Manufuture is what the European Commission terms a Technology Platform; these aim to define a common vision, and a medium to long-term agenda for strategic areas of research, and then bring together public-private partnerships for their implementation. Initiated in 2003, the manufacturing sector focused Manufuture activity culminated in a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), published in 2006. Importantly, it says that: "Manufuture defines a consensus vision of the research and innovation needs of high value manufacturing." Image: Left, biotech machinery designed and made in the UK; right, a more traditional sheet metal processing plant, more in keeping with the European view of manufacturing, it would seem. Manufuture got some profile at Europe's biennial EMO manufacturing technology exhibition in Hanover in 2005 – with a distinctly mechanical engineering flavour detectable – while one of the annual Manufuture networking events was held at Rolls-Royce, Derby, in December 2005, where over 300 stakeholders gathered; but UK visibility has been low since then. (The most recent national event was held in France last December. These meetings are held in whatever country holds the EU presidency at the time.) Rolls-Royce, together with BAE Systems, CADCAM specialist Delcam, Birmingham, plus Thompson Friction Welding, Wolverhampton, have been UK industry's voice at the national level within the UK Manufuture Strategy Group, which is chaired by the UK's Technology Strategy Board – of which more later. There were some 30 individuals listed as UK Manufuture Strategy Group participants in 2006, these including various universities, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Hewlett Packard, the DTI (now BERR), plus the industrial companies already mentioned, although not all remain engaged in the group – Thompson Friction Welding is not, for example. The UK co-ordinating body, contracted to TSB, for Manufuture is TÜV NEL, East Kilbride. The last national meeting, held in April this year at Loughborough University, was where Machinery caught up with some of the UK Manufuture Strategy Group members, particularly Peter Flinn, until recently head of technology at the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). He highlights that the UK has been influential within Manufuture's so-called High Level Group (HLG), a pan-European group that meets twice a year and has some 50-plus members – it was at this level that the SRA was developed. UK representatives within the HLG are David Williams, Professor of Healthcare Engineering Director of the Research School of Health and Life Sciences at Loughborough University (associated with the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering), who was present at the April meeting, and Delcam's technical director, Ed Lamborne, who was not. The UK has also been influential within Manufuture's Industrial Advisory Group, which oversees the strategic part of the SRA and its implementation plan, plus it ensures its dissemination to stakeholders. Part of the SRA called for the establishment of national technology platforms, although not all countries have yet done so. In France, this has resulted in the establishment, in 2007, of Mecafuture, set up on the initiative of the FIM (Federation of mechanical industries) and Cetim (Technical centre for mechanical industries). In Italy, the platform is co-ordinated by Federmacchine – National Federation of Associations of manufacture of capital goods intended for industrial and handicrafts manufacturing processes – via UCIMU, the Italian manufacturing technology manufacturers' representative body. In Switzerland, the focus is on the mechanical, electrical and metal industries. Austria's platform has a distinctly traditional, mechanical engineering feel, as do those of Greece, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Portugal and Belgium. In some countries, there is a definite link between Manufuture and research projects. In the official UK technology platform document (www.leadership-ssa.net), there is no specified industrial sector focus, while, judged by this, there has been far lower industrial engagement. Germany claims over 200 industrial companies engaged; Denmark, 26; Greece, 46; Poland, 45, and so on. Mr Flinn underlines the fact that the TSB has other industrial contacts and networks outside of Manufuture, however. Manufuture in the UK has been about influence, he offers. "Manufuture [in the UK] is a group that influences the research agenda and its content," he says. In particular, he mentions FP7 (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7), the EU's Seventh Framework Programme of research, which runs from 2007 to 2013, and, more specifically, the Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies (NMP) element (see p18). The TSB manages and funds the FP7 organisation in the UK, in fact, and TSB is the source of any required national funding into FP7 projects. There will be another FP7 'call' in July, closing in November, for more NMP and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) projects. UK Manufuture has also set out to influence the UK's Technology Programme (predecessor to the TSB), the UK's Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), plus the EU's EUREKA programme (www.eureka.be), which is described as a "pan-European network for market-oriented, industrial R&D". Mr Flinn makes it clear that the UK's thrust has been to expand Manufuture's horizons to include newer manufacturing areas, such as biotech – a clear interest of Professor Williams at Loughborough, for example – while, in contrast, he agrees, other European countries have maintained a more traditional focus. It has also been a UK theme to expand the manufacturing theme beyond the production process, as he explains. "We have been successful in broadening the research agenda, in the sense that other parts of Europe tend to concentrate on the more traditional aspects of manufacturing. We have broadened it out in two ways. First, in the actual topics covered under the umbrella of manufacturing by including things such as pharmaceutical and biotech, and, second, to go beyond the pure production processes and look at the whole lifecycle of products, such as what happens downstream after products are made, and particularly for more complex assets, like aero-engines, trams, trains or even machine tools. So, the supplying company creates a business around the original product, such as maintenance or operation, in the case of trams, for example. End of life issues, such as recycling or remanufacturing, are another aspect. This thinking is also captured in the TSB's manufacturing strategy document." Responding to a suggestion that Manufuture has been very low profile of late, he says there is a limit to how long Manufuture can influence; at some point you have to ask, 'what happens next?' and the programme has been through a period of "introspection" over the past 18 months or so. "In the next two to three years, Manufuture will move from being an influence group to one that has money in its own right." Indeed, an announcement has been made by the European Commission relating to Manufuture that heralds the establishment of a 'Factories of the future' project. Part of the 'EU Economic Recovery Plan', this will have €1.2 billion funding. It will, says Mr Flinn, become visible under FP8, FP7's successor. "The UK will again influence the way this is taken forward via Manufuture's High Level Group and through membership of the Industrial Advisory Group. And the UK, I believe, is viewed as a balanced voice of reason. That is, one that considers what is useful and what would appeal to the manufacturing community in general, and not one shaped by any single influencing group," concludes Mr Flinn. TÜV NEL is organising three regional industry-facing events before the summer break to gain more industrial involvement for this new phase of Manufuture. A national meeting, probably in September, will bring those within manufacturing industry that have expressed an interest, via the regional events, together with potential European partners at a networking event. But in Europe, the vision for the Factories of the Future initiative is still, apparently, rather traditional. EU Manufuture project co-ordinator Andrea Gentili is quoted as saying this at last December's Manufuture meeting in France, held under the auspices of Mecafuture: "The factory of the future will no longer be a hostile, dirty and noisy place, but rather a super-technology site. It is for us to convince young Europeans, who are now discovering the limitations of the world of finance, that there are other ways of creating wealth." Interestingly enough, Loughborough University's Holywell facility can already claim such a super-technology site – albeit in biotech. In April, Professor Williams showed the Manufuture Strategy Group's members a newly constructed and almost complete facility, which has as one of its outputs the development of production processes to multiply stem cells [using cells and cell lines not created on site] that could be used in the repair of human tissue damaged by stroke or heart attack, for example. This particular set-up has drawn funding from the university, East Midlands Development Agency and the EPSRC; and the unit's 'cell culture system' machine – CompacT SelecT –has been developed and built in the UK by The Automation Partnership, Royston, near Cambridge (see picture, right). In harmony with Manufuture, no doubt, it clearly underscores the broader UK view of manufacturing that has informed Manufuture, as compared to the more traditional one that holds strong sway in other European countries. Image: High Value Manufacturing in the form of biotech machinery. Not a machine tool, of course, but a machine, nonetheless. Made by The Automation Partnership (www.automationpartnership.com), this is the model installed at Loughborough ­University – CompacT SelecT. Designed and developed in the UK, with UK sub-contractors machining parts for it, some 20+ have so far been supplied, worldwide – price is around £1/2 million/unit. There is a larger cousin, of which over 40 have been supplied worldwide FP7, TSB, EUREKA Research FP7 (http://cordis.europa.eu) – There are 79 NMP projects with UK involvement listed on the official website. Current projects in the more 'traditional' manufacturing/engineering areas are: INTEG-MICRO – New production technologies of complex 3D micro-devices through multiprocess integration of ultra precision engineering techniques; LEAN PPD – Lean product and process development, beyond lean manufacturing, new industrial models for product and process life cycle; IMPALA – Intelligent manufacture from powder by advanced laser assimilation, rapid manufacturing concepts for small series industrial production; FUTURESME – Future industrial model for SMEs, beyond lean manufacturing, new industrial models for product and process life cycle; ADACOM – Adaptive control for metalcutting, rapidly configurable machines and production systems; ADAMOD – Plug-in adaptronic modules for real-time error (thermal and vibration) compensation and superfine positioning in reconfigurable high precision machine tools, rapidly configurable machines and production systems. TSB (www.innovateuk.org) has details of 72 High Value Manufacturing projects that it is helping to fund on a dedicated website – www.technologyprogramme.org.uk – though the TSB points out that not all the projects it funds are listed. Those that could be considered more 'traditional' are: Energy efficient and environmentally friendly recycling of composites – the development of machinery to facilitate the clean production of smart and hybrid composites using recycled, waste and aligned short-fibres; Added Value by Laser Assisted Additive Manufacture (AVLAM) – the rapid prototyping of new classes of high value, cost-effective metallic parts by Additive Layered Manufacture (ALM), using powder-bed-based laser deposition; Remanufacture of high value products, using a combined Laser cladding, Inspection and Machining system (RECLAIM) – an integrated production system for cost-effective, rapid and reliable remanufacturing of high value engineering parts in a system that combines laser cladding, machining and in-process scanning in a single machine (Delcam and Renishaw involved); Next Generation Encoder Manufacture (Next-GEM) – to develop technology for the rapid manufacture of high precision optical encoders that will be able to achieve finer features at a greater rate than the current state of the art (Renishaw involved); ATKINS – rapid manufacture of parts for aircraft and motor vehicles (Loughborough University's Wolfson school is involved). EUREKA (www.eureka.be) – Within the 'industrial manufacturing, material and transport' area, the following projects are listed. There is no UK involvement in the following projects. PUNCH-GRIND – The construction of a heavy duty punch grinding machine; PRO-FACTORY SURFACE+ – a project focusing on a system for assessing surface quality (Nano-, Micro-, Macro Level) in product, tool and mould production; PRO-FACTORY EUMECHA (European Mechatronics And Intelligent Manufacturing), target area, industrial equipment and machinery – aims to increase the technological efficiency of an incremental forming process; PRO-FACTORY S-SCAM-S – a new generation of components (materials, sensors, control units and mechatronics) for manufacturing integrated production systems; PRO-FACTORY FUNIF – the development of future nodular irons for forming dies; DIAMONDTOOLS – the development and innovation of tools with PCD, CVD layer and CVD coating for precise boring; FORMINGTOOLS – new design and technological solutions for forming tools. There are a few more, too. Within EUREKA, there is also the MANUFUTURE INDUSTRY thematic area. It is based around a cluster of industrial SMEs (none in UK), which includes Spanish machine tool builder Nicolas Correa, and is described thus – The cluster will deal with pilot initiatives, aimed at implementation, within the Manufuture framework, of the strategic intelligence developed by Manufuture and related entities. This will lead and accelerate the transformation of European industry towards competitive sustainable manufacturing. First published in Machinery June 2009