Five UK universities will jointly receive a share of £25million in funding for a new national robotics research centre aimed at improving collaborative technology and helping businesses to unlock the full potential of automated industrial manufacturing.
Led by Loughborough University, the Made Smarter Innovation Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics will work to advance smart manufacturing by eliminating barriers and accelerating widespread use of smart collaborative robotics technology.
A team of experts from Loughborough University, Cranfield University, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Warwick and the University of Bristol with experience in manufacturing, engineering, digital technology, robotics, human-factors, verification and safety, law, psychology, systems engineering, metrology and ICT will work with key organisations across core UK industrial sectors including aerospace, automotive, agri-food, green energy, construction and space.
The research centre will create a multi-disciplinary, cross-sectorial hub that will set the national research agenda in smart, collaborative industrial robotics, as well as delivering the next generation of automated factories. It will focus on both fundamental research to develop breakthrough technologies needed to make automation more responsive, collaborative and safe, and industry-initiated feasibility-demonstration projects designed to raise awareness of emerging automation capabilities.
‘Automation increases productivity, safeguards manufacturing, creates and protects jobs,’ said the project lead Niels Lohse of Loughborough’s Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering. ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for greater responsiveness and resilience. With disruptions to supply chains and workforce availability, collaborative robot sales more than doubled, but the UK remains significantly behind other highly industrialised nations.
‘While there is a huge appetite for the benefits of industrial automation, its full potential remains untapped,’ he continued. ‘The perceived and actual high initial investment cost for specialised, automation equipment is a significant barrier for wider adoption. The need for highly specialised skill sets limits the design, implementation and maintenance of automation. People and automation are separated by inflexible safety, regulatory, procedural, physical, and psychological barriers preventing effective collaboration. ‘Bringing the automation community together will be essential for addressing the unique challenges faced by UK industry to unlock the full potential of their highly skilled workforce through automation and digital technology,’ he concluded.