor Foods has received funding to help it develop software to enable food and drinks businesses to share information. This information exchange will increase productivity, improve cashflow, help boost food quality and reduce waste in the supply chain.

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