Hubs launched to create a sustainable future for manufacturing

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Five new hubs have been launched with the aim of addressing challenges to the commercialisation of early-stage research within key areas of manufacturing, such as semiconductors and medicines.

A key goal of the new hubs is also to improve environmental sustainability in manufacturing processes.  

More sustainable manufacturing can bolster the economy in many ways, for example through improved efficiency, the reduction of waste, emissions and pollution, and lowering production costs in the long term.

The five manufacturing research hubs have been supported by the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with an investment of £55 million, with each hub receiving £11 million.

Including partner contributions, cash and in-kind, the total support committed to the new hubs amounts to £99.3 million.

Science Minister, Andrew Griffith said:
“Manufacturing accounts for almost a tenth of the UK’s economic output, but for the sector to keep growing and sustaining jobs nationwide, it has to tackle challenges ranging from reducing emissions, to cutting production costs. “These new hubs will support UK researchers with the cutting-edge facilities they need, to help our manufacturers seize the benefits of technologies such as robotics and AI. Harnessing these innovations will cement the UK's position as a global leader in sustainable manufacturing."

Minister for Industry and Economic Security Alan Mak said:
“Thanks to our Advanced Manufacturing Plan, we’re helping businesses take advantage of the twin transitions of digitalisation and net zero, along with tax cuts, faster grid connections and more, helping grow the green industries of the future. “This investment will help keep the UK at the cutting edge of research in key sectors like semiconductors and medicine and help secure a sustainable future for our innovative manufacturing industry.”

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Charlotte Deane said:
“Given the scale and importance of the UK’s manufacturing sector we must ensure that it is able to benefit fully from advances made across the research and innovation ecosystem. “With their focus on innovation and sustainability the advances made by the hubs will benefit specific sectors, the wider manufacturing sector and economy, as well the environment.” 

The hubs aim to address a wide range of challenges in commercialising early-stage research within different manufacturing sectors. These include reducing waste, providing alternatives to costly or environmentally-damaging materials, and speeding up processes. The hubs will draw on advances in underlying science and technology, and focus on the design and development of new processes, systems and networks. 

Working with industry partners, the researchers will also explore different products’ pathways to manufacture, including production scale-up and integration within the wider industrial system. The hubs aim to make advances in sustainability across manufacturing, for example through exploring how greater use can be made of renewable energy, and the reuse and repurposing of materials and processes. 

The five hubs are: 

CSManuHubSust

Led by: Professor Peter Smowton, Cardiff University 

Partner funding (cash and in-kind): £20 million 

The hub aims to capitalise on the huge opportunity of compound semiconductor manufacturing, as identified in the UK’s national semiconductor strategy. The researchers will develop energy-efficient opto-electronics for use in key emerging technologies such as quantum and expand on the environmental benefits of compound semiconductors by creating new devices such as mercury-free ‘night vision’ mid-infrared detector arrays and devices that both communicate and illuminate based on integrated transistors and LEDs. 

Sustainable ChEmicals and materials MAnufacturing (SCHEMA) Hub 

Led by: Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford 

Partner funding (cash and in-kind): £22 million 

A hub led by the University of Oxford aims to transform fossil-based polymer manufacturing into a sustainable, flexible and digital industry, improving its environmental impact and resilience. By integrating raw materials from air (carbon dioxide, water, oxygen) and wastes (biomass and plastics), with renewable electricity-driven processes and the latest computational and information technologies they aim to design future sustainable products for use in a wide range of sectors, ranging from construction and transport to energy generation and consumer goods. 

Advanced Metrology for Sustainable Manufacturing Hub 

Led by: Professor Xiangqian Jiang, University of Huddersfield 

Partner funding (cash and in-kind): £13.3 million 

The hub will develop ground-breaking new technologies, such as ultra-fast and compact sensors using nanophotonic metamaterials and quantum sensors, to improve resource efficiency and productivity across the range of sectors which rely on precision manufacturing. The advances in metrology – the science of measurement – which this hub aims to achieve could ultimately reduce industries’ reliance on cheap international labour and significantly reduce the carbon cost of transportation for many types of manufactured goods. 

MediForge Hub 

Led by: Professor Alastair Florence, University of Strathclyde 

Partner funding (cash and in-kind): £12.2 million 

The hub aims to transform the development and manufacturing of medicines by pioneering an Industry 5.0 approach focused on harnessing advanced technologies such as robotics and AI for sustainable, resilient and human-centric medicine production. This includes achieving a 60% reduction in raw material use and the reduction of waste; accelerating patient access to new medicines by increasing R&D productivity and agile manufacturing; and the use of technologies to reduce repetitive tasks to free researchers up for creative tasks. 

Manufacturing Research Hub in Robotics, Automation & Smart Machine Enabled Sustainable Circular Manufacturing & Materials (RESCu-M2) 

Led by: Professor Samia Nefti-Meziani, University of Birmimgham 

Partner funding (cash and in-kind): £20.8 million 

The hub aims to use advances in AI, robotics and intelligent automation to create a new sustainable circular manufacturing ecosystem across sectors such as electric drives such as batteries and electric motors, energy, large structures and medical devices. By improving the way we reuse, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, and recycle in manufacturing they aim to ensure that we increase reuse of critical components by at least 75% and reclaim at least 50% more components.

For example, increasing the reuse of rare earth metals from magnets by just 30% could secure the UK’s supply of these critical materials whose supply is typically environmentally destructive and from politically unstable regions.

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