Innovate UK wants to help SMEs take more immediate action on Industry 4.0 strategies

Written by: Eureka! | Published:

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) radically shakes up the way we design, produce and use manufactured goods. This revolution will enable manufacturers to maintain their competitive edge in a rapidly changing world, responding flexibly and quickly to customers’ requirements - however some companies will need help to achieve it.

Innovate UK is the agency tasked with inspiring and supporting pioneering UK businesses to create the industries of the future. It is convinced that Industry 4.0 can radically improve the productivity of UK manufacturing and increase its global competitiveness so, with its partners, it aims to help UK companies to join this revolution.

No one organisation can provide all the support needed to implement Industry 4.0. A recent report from the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution – a primer for manufacturing’ found that while 42% of UK manufacturers have a good handle on what Industry 4.0 will entail, only 11% think that the UK is geared up for this crucial next industrial age. This suggests that in terms of being ‘Industry 4.0 ready’ there is still some way to go.

We believe that the key for companies to join the revolution is to understand what this approach would mean to them, how their business would benefit and where they can get the information needed to build their business case for investment.

Getting support and funding

The good news is there are a range of services and funding routes available from Innovate UK and its family of partners to help get you started.

KTN and EEN are both network partners of Innovate UK, connecting businesses to potential collaborations and giving funding and support advice for innovation. The KTN has recently been running an initiative entitled ‘4Manufacturing’ to help SMEs realise Industry 4.0.

Given that small to medium size businesses make up half of the UK’s manufacturing capacity, it is critical that they embrace Industry 4.0 if it is to be successfully implemented.

4Manufacturing works with companies across a range of sectors to develop straightforward and balanced innovation plans that will drive competitiveness, productivity and growth using digital manufacturing approaches.

The HVM Catapult is a key Innovate UK partner for driving the future growth and success of advanced manufacturing in the UK. Its seven Technology and Innovation centres work with companies of all sizes to bridge the gap in – and accelerate the activity between – technology concept and commercialisation. The centres offer access to leading edge equipment, expertise and an environment of company collaboration.

Each HVM Catapult centre focuses on particular technology areas. The Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry for example, specialises in Intelligent Automation, Manufacturing Simulation and Informatics, and offers a manual entitled: ‘Change Handbook’ with step by step advice on how to build a business case for the change and improvement that Industry 4.0 can bring.

The Catapult also delivers SME Reach, an offer that is specifically tailored to SMEs. In 2015/16 the HVM Catapult worked with over 3,000 companies, over 50% of whom were SMEs.

The Digital Catapult sees the use of digital technologies as important for the UK manufacturing industry. It works closely with the HVM Catapult and Innovate UK to bring digital and manufacturing communities together. At a recent Industry 4.0 conference and exhibition, the Digital Catapult ran a ‘Hack & Pitch’ event aimed at inspiring and challenging Digital SME’s to disrupt and bring innovative ideas to the manufacturing industry. Presentations of the solutions to three manufacturing challenges are available and more digital solution providers are invited to join.

Innovate UK funds innovative projects through business led funding competitions. Over the past three years, Innovate UK has invested over £200 million in transformative digital technologies such as simulation, data analytics, robotics and autonomous systems.

An example of this type of project is AMReality, in which seven partners including three end-users, a software partner and three system developers, collaborated on the development of an augmented manufacturing reality system which would overlay and integrate digital data into a virtual reality environment.

Innovate UK also funds projects which develop innovative business models using digital technologies. A project by London-based Unto This Last developed flexible digital manufacturing systems to enable the design and manufacture of customised furniture across many locations based on equipment availability and demand.

Each year, Innovate UK runs two general competitions per sector, as well as a number of more focused competitions. The next Manufacturing & Materials competition will launch in May, to provide up to £15m for projects that grow UK manufacturing productivity, increase material efficiency and sustain our competitiveness into the long term. There will also be funding for KTP projects.

A new competition, Design Foundations, for supporting early-stage design interventions to help businesses has been launched this year, with £3 million grant funding divided into three rounds.

Academic Research Funding

Funding research into new ideas and technologies to enable Industry 4.0 is also required to keep the UK at the forefront of this revolution. Each year the Research Councils invest around £3 billion in research covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines.

Innovate UK supports the transfer of research ideas and expertise from academia to industry via its Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. A recently completed KTP project enabled Design Rule, a small product lifecycle management service company, to work with academics from Cranfield and Strathclyde universities for the production of guidelines for designing products that align Internet of Things technology with Big Data for industrial use.

Innovate UK: All working together

The activity from all of Innovate UK’s family shows the importance of this revolution, and how all partners understand the need to work together – because there is a lot at stake.

The family also works closely with Government, industry, trade bodies and professional organisations to ensure that they are all aligned. The 4Manufacturing initiative referred to earlier is a good example of this involving many different partners. ImmerseUK is another excellent example – this is a new cross-sector network for businesses and research organisations across all parts of the UK economy that are interested in the way that augmented and virtual reality can help drive productivity, social and economic growth.

The clear focus of all of these groups is to drive the adoption of digital technologies across manufacturing value chains to boost productivity for the companies and sectors involved, and for the entire UK economy.

There are plenty of avenues for support and funding to help you join this revolution. Get started now!

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