Clouds, crowds and games improve UK manufacturing


Six research projects that will help improve manufacturing competitiveness in the UK by using the latest ICT developments have been awarded £12 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant funding as part of a £45 million package of investments in manufacturing research announced today by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.


The projects will use concepts of cloud computing, crowdsourcing, gaming technology, ICT dashboards and platforms to provide new ways to develop, design and manage manufacturing.

Speaking ahead of the BIS Manufacturing Summit on Thursday, Mr Willetts said:

“The UK has a proud history of manufacturing but to build on this success industry needs access to the very latest science and technology. This £45 million package of investment will see our world-class research base investigating innovative new manufacturing equipment and techniques. This will support our industrial strategy in a range of important sectors, driving growth and keeping the UK ahead in the global race.”

Mark Claydon-Smith, Manufacturing the Future Lead, EPSRC said: “Advanced manufacturing is highly knowledge-intensive and ICT has a huge role to play in improving manufacturing intelligence, supporting collaboration, increasing efficiency, speeding up innovation and enabling new business models and technologies. These six projects demonstrate the collaborative nature of manufacturing research with nine universities and over 70 manufacturing partners working together.”

The projects are:

Cloud Manufacturing – towards a resilient and scalable high value manufacturing.  Led by Professor Svetan Ratchev, University of Nottingham.  Grant value £2.4 million.

This research will use concepts of ‘cloud manufacturing’, as a new platform to provide resilient, cost effective, environmentally-friendly and knowledge-intensive distributed manufacturing.  Within the ‘cloud’ a pool of data from design and manufacturing resources can be shared and readily accessed by users to improve manufacturing processes.

The multi-disciplinary research team will use complex systems, cloud computing and crowdsourcing methods in a radical departure from existing manufacturing ICT. The advantages are that manufacturers can optimise processes, respond quickly to change, and gain valuable data and knowledge from crowds. The research will lead to an increased participation by the UK’s small and medium size companies in global manufacturing networks, allow longer term strategic capital and infrastructure investment, and will dramatically increase the utilisation of available manufacturing resources and skills.

Intelligent Decision Support and Control Technologies for Continuous Manufacturing of Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals. Led by Professor Andonovic, University of Strathclyde with Loughborough University. Grant value £2.5 million.

The research team of chemical, electrical engineers and IT specialists will create IT tools based on advanced software using sensors, lasers and ultrasound.  The IT system (Intelligent Decision Support) will collate real time data during the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. It will be able to measure changes in a chemicals particle shape, form and size at a 100 micron level, as well as monitor and finely control the production processes. This will result in the production line being operated continuously, instead of in batches, as at present.

The project will cut current manufacturing times in the industry, reduce energy and operating costs, produce better quality products and increase flexibility. Changes to optimise products or in processes can be made easily. The deployment of advanced ICT will increase the global competitiveness of this key UK industry.

Prototyping Open Innovation Models for ICT- enabled Manufacturing in Food and Packaging. Led by Dr Sharon Baurley, Brunel University with the University of Nottingham. Grant value £1.8 million.

This research intends to harness and develop ideas from the social media sphere, using the power of the ‘crowd’ to develop new products and types of packaging within the food industry.

Involving a number of major industry partners the research will focus on designing a platform of ICT tools for state-of-the-art manufacturing processes allowing customers to be co-creators whilst products are being developed. The ICT tools and platform will gather content from users, organise those ideas, and integrate them with design and production systems.

The advantage of using consumers in product development will be a shorter time to market for new products, and the ability to integrate the design and manufacturing process with people, so enabling customers to have ‘conversations’ with brands and manufacturers.

Transforming the adoption of Product-Service Systems through innovations in applied gaming technology. Led by Professor Tim Baines, Aston University, with Professor K Ridgway, University of Sheffield and Professor  S de Freitas, Coventry University. Grant value £1.5 million.

This research aims to help mainstream manufacturers transform their company models from manufacturing products only to providing services as well (product-service systems) by using video-gaming technologies and computer simulations.

The research team will create games using three dimensional virtual worlds which can represent and handle complex data systems of manufacturing companies adopting product service systems. Business managers can interact with the software to engage, inform and support attitudinal change within a business context. Industry partners will test out the games.

Three quarters of world-wide wealth is created through providing services so helping manufacturers compete in this way is seen as a huge opportunity, a competitive advantage, and key to manufacturing success in the UK.

The Language of Collaborative Manufacturing. Led by Dr Ben Hicks, University of Bath. Grant value £1.9 million.

Dr Hicks said: “Modern engineering projects such as aircraft manufacture operate globally, and involve thousands of engineers and companies. Managing such collaborative, large-scale, high-value engineering projects and the communications within them is complex and risky.”

“Companies need to minimise delivery setbacks, cost overruns, risk and collapsed projects. For example, overruns on engineering projects cost the US economy $150 million a day (£96 million).”

Dr Hicks and the research team will produce a new suite of ICT tools and a ‘next generation project dashboard’ to address these issues. They will analyse the relationship between emails and Computer Aided Design (CAD) models, simulations and reports in order to predict the status and performance of a project. They will identify the successful characteristics of project phases, and create methods to aid the management of intellectual property, and the capture of design records, lessons learned, decisions taken, and rationale to help manufacturing.

As a result the status of engineering projects will be interpreted better, enabling early warning of issues, improved management, increased productivity, and ultimately improve a product’s design and manufacture.

Adaptive Informatics for Intelligent Manufacturing. Led by Professor Andrew West, University of Loughborough. Grant value £1.9 million.

A multi-disciplinary team from the University of Loughborough and practitioners from industry will form a research cluster with the aim to improve global competitiveness in the supply chains of the defence, automotive and aerospace industries.

The project will support manufacturing practices and infrastructures by developing a range of intelligent software services that can be used throughout the lifecycle of the product or process on demand. The research will bridge the information gaps associated with inefficient supply chain integration and a lack of knowledge on operational usage throughout product and process lifecycles.

This project aims to deliver an ICT solution for companies which captures and analyses a larger range of data, faster, at lower cost and manage it better than ever before. This will improve a company’s efficiencies, increase market share and develop new products, processes and services. It will enable supply chains to remove defects generated throughout manufacturing, share lifecycle knowledge of product and processes, optimise strategy and understand the impact of legislation, technologies and the impact of adopting new designs and business models.

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