Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Digital manufacturing

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Apply for funding to support novel research into how digital approaches can be applied to improve manufacturing processes, manufacturing systems or both.

You must be:

  • a UK resident
  • based at an eligible research organisation.

EPSRC will provide up to £7 million to fund a number of projects at 80% of the full economic cost. If you intend to request more than £1 million, you are strongly advised to discuss this with the funding service before applying: support@funding-service.ukri.org.

Projects can run for up to 36 months.

This outline stage will run on the new UKRI Funding Service. Instructions are provided in the ‘how to apply’ section.

Who can apply

Applicants

Applicants must be resident in the UK and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes. Email support@funding-service.ukri.org to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis.

Holders of post-doctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for this opportunity.

As this opportunity is running on the new UKRI Funding Service, we recommend all applicants attend our Manufacturing the Future Webinar on Monday 13 December at 14:00 (Eventbrite).

For full details on the eligibility of individuals to receive EPSRC funding, see EPSRC eligibility of investigators.

Research office professionals

You cannot apply for this opportunity on our Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. It’s one of the opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

We’ll contact research offices at organisations whose members have not previously applied through the Funding Service. This is to create a UKRI Funding Service account, with administrator status. This will give:

  • oversight of every funding service application opened on behalf of your organisation
  • the ability to review and submit applications, which must be received by 16:00 UK time, 3 February 2022.

If you anticipate researchers from your organisation applying for this opportunity, and have not already received an invitation to open an account, email support@funding-service.ukri.org.

As an administrator, you’ll be responsible for the final submission of the application to UKRI. Make sure internal deadlines are made clear to applicants from your organisation.

We’re running a webinar for research offices from organisations with potential applicants on 8 December 2021, 14:00 to 15:00.

Register for our webinar on the new research office functionality (Eventbrite).

What we're looking for

Synopsis

The vision for EPSRC’s manufacturing the future theme (MtF) is one of a prosperous and productive UK, supported by a thriving research and knowledge-led manufacturing base. To enable this, our mission is to create and capture the benefits of basic research for UK manufacturing industries.

This opportunity seeks to support that aim by contributing to the delivery of the MtF digital manufacturing priority. Grants are expected to be:

  • in line with the size of usual standard research grants
  • within 10% variance of the total funding request indicated at outline stage.

Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this opportunity.

Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) can be included as part of the outline costs section of the application.

Scope

The scope of this opportunity has been developed in collaboration with members of the manufacturing research and innovation community. The topic of ‘digital technology for manufacturing’ emerged as a research priority during the manufacturing futures retreat and community engagement activities (PDF, 12.5MB). This priority was reaffirmed in a manufacturing the future research priorities workshop (PDF, 884KB) in 2019.

Through this priority, MtF aims to support the novel research needed to enable accurate simulation of products and processes through their lifecycle. In particular, this research will seek to understand:

  • how to model complex materials and systems
  • the perturbations, transformations or both that they undergo through manufacturing processes
  • how these insights can be used to:
    • reduce the need for physical prototypes
    • reduce the risk and time to market associated with launching new products
    • improve the accuracy of requirements capture and design specification processes
    • reduce discard rate and improve product quality control
    • enable new product architectures
    • reduce certification time and inspection costs.

Applicants must clearly show how the proposed research constitutes manufacturing research, and how it addresses at least one of these key digital manufacturing research challenges:

  • interoperability of analogue and digital process or legacy systems to support digitalisation
  • design space exploration, design-support systems
  • data challenges influencing modelling capability
  • data integrity and risk management in manufacturing systems
  • data analytics and visualisation
  • human-simulation interaction, people in the loop
  • real time simulation and optimisation
  • tools to support the verification of models, metrology in manufacturing
  • virtual testing, to facilitate non-destructive testing or moving testing online
  • building security, privacy, risk and trust into the manufacturing process and supply chains.

Not all research that can address one (or more) of the above points would constitute manufacturing research. Proposals must demonstrably lie within the remit (minimum 50%) of the EPSRC MtF theme.

To fit within this remit, proposals must focus on fundamental engineering and physical sciences research into manufacturing technologies, the manufacturing process or its design and operation.

Any proposals that EPSRC deems outside the remit of the MtF theme, or the scope of this opportunity, may be rejected without reference to peer review.

Industrial engagement

Applicants are encouraged to consider industrial engagement. For example, building plans to engage with a range of relevant manufacturing companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, throughout the project.

Manufacturing sustainability

The MtF theme recognises the importance of considering the sustainability of manufacturing research across the breadth of the manufacturing portfolio. Therefore, at full proposal stage (stage two) invited applicants will be required to provide a manufacturing sustainability statement.

This requirement will ensure you have considered the wider implications of the research being conducted, prior to applying for this opportunity. This statement will not form a part of the assessment of your proposal.

It’s important to understand that your proposal is not expected to be focused on researching sustainability in and of itself. If you’re invited to stage two, your manufacturing sustainability statement should demonstrate and address:

  • considerations made to the wider environmental sustainability of your approach. For example, where appropriate, have any life cycle assessments been conducted? Is the research method energy and waste efficient?
  • if the research has the potential for positive improvements in environmental sustainability for the manufacturing sector
  • if, and how, the research may contribute to national and global sustainability priorities (for example: net zero commitment, Paris Agreement, industrial decarbonisation strategy and other relevant targets)
  • how you will ensure the research does not have unnecessary negative environmental impacts
  • if potential negative environmental impacts are identified, what is being done to minimise and mitigate against these?

You are not required to provide this statement at stage one (outline).

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation, that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor, and to encourage our research community to do likewise. Therefore, applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.

International collaborators

Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit the Trusted Research website, which offers information and advice on how to get the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

The digital technologies for manufacturing application process takes part in two stages:

  1. Submission of an outline proposal.
  2. Invited submission of a full proposal, if successful at outline stage.

Before you apply for stage one, we strongly encourage you to refer to the ‘additional information’ section. This details what you will need to provide for stage two and how it will be assessed.

Stage one: outline

What follows is a copy of the sections and questions you’ll need to complete and answer for this stage one (outline) application on UKRI’s new Funding Service. You cannot apply for stage one of this opportunity on the Je-S system.

Applicants will need to take the following steps to apply:

  1. Select the ‘Start application’ button toward the start of this page.
  2. This will open the ‘Sign in’ page of the UKRI Funding Service. If you do not already have an account, you’ll be able to create one, a two-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.
  3. Start answering the questions detailed in the ‘How to apply’ section. You can save your work and come back to it later.
  4. Once complete, use the service to send your application to your research office for review. They’ll check it and return it to you if it needs editing.
  5. Once happy, your research office will submit it to UKRI for assessment. Only they can do this.

Make sure you get any necessary approval from your organisation in advance and give your research office plenty of time before the closing date.

Please note, if you are submitting a proposal as a joint application, then only the lead organisation should submit a proposal. However, you must provide the details of all intended co-applicants in the applicants section.

1. Details and summary

Application name

This should be the title of your proposed project.

Limited to 20 words.

Add applicants section

Provide principal investigator and co-investigator details.

Start date and duration

Provide the start date and planned duration of your proposed project.

The challenge and your idea

State which of the following digital manufacturing research challenges you’re tackling and briefly describe your idea, providing some context for the specific issue identified and your proposed response to it:

  • interoperability of analogue and digital process or legacy systems to support digitalisation
  • design space exploration, design-support systems
  • data challenges influencing modelling capability
  • data integrity and risk management in manufacturing systems
  • data analytics and visualisation
  • human-simulation interaction, people in the loop
  • real time simulation and optimisation
  • tools to support the verification of models, metrology in manufacturing
  • virtual testing, to facilitate non-destructive testing or moving testing online
  • building security, privacy, risk and trust into the manufacturing process and supply chains.

Limited to 500 words.

2. Case for support

Provide a case for support, making sure to include the information asked for in ‘What the assessors are looking for in your response’.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should make sure you include enough information for assessors to score your application against all the assessment criteria, so they can decide whether to invite you to submit a full proposal.

Structure your response using the four subheadings provided below. You can also include up to five images (one of which can be a Gantt chart) in a single PDF upload.

Research vision

What is the research vision and how will the research to be conducted support the digital manufacturing priority as described in the ‘What we’re looking for: Scope’ section of the funding finder guidance.

Research challenge

Identify the overall aims of the programme and the challenges to be addressed. Explain why the proposed research is novel, timely and innovative. Explain how the proposed research fits the aims of this opportunity.

Project team

Briefly explain who’ll be involved in the project and what expertise they’ll contribute.

Proposed programme

Describe the programme of research that will be carried out using the funding, showing how the work packages relate to each other. A small diagram may be useful at this point. Outline the methodology to be used in the research and justify this choice.

Limited to 2,200 words.

3. Resources and costs

Ensure your costs accurately reflect the funding you will need. Reviewers will scrutinise them as part of their overall assessment of your application.

Guidance to providing costs

Please note that the overall cost of applications submitted at stage two is expected to be within 10% of the cost recorded at this stage. Although, these costs will not be assessed at this (outline) stage. They are requested for information to inform EPSRC’s planning.

A degree of estimation is expected for some costs, such as consumables and travel, but carefully work out other costs, like staff and equipment.

We recommend that you work with your research office for this part of your application, as they’ll be familiar with the process. Make sure you leave enough time for them to review this section before submission.

Directly incurred costs arise as a direct consequence of your project taking place. They must be actual, auditable and supported by invoices.

Directly allocated costs are incurred whether or not the project takes place and are estimated at project level. For example, technician time and estates costs.

Indirect costs represent the costs of central and distributed services shared by other activities that are not project-specific. For example, human resources and IT.

4. Sensitive information

Let us know if you need to tell us something that you do not want included within the part of your application that can be read by assessors.

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • an applicant is unavailable until a certain date
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the track record
  • conflict of interest for EPSRC to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection.

For information about how UKRI handles personal data please see UKRI’s privacy notice.

How we will assess your application

This is a two-stage assessment process, with this outline stage one being used to manage demand at stage two.

For the outline stage, we’re looking for applications that are a good fit for the scope of the opportunity. Any proposals not within the scope of this opportunity, or not primarily within the remit of the EPSRC MtF theme, will be rejected prior to assessment.

An independent expert panel will assess applications based on how well the information provided meets the following assessment criteria.

  1. Suitability of the research vision and research challenge:
    • fit to opportunity scope of the applicants’ vision as described
    • extent of the research contribution to the vision of digital manufacturing, either existing or future
    • appropriateness of the consideration of broader issues and challenges relating to the research and its impact
  1. Appropriateness of the proposed team and programme of research to deliver innovative, high-quality research:
    • this particularly includes potential for transformative aspects or significant potential outcomes.

Successful applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal in stage two.

Potential applicants are urged to read the assessment criteria for stage two to help them structure their proposal responses at this outline stage. This is outlined in the ‘additional information’ section.

Feedback

At stage one, brief feedback may be given to unsuccessful applicants as directed by the panel.

At stage two, reviewers’ comments on full proposals will be made available to all applicants who are invited and submit a full proposal. A rank-ordered list from the full proposal prioritisation panel will be available after the panel. The prioritisation panel may provide specific feedback if deemed necessary, but this will not be given as standard.

Changes to the assessment process

In the event of this funding opportunity being substantially oversubscribed to an unmanageable level, EPSRC reserve the right to modify the assessment process.

Contact details

Get help with the Funding Service

If you have any queries, difficulties creating an account or signing in, or need any other help with the UKRI Funding Service, contact us.

Ask a question about this funding opportunity

For queries relating to the scientific content of the opportunity or remit, please mark these for the attention of the EPSRC digital manufacturing opportunity leads Tochukwu Ajare and Stephanie Williams.

Additional info

Background

The EPSRC MtF theme has recently refreshed its research priorities, with input from numerous members of the manufacturing research and innovation community. The topic of ‘digital technology for manufacturing’ has emerged as one of the theme’s updated research priorities.

In 2018, MtF held a strategic retreat to explore the future manufacturing research and innovation landscape and examine future strategic opportunities.

The outputs were further developed through a series of community engagement activities, forming the basis of a MtF strategic priorities workshop in 2019.

During the 2019 workshop, the importance of ‘digital technologies for manufacturing’ as a priority area for future manufacturing research was reaffirmed.

This was envisioned to cover novel research required to enable accurate simulation of products and processes through their lifecycle. Subsequent discussions with the MtF strategic advisory team and input from the Early Career Forum in Manufacturing Research, and a community digital manufacturing workshop, developed this opportunity.

Find out more about the manufacturing futures retreat 2018.

Read the workshop report on EPSRC MtF regional meetings 2018 to 2019 (PDF, 12.5MB).

Read the report on MtF research priorities workshop (PDF, 884KB).

Supplementary information

The Made Smarter review (2017) set out a vision for growth and increased productivity across the manufacturing sector by unlocking the potential of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs). This opportunity hopes to continue UKRI’s focus on research and innovation elements of Made Smarter in the form of manufacturing specific standard mode grants that focus on key challenges in the area raised by the community.

Stage two applications (full proposal)

Stage two will probably need to be submitted via the Je-S system.

At stage two, applicants will need to provide:

  • workplan: illustrated with a simple diagrammatic work plan, such as programme evaluation and review technique (PERT) or Gantt chart
  • case for support: a description of the proposed research and its context
  • justification for resources
  • CVs: for named and visiting researchers, and researcher co-investigators only
  • project partner letters of support: applicants must provide a letter of support from all named project partners. The letters must be on headed paper, and signed and dated within six months of the proposal submission date
  • letters of support: in exceptional circumstances a maximum of three letters can be submitted
  • additional documents: applicants will also need to provide a manufacturing sustainability statement.

We’ll give successful applicants more detailed guidance at stage two.

Assessment process

Applicants who are successful at stage one will be invited to submit a full proposal at stage two. This second stage will probably be conducted using the Je-S system. Stage two applications will be assessed by postal peer review against the stage two assessment criteria below.

Quality (primary)

The research excellence, making reference to:

  • the novelty, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
  • the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact. (for multidisciplinary proposals please state which aspects of the proposal you feel qualified to assess).

National importance (secondary major)

How the research:

  • contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
  • meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world leading activity
  • complements other UK research funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio.

Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

The ability to deliver the proposed project, making reference to:

  • appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s)
  • balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators.

Resources and management (secondary)

The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:

  • any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
  • any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation.

Alignment of the research programme to the aims and scope of the opportunity.

Nominating reviewers

As part of the stage two application process via the Je-S system, you’ll be invited to nominate up to three potential reviewers who you feel have the expertise to assess your proposal. Make sure any nominations meet the EPSRC policy on conflicts of interest.

For more information about the reviewer selection process, use the related content links.

Guidance for reviewers

You can find out more about the peer review process by reading EPSRC’s reviewer forms and guidance notes. This includes guidance for reviewing standard grants.

For the opportunity-specific criteria section of the reviewer form, address the opportunity-specific criterion: alignment of the research programme to the aims and scope of the opportunity. Refer to the ‘what we’re looking for: scope’ section to make your assessment.

Guidance for applicants

For advice on writing proposals, read ESPRC’s guidance on what to include in your proposal.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 143KB)

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