Innovative Manufacturing Processes: Flexible and Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems

High-value manufacturing industries enhance the economic competitiveness of the UK, comprising 13 per cent of the UK economy and over 50 per cent of UK exports. Regardless of the industrial sector, UK manufacturing is driven by technological change and intellectual ingenuity. Academic research is a vital component of the UK’s highly-skilled manufacturing pipeline – improving production systems, developing advanced materials, incorporating modern ICT, and training the next generation of manufacturing professionals.

UK manufacturing has increasingly focused upon high value, low-volume products and processes to remain competitive. In the future, the market will increasingly demand highly "flexible" manufacturing capability – processes with short cycle times and the ability to rapidly and efficiently reconfigure themselves to accommodate new "customised" products. Maintaining productivity and reliability, whilst allowing flexibility and adaptability, is a major technological challenge.

In February 2012 the EPSRC Manufacturing the Future theme launched a call to fund a number of research programmes of up to five years in length, focused on the research challenges that underpin such flexible manufacturing processes.

This call involved a two-stage process with expressions of interest and full proposal stages used to allocate funding. The expression of interest deadline was 26 April 2012, and these expressions of interest went to short-listing panel in May 2012. As a result of this short-listing panel 13 have been invited to submit full proposals, with a prioritisation panel scheduled for November 2012.