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By 2030, the UK will be a global industrial leader in creating, adopting and exporting advanced digital technologies, shaping how the world does business.

The Made Smarter Technology Accelerator is the largest accelerator programme in the UK dedicated to supporting technological innovation from startups capable of adding value to the industrial and manufacturing sectors. 

Designed to address core manufacturing challenges, this 12-month accelerator programme aims to speed up understanding of advanced digital technologies, drive innovation and unlock benefits for the UK economy. 

The programme is supported by seven Industry Challenge Owners: Babcock International Group, BAE Systems, GAF, Northumbrian Water, O’Neills Irish International Sports Co. Ltd, Safran Landing Systems and Sainsbury’s, along with Technology Sponsors, Software AG and Verizon Business.

Following a number of framing workshops and deep dives, each owner clarified their own real-world challenges to present to startups, intersecting five key themes:

  • Intelligent product verification and validation
  • Intelligent factory/site management and control
  • Transparent data driven procurement
  • Resource measurement and analytics
  • Digitally enabled factory/site workforce

Having set the 14 industrial challenges, the programme recently completed its 12-week prototyping development phase, with the pioneering startups producing digital solutions to each of the programme challenges. As we closed this phase, the programme recently hosted 14 startups from its current cohort to showcase their solutions through cutting edge industrial concepts, alongside panel discussions featuring all 9 of the Industry Challenge Owners and Technology Sponsors. 

From here, four companies will be selected to develop a minimum viable products (MVP) before a final showcase in December 2021.

In this article, as we set the stage for the next phase of the programme, we review the event and its outcomes, as well as breaking down the challenges and solutions proposed by each programme participant.

Only one percent of all of the venture capital money that flows into tech in the UK is in the space that we’re exploring today. That of course makes this programme incredibly important, because we’re trying to help identify and hopefully create some of the future tech startups in this space.

Juergen Maier CBE, Chair of Digital Catapult and Co-chair of Made Smarter
Technology Accelerator insights
  • De-risking innovation in the industrial sector

    The prototype presentation event was led by Justin Cross, senior innovation partner at Digital Catapult and programme lead for the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator. 

    Digital Catapult CEO, Jeremy Silver, emphasised the role of Digital Catapult in taking exceptional ideas within academia and the innovation ecosystem and speeding up their journey to market. 

    Following a brief outline of the programme and its goals from Justin, the event began its first panel discussion, hosted by Juergen Maier CBE, Chair of Digital Catapult and Co-chair of Made Smarter. He was joined by senior leaders from the industry challenge owners and technology sponsors:

    • Austin Cook, Principal Technologist, Emerging Manufacturing Technology and Systems, BAE Systems
    • Martin Jackson, Head of Strategy and Product Management, Northumbrian Water
    • Germain Forgeoux, R&T Manufacturing Program Manager, Safran Landing Systems
    • Charles Joes, Global IoT Success Director, Software AG 

    Key points from the first panel discussion included:

    • With small medium enterprises making up the vast majority of the industrial sector, the panel agreed that more needs to be done to de-risk and encourage them to innovate. For larger businesses, it’s an opportunity to use their established skills to help small medium enterprises develop, so that they can benefit from a more diverse ecosystem of innovative suppliers
    • The panel observed that legacy barriers combine with cultural barriers to innovation. Culture eats strategy for lunch, and overcoming this requires educating the next generation to focus on the art of the possible, rather than the limitations of legacy
    • According to some panel members, there is less appetite for risk in the UK, and less willingness to use enablement tools. But rather than building everything themselves, manufacturers should use what’s available, move faster, learn faster and fail faster

    “It’s incredibly important that we’re having this discussion, because the key to innovation is diversity of thought…In order to move forward in terms of making that step change in performance for the benefit of our customers, we need to innovate in entirely new ways and look at new possibilities. And for us that’s about creating an ecosystem of diversity, where there are big players and smaller players, where we are able to hone in on that talent locally and nationally.” 
    - Martin Jackson, Head of Strategy and Product Management, Northumbrian Water

  • Innovative solutions to key industry challenges

    Combining a range of technology, from artificial intelligence (AI) to cloud-enabled remote monitoring, the 14 startups presented their proof-of-concept solutions to real-world industry challenges. Each prototype has the potential to transform processes for the challenge owner, from quality control to supply chain optimisation. 

    Solutions ranged from machine learning capable of evolving computer programmes to smart sewer monitoring combining mobile robotics, edge computing and AI. Also amongst those presented were prototypes capable of AI-guided automated sewing and garment production, adaptive scheduling and performance modeling, and AI monitoring of microbial food safety in production lines.

    For a full breakdown of the 14 startup solutions, head to the cohort section of the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator website.

  • Building a case for investing in industrial innovation

    Following the prototype presentations, the event segued into its second panel discussion, chaired by Priya Guha MBE, Non-Executive Director of Digital Catapult. She was joined by more Industry Challenge owners and another of the programme’s Technology Sponsors:

    • Jim Sibson, Group Head of Research and Partnerships, Babcock International Group
    • Scott Reed, SVP Quality and Manufacturing, GAF
    • Sarah Blanford, Category Technical Manager, Sainsburys
    • Tony Judd, MD, Verizon Business Groups UK & Ireland

    Key points from the second panel discussion included:

    • When it comes to building a business case, time can be as critical as cost. Where manufacturers are responsible for maintaining assets and making sure they’re available for customers, they can be penalised reputationally if that fails. One member admitted to being quite short term focused when it comes to building a case – looking at benefits around the 18-month mark, two years at a stretch
    • The panel agreed that they now frequently  assess suppliers by their sustainability credentials along with price and quality.  However, there are unintended consequences in the quest for sustainability and the panel agreed that reskilling needs to be considered at the same time as protecting the environment 
    • In addressing data analytics, the panel observed that data often comes from different, disparate sources, making it difficult to collect and analyse. But through the power of analytics, we can gain insights that lead us to challenge or iterate the criteria to find new opportunities that would otherwise be undiscoverable

    “We have a strategy both offensively and defensively as related to disruption. Where we want to defend, we’re using digital technology to help us better our products and services, cut costs and improve quality. And as we seek to be on the offence with disruption, we’re also using advanced analytics to help us identify and understand what’s emerging.”
    - Scott Reed, SVP Quality and Manufacturing, GAF

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