This month’s Smart Factory Expo provides an excellent opportunity to meet some of the UK’s most innovative businesses. Simon Edmonds previews this year’s Made Smarter Innovation Alley, previews the latest plans for Innovate UK’s regional engagement events, and outlines three funding opportunities for manufacturers.

Fifty of the most innovative businesses are exhibiting at this year’s Made Smarter Innovation Alley. Located at the very heart of Smart Factory Expo, the exhibition is a good opportunity to see the latest disruptive technology businesses who will be showcasing their game changing innovations targeting the UK’s manufacturing sector.

Innovate UK and KTN are pleased once again to be working alongside The Manufacturer, to provide a platform to new and developing technologies that will change the landscape of manufacturing over the next five to 10 years.


Innovation Alley at Smart Factory Expo 2019 - the last time the event was held in person
Innovation Alley at Smart Factory Expo 2019 – the last time the event was held in person

Circular economy for SMEs

The ‘circular economy’ is becoming a key theme for manufacturers, with customers, regulations and sustainability goals driving for the use of fewer resources and the reuse and recovery of products and materials, instead of disposing of them after use.

This in turn creates opportunities for enterprising organisations to capitalise on new business models and have greater resilience against supply chain disruptions.  Applications are open for a new Innovate UK led competition to enable Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to address the challenges of transitioning to a circular economy.

300 x 250 MPU

This competition is part of the UKRI National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) programme, allowing businesses to collaborate with five thematic centres covering:

– Chemicals (specifically olefins)

– Textiles

– Mineral-based construction materials

Smart Factory Expo 2021 MPU

– Metals (e.g. For aerospace and automotive)

– Technology metals (e.g. Cobalt, rare earths, lithium).

Innovation Alley at Smart Factory Expo 2019 - the last time the event was held in person

Although the project sizes are relatively small in this competition (£50-100k), we hope that the broad range of expertise covered by the centres will enable businesses to address some of the trickier questions that face those looking at increased circularity, such as customer perception of leasing a product, understanding material flows through value chains, or testing whether a circular model is actually more sustainable on a full life cycle basis.

The closing date for applications is 8 December 2021.

Other funding opportunities:

Innovate UK Smart Grants UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25m for game-changing and commercially viable research and development (R&D) innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. The closing date for applications is Wednesday 5 January 2022.

Knowledge transfer partnerships (KTP): 2021 to 2022, round 4 – UK registered academic institutions, research and technology organisations (RTOs) or Catapults can apply for a share of up to £8m to fund innovation projects with businesses or not-for-profits. The closing date for applications is 1 December 2021.

The knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) scheme helps businesses in the UK to innovate and grow. It does this by linking them with an academic or research organisation and a graduate. A KTP enables a business to bring in new skills and the latest academic thinking to deliver a specific, strategic innovation project through a knowledge-based partnership. The academic partner (known as the Knowledge Base) will help to develop the project, provide academic input and recruit a suitable graduate, known as an associate. They will act as the employer of the associate, who then works at the business for the majority of the project.


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Source: Don’t miss Made Smarter Innovation Alley 2021

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