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Digital, autonomous and intelligent technologies are transforming global manufacturing.

The industry-led Made Smarter review, chaired by Siemens Chief Executive Juergen Maier, stated that industrial digitalisation could be worth as much as £455 billion to UK manufacturing over the next decade.

Embracing digital capabilities to transform industries across the UK economy was emphasised in the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) being one of the Grand Challenges, in which the UK can lead the world in years to come. In the recently published Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal, it was confirmed that AI has the potential to solve complex problems fast, and in so doing, free up time and raise productivity.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £11.4 million to seven projects which aim to create novel digital tools, techniques and processes that will support the translation of digital capabilities into the manufacturing sector. This activity was led by EPSRC’s Manufacturing the Future and Digital Economy themes.

This investment marks the continuation of EPSRC’s longstanding commitment to foster inter and multi-disciplinary collaboration and support business innovation via digital transformation. It arose out of work conducted by the Connected Everything Network Plus, which was established to create a multidisciplinary community focused on industrial systems in the digital age.

Working with a wide range of industrial partners, the projects will tackle different challenges in this space, including the improvement of processes in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries; developing methods to capture and predict impact from the introduction of digital technologies for improved manufacturing performance; the integration of revision control in digital-physical models; the improvement of modelling for analysis of dynamic loading in engineering and manufacturing; and the development of low-cost digital tools for SMEs.

EPSRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Philip Nelson, said: The adoption of advanced ICT techniques in manufacturing provides an enormous opportunity to improve growth and productivity within the UK.

The effective implementation of these new technologies requires a multidisciplinary approach and these projects will see academic researchers working with a large number of industrial partners to fully harness their potential, which could generate impact across many sectors.