Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future: outline stage

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Apply for funding to establish a large-scale, multidisciplinary research hub in support of manufacturing, environmental sustainability and net zero.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for EPSRC funding.

Projects should address major, long-term challenges facing manufacturing industries.

We will fund two projects. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost of each project up to £12 million.

Funding for each project will be awarded over seven years.

The dates in the timeline have changed from the original published dates in the pre-announcement.

Who can apply

Standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply. Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • NHS bodies with research capacity.

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

You can apply if you are a resident in the UK and meet at least one of the conditions below:

  • are 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 (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis).

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

Submissions to this funding opportunity will not count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy at stage one (outlines) but will count at stage two (full proposals).

If you are currently restricted under the repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy, you may submit unlimited outlines. However, you will only be able to submit one full proposal as principal investigator or co-investigator during the 12-month restricted period.

What we're looking for

Scope

Overview

Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future will deliver a programme of innovative research in the engineering and physical sciences, related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research and manufacturing.

The hubs will feature high quality, multidisciplinary research, strong engagement with relevant manufacturing industries, and will take a leadership role in their national network.

In particular, they will demonstrate a cross-cutting and embedded approach to environmental sustainability, and promote active equality, diversity and inclusion action planning and delivery.

Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future will complement and refresh EPSRC’s existing portfolio of future manufacturing research hubs and contribute to delivering EPSRC’s strategic priorities, which could include:

  • artificial intelligence
  • resilient digital technologies
  • transformative health and healthcare
  • creative engineering and manufacturing solutions.

What is a hub?

Hubs are expected to deliver:

  • high quality, multidisciplinary research
  • a strong ethos of skills development for staff
  • efficient management of hub operations
  • a clear path to realising impact.

Hubs will be leaders within the landscape, driving forward the national manufacturing research agenda in their area and connecting with other players in the community, including users, policymakers, and other public investments (for example Catapults, other hubs and EPSRC investments).

The hub and spoke model will be used, with the lead institution responsible for the core management and running of the hub and surrounding academic or industrial ‘spokes’ inputting specific expertise in areas that complement those from the lead institution.

The hub is expected to deliver added value (be more than the sum of its parts) by demonstrating strong connectivity between all hub partners and offering additional facilities, training and development than what is already provided by individual institutions.

Hub partnerships and impact should span all scales, building on the successes of previous similar investments to deliver impact in regional economies while also playing a national role in an international context.

In line with the government’s levelling up agenda, hubs should bring together the right people and organisations from places across the UK, to tackle the challenges relevant to their chosen research area.

Funding opportunity objectives

The objectives are to:

  • deliver a programme of high quality, multi-disciplinary research related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research and manufacturing
  • create strategic advantage and drive forward the national manufacturing research agenda in a particular area, as leaders within the landscape
  • centre and embed environmental sustainability throughout hub aims, objectives, operations and research outcomes, considering the context of each hub’s specific research area
  • engage with diverse and relevant partners to ensure that research is co-created and co-delivered with users
  • embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within hub operations and activities by developing and delivering an EDI action plan, led by the hub EDI lead, which takes into account the specific EDI context and challenges within the hub’s research area and community.

Research challenges

This opportunity is to support innovative research programmes in the engineering and physical sciences, related to the challenges in commercialising early-stage research within manufacturing.

The hub research programmes should:

  • draw on advances in underlying science and technology
  • focus on the design and development of new and existing manufacturing processes, systems and networks
  • explicitly consider the pathway to manufacture, including production scale up and integration within the wider industrial system.

You will need to articulate the hub’s strategy at each stage of the value chain (discovery, understand, integrate or adapt, and demonstration and deploy).

We welcome applications focusing on diverse research areas and diverse sectors and we expect all hubs to integrate environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process. By this, we do not mean that hub research must focus on sustainable manufacturing as a research area. Instead, we expect hubs to:

  • embed environmental sustainability in all aspects of the hub, ensuring that environmental impact and mitigation is considered at all stages of the research lifecycle and throughout the lifetime of the hub
  • identify the major challenges relating to environmental sustainability in the chosen research area and integrate these as part of the hub research programme. You should consider ambitious challenges which may be at a lower technology readiness level but will support a step change in future sustainability as well as how to improve and embed sustainability in technology that is closer to commercialisation
  • demonstrate leadership in environmental sustainability by carrying out hub operations in an environmentally sustainable way, with consideration of how to minimise the negative environmental impact of running the hub. You should seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.

Sustainability may be used to cover three broad areas: social, economic and environmental. While hubs may wish to consider some aspects of social and economic sustainability as part of their programme, this is not the focus of this funding opportunity.

Environmental sustainability may include consideration of such broad areas as:

  • reducing carbon emissions
  • protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
  • waste or pollution elimination
  • resource efficiency and circular economy.

Environmental sustainability is complex and there are often conflicting drivers.

Hubs will need to take a whole systems approach to enable consideration of the trade-offs, risks and mitigations associated with different approaches and ensure research outcomes are used to support industry and government partners to make informed choices and mitigate unintended consequences.

We are seeking to refresh and complement our existing future manufacturing hubs portfolio. Therefore, we will not fund two hubs in the same research area, or in an area of research where there is an existing EPSRC future manufacturing hub ending after 31 March 2023.

Proposals must demonstrably lie primarily within the remit of EPSRC and must be within the scope of this funding opportunity. Any proposals that EPSRC deems out of remit or scope may be rejected without reference to peer review.

Industrial engagement

EPSRC expects a Hub Director to have a track-record of collaborating with users and for the hub proposals to demonstrate cash and in-kind support from relevant and diverse sectors.

We expect that throughout the lifetime of the hub, the number of project partners will increase and cash or in-kind contributions will rise to a level similar to the EPSRC funding contribution.

To ensure that research outcomes from the hubs can be maximally exploited by industry, we are looking for clear evidence of genuine, substantive partnerships, with co-creation and co-delivery of projects and activities, in addition to financial contributions.

The strategy for engaging with industry should include plans to engage with a new and emerging range of relevant manufacturing companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, throughout the lifetime of the hub.

In the hub governance procedures, advice from users must be appropriately used in the hub decision-making strategy to grow user engagement in terms of funding and numbers of users.

To evidence your strong partnerships, you are asked to include a user engagement strategy (mandatory attachment, two pages) in your outline application, and you may optionally include up to three project partner letters of support.

You will have the opportunity to include additional project partner letters of support (unlimited) at stage two (full proposals).

Equality, diversity and inclusion

As leaders in the community, hubs will be expected to embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the hub.

If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI.

Hubs must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively. This must include at least one costed staff post with responsibility for EDI (the hub EDI Lead).

EPSRC does not specify any particular full-time equivalent (FTE), salary level or career stage for this post. Hubs may decide what is most appropriate for their programme, whilst giving due consideration to flexible working.

At stage two (full proposals), hubs should include information on EDI resources (including the mandatory costed staff post for the EDI Lead and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops and data exercises) in the justification of resources document.

Funding available

The total EPSRC funding available for this opportunity will be up to £24 million, to fund two manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future. Funding for each hub will be up to £12 million, awarded over seven years.

Grants are expected to be awarded with a start date of 1 April 2023, with a possible slippage of up to six months. We will award 80% of the full economic cost of the project, and your organisation must agree to find the balance.

This opportunity is intended to be the first in a series of planned opportunities for manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future over the coming years.

Learn about the costs you can apply for.

Equipment

Funding is available in this opportunity for items of equipment dedicated to the hub, costing up to £400,000 (including VAT). These funds will be awarded at 80% of the full economic cost.

At stage two (full proposals), three quotations will be required for equipment costing more than £25,000 and, additionally, a two-page equipment business case will be required for equipment costing more than £138,000.

Learn about EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.

Responsible innovation

You are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.

International collaboration

If you are planning to include international collaborators on your proposal, you should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

You should ensure you are aware of and comply with any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place. You should prepare and submit your proposal using the research councils’ Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

When adding a new proposal, you should go to documents, select ‘new document’, then select:

  • ‘create new document’
  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: outline proposal
  • scheme: outline
  • on the project details page, you should select the ‘Sustainable Manufacturing Hubs Outlines’ opportunity.

After completing the application:

  • you must ‘submit document’, which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration
  • your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. You should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity outlines closing date.

EPSRC must receive your application by 16:00 on 16 June 2022.

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted:

  • case for support (four pages)
  • additional document: user engagement strategy (two pages)
  • letters of support from project partners (up to three optional attachments). Read the EPSRC guidance on project partners letter of support
  • cover letter (optional attachment with no page limit and not seen by peer review).

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial size 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface.

Advice on writing proposals for EPSRC funding.

User engagement strategy

Your application must include a user engagement strategy (uploaded as a two-page additional attachment), which should describe how you will:

  • form new collaborations with users throughout the hub lifetime
  • attract additional co-funding (both direct and in-kind) from new and existing project partners to reach a level similar to the EPSRC contribution
  • prioritise co-creation and co-delivery of projects with project partners from relevant industries, ensuring that user needs are forefront throughout the development and delivery of hub research and activities
  • make best use of the financial, in-kind, and intellectual contributions of project partners to meet the needs and objectives of the hub
  • foster genuine and committed engagement with project partners, where project partners are a core part of the delivery team and develop strong relationships with the hub.

The user engagement strategy will be assessed at stage one (outlines) under the ‘applicant and partnerships’ assessment criterion.

Ethical information

EPSRC will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ‘ethical information’ section must be completed.

Guidance on completing ethical information on the Je-S form.

How we will assess your application

This will be a two-stage assessment process and this outline opportunity is stage one.

At stage one, we are looking for applications that are a good fit for the opportunity. Any outline proposals outside the scope of the opportunity or not primarily within the remit of the EPSRC ‘Manufacturing the Future’ theme will be rejected prior to assessment. Outline proposals that meet the scope will be assessed by an expert panel.

Applicants who are successful at stage one will be invited to submit full proposals to stage two. At stage two, full proposals will be assessed by postal peer review, followed by an interview panel.

In addition to the recommendations of the panel, EPSRC will take into account the wider portfolio of manufacturing hubs when making the funding decision (we will not fund multiple hubs in the same research area).

In the event of this opportunity being substantially oversubscribed as to be unmanageable, EPSRC reserves the right to modify the assessment process.

Assessment criteria

Stage one assessment criteria (outlines)

Quality of hub vision (primary)

The excellence of the hub vision, making reference to:

  • the novelty, ambition, adventure, and transformative aspects of the vision
  • the timeliness and relevance of the vision to the UK manufacturing industry and other identified stakeholders
  • the extent to which the vision would contribute to UK economic, environmental, societal and manufacturing industry needs.
Fit to opportunity scope (primary)

The suitability of the proposal for this funding opportunity, making reference to:

  • the alignment of the proposal to the funding opportunity objectives
  • the appropriateness of critical mass funding and the hub and spoke model for addressing the identified research challenges and the extent to which this would deliver added value.

Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

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

  • the appropriateness of the track record of the applicant or applicants
  • the balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators
  • the appropriateness of the plans for user engagement
  • evidence that hub projects and activities will be co-created and co-delivered with users.

Feedback

Feedback will not be provided at stage one unless specifically requested by the expert panel. Feedback at stage two will be provided in the form of reviewer comments.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask a question about the opportunity

Laura Totterdell, Senior Portfolio Manager

Email: laura.totterdell@epsrc.ukri.org

Please include ‘Manufacturing hubs’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Naomi South, Portfolio Manager

Email: naomi.south@epsrc.ukri.org

Please include ‘Manufacturing hubs’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Manufacturing team

Email: manufacturingpeerreview@epsrc.ukri.org

Please include ‘Manufacturing hubs’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five working days.

Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Learn more about future manufacturing research hubs.

Background

This funding opportunity for manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future builds on the success of previous EPSRC critical mass investments in manufacturing, including:

  • EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres
  • EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing
  • EPSRC Future Manufacturing Hubs.

Manufacturing is an essential part of the UK economy. The UK manufacturing sector is diverse, with activities in:

  • aerospace
  • pharmaceuticals
  • chemicals
  • automotive
  • electronics
  • biotechnology
  • food and drink.

The sector needs to be innovative to compete on a global scale, including meeting UK net zero targets and addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals.

EPSRC aims to support this innovation through the research we fund. By ensuring researchers co-create their programmes with industry, we ensure major, long term challenges are addressed and emerging opportunities are captured.

UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy (PDF, 1.5MB) lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sector. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.

In alignment with this, UKRI is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability through our ‘building a green future’ strategic theme, which aims to develop whole systems solutions to improve the health of our environment and deliver net zero, securing prosperity across the whole of the UK.

Our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy is not sustainable. The world’s consumption of raw materials is set to nearly double by 2060 as the global economy expands and living standards rise, placing twice the pressure on the environment, for example via greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and depleted natural capital.

A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them whilst in use, and recovering products and materials after use.

More circular use of resources is crucial to achieving net zero carbon emission targets, as well as reducing waste and pollution harmful to biodiversity, and enhancing health and resource security.

It offers the UK significant economic, social and environmental benefits (see the Next Manufacturing Revolution report (PDF, 6.4MB)), including an estimated £10 billion profit increase for manufacturers, a 4.5% reduction in UK GHG emissions, and in excess of 200,000 new jobs from only partial implementation.

Stage two assessment criteria

At stage two, peer reviewers and panel members will assess the full proposals using the following criteria.

Quality (primary)

The research excellence of the proposal, 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.

National importance (secondary major)

How the research:

  • contributes to or helps maintain the health of other disciplines
  • contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges
  • contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries
  • 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
  • plans for dissemination and knowledge exchange with potential beneficiaries of the research.

Environmental sustainability (secondary major)

The extent to which the hub will embed environmental sustainability within all its activities, including:

  • embedding environmental sustainability in all aspects of the hub, ensuring that environmental impact and mitigation is considered at all stages of the research lifecycle and throughout the lifetime of the hub
  • identifying the major challenges relating to environmental sustainability in the chosen research area and integrating these as part of the hub research programme, including challenges linked to improving current technologies and practices, and more ambitious challenges that could lead to a fundamental rethink of future manufacturing processes, systems and cycles
  • demonstrating leadership in environmental sustainability by carrying out hub operations in an environmentally sustainable way, with consideration of how to minimise the negative environmental impact of running the hub, including seeking opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of all academic and industry partners.

Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

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

  • appropriateness of the track record of the applicant or applicants
  • 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

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.

Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future: webinar

View the recording of the manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future webinar via Zoom.
Access passcode: N4w$U&*i

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 239 KB)

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