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New hubs to create a sustainable future for manufacturing

Posted on 20 May 2024. Edited: John Hunter. Read 461 times.
New hubs to create a sustainable future for manufacturingAn industrial robot arm holding a drug tablet. Credit: University of Strathclyde

Five new hubs aim to address the challenge of commercialising early-stage research within key areas of manufacturing, such as semiconductors and medicines have been announced with a key goal 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 research hubs, led by five leading UK universities, will each receive £11 million of funding and will be supported by the UK Research and Innovation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The hubs have leveraged significant co-investment, expertise and access to facilities to achieve faster industrial impact. Including partner contributions, cash and in-kind, the total support committed to the new hubs amounts to more than £99 million.

Science Minister Andrew Griffith said: “Manufacturing accounts for almost a 10th 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 artificial intelligence (AI). Harnessing these innovations will cement the UK’s position as a global leader in sustainable manufacturing.”

Sustainable future

Minister for Industry and Economic Security Alan Mak added: “Thanks to our Advanced Manufacturing Plan, we are 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 R&D 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, including reducing waste, providing alternatives to costly or environmentally-damaging materials and speeding up processes. They 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.

Five hubs

The CSManuHubSust hub at Cardiff University 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. They will 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.

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

The Advanced Metrology for Sustainable Manufacturing hub at the University of Huddersfield 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 that rely on precision manufacturing. The advances in metrology, the science of measurement, that 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.

The MediForge hub at the University of Strathclyde 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 research and development (R&D) productivity and agile manufacturing; and the use of technologies to reduce repetitive tasks to free researchers up for creative tasks,

The RESCu-M2 hub at the University of Birmingham aims to use advances in artificial intelligence (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 re-use, 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 re-use 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.