By Ben Simmons

Future trends, challenges and opportunities for UK manufacturing have been identified in a new study by Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing (IfM).

The report was commissioned by the Technology Strategy Board, the nation’s innovation agency, to examine the global manufacturing environment and map out the future of high value manufacturing in the UK over the next fifteen to twenty years.

The IfM study was announced at the Government’s Growth Summit in Bristol on 23 February. It will be used to inform public policies, research strategies and investment programmes, particularly in the high value manufacturing Catapult centre, opened in October 2011.

The report identified important trends influencing the changing nature of manufacturing, whilst considering the greatest challenges and opportunities manufacturing firms are likely to face — captured in five strategic themes.

The five strategic themes identified were:

1. Resource efficiency
Securing UK manufacturing technologies against scarcity of energy and other resources.
2. Manufacturing systems
Increasing the global competitiveness of UK manufacturing technologies by creating more efficient and effective manufacturing systems.
3. Materials integration
Creating innovative products through the integration of new materials, coatings and electronics with new manufacturing technologies.
4. Manufacturing processes
Developing new, agile, more cost-effective manufacturing processes.
5. Business model
Building new business models to realise superior value systems.

“Using tried and tested Roadmapping techniques, coupled with a highly structured consultation process, this report reflects the views of a broad cross-section of senior industrialists, academics and institutions,” commented Professor Sir Mike Gregory, Head of the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing. “Their collective expertise provides an excellent foundation on which to build robust and focussed policies to support our vital manufacturing industries.”

The report also identified the most promising research and development innovation opportunities in the future. A selection of these technologies (processes, products and services) includes: additive manufacturing, robotics and automation, micro and nano-manufacturing processes, low carbon vehicles, sensor technologies and energy storage (hydrogen fuel cells).

Mark Claydon-Smith, EPSRC Lead, Manufacturing the Future, adds:
“The UK has a well-deserved international reputation for the quality of its science and engineering research. However, the pathway to impact from excellent research can be convoluted. This report highlights a number of areas of clear national advantage, where the prospects for successful innovative outcomes are strong. The strategic focus described within this report provides an opportunity to build and sustain manufacturing competitiveness over the long term.”

The study has been developed using an evidence-based approach, based on consultations with industry, academia and government. The approach is fully traceable, allowing findings to be integrated and updated to take account of evolving circumstances.

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