• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Investment of up to £7m in collaborative R&D projects to encourage flexible manufacturing. 

  • Programme: Collaborative research and development

  • Award: Up to £7m

  • Opens: 17 Nov 2014, 00:00

  • Registration closes: 28 Jan 2015, 12:00

  • Closes: 04 Feb 2015, 12:00

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

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Flexible manufacturing

Competition results

See here for the competition results.


EPSRC logoInnovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) are to invest up to £7m in collaborative R&D projects to encourage flexible manufacturing. 

The aim of this competition is to encourage the development, demonstration and implementation of novel equipment, processes and/or systems. These should enable UK 
manufacturers to react quickly and efficiently to changes in raw materials, customer requirements and manufacturing resource availability.
We are seeking proposals from a wide range of industries. Projects must be collaborative and business-led, with at least two businesses in the consortium. 
It should include project partners, such as research organisations, system integrators and businesses within the supply chain, as well as a proposed end-user. 
We expect projects to range in size from total costs of £500k to £1.5m. We may consider projects outside this range but applicants should contact us before submitting their expressions of interest.
Levels of funding will depend upon the category of research, and the type of partner in the consortium. For example, a business would attract 50% public funding of project costs for industrial research (60% for SMEs).
This is a two-stage competition that opens for applicants on  17 November 2014. The deadline for expressions of interest is at noon on 4 February 2015
In addition, we are encouraging applicants to attend one of two free Business Modelling workshops. Workshop 1 was in London on 26 November 2014 after the briefing event. To watch the webinar, please see the Links for this Competition section. Workshop 2 will be in Sheffield on  7 January 2015.


Manufacturing is a significant part of the UK economy, contributing £139bn a year and employing 2.6 million people. If that industry is to remain globally competitive, businesses need to concentrate on where they can add the most value and be much more efficient. 
Flexible approaches that can allow rapid responses to changing requirements will help UK manufacturing industry maintain and grow its presence as a world leader in this competitive environment. 
Innovate UK's High Value Manufacturing Strategy 2012-2015 identifies key national competencies necessary to deliver innovation across a broad range of market sectors. 

Funding partner

Two of these competencies are:

  • flexible, adaptive manufacture – supporting customisable and rapidly reconfigurable manufacturing
  • plug-and-play manufacturing – application of modular units that can be configured flexibly.

Both of these come under the description of flexible manufacturing – the ability to respond quickly and efficiently to changing requirements as they happen. That can mean offering customised products, switching between products on the same production line or responding quickly to changes in available raw materials, equipment or human resources.

Despite the attractiveness of such flexible approaches, businesses find it difficult to implement them. A one-year study on flexible manufacturing funded by Innovate UK identified two barriers to adoption:

  • developing the technology solution far enough to reduce the risk of implementation in the manufacturing environment
  • changing the business model and management culture of the host organisation to enable adoption.

This competition will address these challenges. 


We are inviting proposals for collaborative projects for the development, demonstration and/or implementation of novel flexible manufacturing approaches.

UK manufacturers should partner with customers, companies within their supply chain, academic and other research bodies, equipment developers and/or system integrators to develop a solution that delivers improved flexibility.

Solutions must look at developing innovative equipment, systems or processes. Where relevant, they should include integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution system (MES) or other digital production systems, to enable a rapid response to changing needs.

A final report by the Flexible Manufacturing Special Interest Group (SIG) can be found on our _connect Knowledge Transfer Network. It includes examples of flexible manufacturing projects and approaches which would be within scope of this competition.

It identified the following technology areas that have the greatest potential to deliver impact:

  • robust technologies tolerant of variable / different input materials
  • equipment and systems capable of upscale and downscale production
  • standardised modular units for rapid assembly and reconfiguration
  • advanced software solutions for produce-on- demand capability.

If you have an idea for a project but are not sure whether it is in scope, please discuss it with us. It is important that the project delivers flexible manufacturing using novel approaches and/or technologies that are new to your industry.

If approaches are adopted from another industry, the translation and integration of these technologies should involve innovative deployment mechanisms that require specific development and involve a level of risk commensurate with the funding sought.

We require all applicants to explain within their application how they will adapt their business plans to implement their flexible manufacturing system and how it will provide the benefits they envisage. 

Funding allocation and project details

We have allocated up to £6m to fund collaborative R&D projects that address the technical challenges outlined in the scope.

Additional funding of up to £1m is available from the EPSRC for fundamental research components of these projects, or work packages that contain a significant, high- quality academic research component and that demonstrate added value by building on or complementing EPSRC's existing research programmes and portfolios.

Successful applicants can attract grant funding towards their eligible project costs. The percentage of costs that we pay varies, depending on the type of research being carried out and the type of organisation.

For this competition, projects must be business-led and collaborative, with a UK manufacturer in the consortium as the end-user of the innovation. To be classed as collaborative, a consortium must include at least two organisations, and for this competition, there must be a minimum of two businesses.

A research organisation may collaborate with the business partners but its participation must be no greater than 50% of the total project cost.

Projects should last one to three years. We are primarily seeking to fund industrial research with a business partner attracting 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs). Projects may also include an experimental development component, with a business partner attracting 25% funding (35% for SMEs).

We expect projects to range in size from £500k to £1.5m. We may consider larger projects but applicants should contact us directly before making their application to discuss further.

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Each partner in a project can receive funding towards their project costs – the funding is a percentage of the total eligible project costs and varies, depending on the type of organisation and the type of research.

Looking for partners to work on your project? Go to _connect 


Application process

This is a two-stage competition that opens for applicants on 17 November 2014.

  • Stage 1 – applicants submit an expression of interest which is assessed.
  • Stage 2 – we invite selected applicants to submit a full stage application.

The deadline for expressions of interest is at noon 4 February 2015. The second stage deadline for invited applications is at noon on 9 April 2015.

Applications are assessed on individual merit by an independent panel of experts. We may apply a portfolio approach across the themes/areas.

A briefing for potential applicants will be held in London on 26 November 2014 to highlight the main features of the competition and explain the application process. Applicants are strongly recommended to attend this event.

In addition, applicants are encouraged to attend one of two free business modelling workshops. Workshop 1 will be in London on 26 November 2014 after the briefing event, and workshop 2 will be in Sheffield on 7 January 2015.

Note: All deadlines are at noon. 

Key dates

  • Competition opens: 17 November 2014
  • Competition briefing: 26 November 2014
  • Registration deadline: 28 January 2015 noon
  • Expressions of interest (EOI) deadline: 4 February 2015 noon
  • Stage 2 opens for invited applicants: 9 March 2015
  • Deadline for invited applications: 9 April 2015 noon

More information

To apply you must first register with us through the competition page on the website. Registration opens when the competition opens and closes a week before the deadline for expressions of interest.


As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive.

The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the decision to offer an award has been communicated to applicants by email. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public.