Atom Valley joins National Hub for a robotics-driven sustainable manufacturing future

Date published: 03 June 2024

Atom Valley will be a partner in a national research hub, designed to support the UK’s transition to a circular manufacturing ecosystem.

Led by the University of Birmingham and part of UK Research and Innovation’s ‘Manufacturing research hubs for a sustainable future’ programme, the hub has received £11m from EPSRC and in funding over the next seven years.

The hub will be named the EPSRC Manufacturing Research Hub in Robotics, Automation & Smart Machine Enabled Sustainable Circular Manufacturing & Materials (RESCu-M2) and will focus on two grand challenges: transforming the sustainable use of critical materials, and improving the productivity of ‘Re-X’ manufacturing processes.

So-called Re-X processes include reuse, repurpose, repair, remanufacture and recycle. These processes are currently much more labour-intensive than traditional manufacturing, resulting in many materials being disposed of via landfill or incineration. However businesses could save up to £23bn per year by making low- or no- cost improvements.

Announcing the funding, EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Charlotte Deane said: “Given the scale and importance of the UK’s manufacturing sector we must ensure that it is able to benefit fully from advances made across the research and innovation ecosystem.

“With their focus on innovation and sustainability the advances made by the hubs will benefit specific sectors, the wider manufacturing sector and economy, as well the environment.”

The RESCu-M2 hub aims to harness advances in AI and intelligent automation to create a new manufacturing ecosystem that can promote cost-effective circular resource use.

Professor Samia Nefti-Meziani OBE, director of the Birmingham Robotics Institute, is the RESCu-M2 hub director. She said: “We need to adopt radical new approaches in manufacturing that move away from a focus on producing new products, and then disposing of them when they reach their ‘end of life’.

“Instead, we should be focusing on processes that prolong the useful life of products, particularly those including critical materials such as rare earth elements."

The hub brings together an interdisciplinary team, including experts in manufacturing, robotics, AI and automation, materials science, chemical engineering, chemistry, economics and life cycle assessment. It will focus initially in four flagship areas: energy, medical devices, electric drives and large structures. Researchers will investigate:

  • Smart processes for disassembly, remanufacturing, separation, and recovery of critical products, components, and ultimately materials.
  • Sensing and analysis processes to track and determine the state of critical materials throughout their life.
  • Design methodologies for circular manufacturing.
  • Testing and validation methods to certify the remaining useful life of crucial products, components, and materials.
  • Circular Re-X business models.

Neil Emmott, leader of Rochdale Borough Council said: “Rochdale Development Agency, the regeneration and inward investment arm, continues to works tirelessly with key strategic partners in Bury, Oldham, UK Research and Innovation and academic institutions nationally to make the mayor’s vision to build a world class advanced materials and manufacturing cluster in Atom Valley a reality.”

The RDA, the lead in this programme for Atom Valley, a key spoke in the hub, will focus, with partners, on initiatives that include reuse, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling.

The hub will enable technologies that will significantly reduce waste and promote the efficient use of critical materials.

The initiative will continue the work already underway within CEAMS, Centre of Expertise in Advanced Materials and Sustainability working along key partners such as the MTC, Manufacturing Technology Centre, which provides innovative manufacturing ideas, manufacturing system solutions, training and skill development.

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