Competition brief: connected digital additive manufacturing

Updated 20 July 2016

1. Dates and deadlines

Competition opens 23 May 2016
Briefing event in London 7 June 2016
Briefing event Webinar 7 June 2016
Briefing event in Liverpool, IFB 14 June 2016
Registration deadline Noon on 20 July 2016
Application deadline Noon on 27 July 2016
Successful applicants informed October 2016

2. The competition scope

Projects must have a significant innovation step in both of the following complementary areas:

  • a) additive manufacturing
  • b) connected digital manufacturing

2.1 a) Additive manufacturing

Your project must focus on one or more of these 4 priority topics:

  • novel additive manufacturing build process with a viable route to market for UK-based machine platform manufacture
  • large-scale build platforms with a build size in metres with a viable route to market for UK-based machine platform manufacture
  • automation, predictability and cost reduction in the pre and post-process material supply and finishing activities. Projects must show a significant improvement to the overall AM process chain productivity
  • innovative hybrid or interrupted AM processes and/or their integration with the adjacent process(es)

You must set aside most of your project costs for this activity. We recommend you use Manufacturing Readiness Levels to set up your project plan. We expect the start point to be MRL 3 or higher.

The London webinar took questions from potential applicants that you might find helpful. The recording and presentation slides include more detail on the scope of the competition.

2.2 b) Connected digital manufacturing

The project should enable you to find new sources of value and competitive advantage in the wider AM process chain. Your project must include innovation in the integration of the AM process with wider industrial and commercial processes. Integration should be through the use of intelligent digital manufacturing techniques built upon internet-enabled systems, processes, products and services. This element should account for 15% to 30% of your total project costs.

Your project must develop at least one of the following 5 connected digital manufacturing capabilities:

  1. interoperability: ability of internet-enabled machines, devices, sensors and people to connect and share data with each other securely (and seamlessly) without the need for specialist technical expertise on the part of the user
  2. enriched modelling - integration of raw, operational data from sensors into elements of models and simulations to improve the accuracy and completeness of their predictions and to aid visualisation and decision-making
  3. autonomy: ability of machines and systems to make decisions and perform tasks with limited human assistance/intervention and to learn from experience and data
  4. real-time insights: capability to collect and analyse data from manufacturing operations and provide the derived insights to support decision-making in real or near-to-real time
  5. modularity: engineering of flexible and modular systems, components and services that can be adapted, added, removed and interplayed to meet changing requirements

Your proposal must make clear which of these capabilities you are developing in your project.

The connected digital manufacturing activity must be compatible with the AM project innovation topic. It must not be confined to academic research or system modelling. You should be able to demonstrate their connectivity before you complete your project. But they do not both need to be aimed at a combined commercial offering in the future.

In making the final selection, we may apply a portfolio approach across the additive topics and digital principles. This is so that we will get a balanced mix of funded projects.

We encourage innovation projects that are inspired by, and respond to, genuine insight into customers’ needs, motivations and behaviours. You could engage with customers, suppliers, professional designers and other stakeholders as part of the project.

2.3 Projects we won’t fund

In this competition, we won’t fund:

  • incremental innovation or development of existing (commercially available) machine platforms.
  • development of products made on standard, commercially-available AM machine platforms using existing or new materials
  • atomic layer deposition
  • bio-printing
  • rapid prototyping and tooling machine platforms and related applications
  • connected digital manufacturing activity that’s unrelated to the AM innovation project content

3. Find out if you are eligible to apply

  • a UK-based business must lead a project
  • be planning to carry out your project in the UK
  • work with at least one other business on this project
  • have an innovation project that will last no more than 3 years
  • have an innovation project that focuses on industrial research

4. Funding allocation and project details

We have allocated up to £4.5 million to fund industrial research projects in this competition. You could get funding of up to:

  • 70% of your eligible project costs if you are a small or micro business
  • 60% of your eligible project costs if you are a medium sized business
  • 50% of your eligible project costs if you are a larger business

We expect projects to last 1 to 3 years. We expect them to range in size from total costs of £500,000 to £1.5 million, depending on the type of project.

We also encourage academic organisations to take part where needed. But you can allocate no more than 30% of your total eligible project costs for research organisation funding.

You must allocate at least 70% of your total project costs to the additive manufacturing topics. You must allocate between 15% and 30% to the connected digital manufacturing design capabilities.

5. How to apply

To apply:

  • register online
  • read the guidance for applicants, available as part of the online application process
  • the London webinar took questions from potential applicants that you might find helpful. This includes more detail on the scope of the competition
  • complete and submit your online application form

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

A panel of independent experts will assess your proposal. We will then choose the best proposals from those that meet the aims of this competition.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

Please note: This competition is the pilot for the beta version of the new innovation funding system. The online application form you will use is different to previous forms you may have used

6. Background

Additive manufacturing is a well-established tool for rapid prototyping and tooling. It can also provide direct production of end-use components and consumer goods. These can be in a wide variety of global market sectors – from medical devices to aerospace.

We define AM by the following 7 technology classifications:

  • powder bed fusion
  • directed energy deposition
  • material jetting
  • binder jetting
  • material extrusion
  • vat photopolymerisation
  • sheet lamination

6.1 Additive manufacturing challenges

This disruptive technology can be revolutionary and game changing. But there are barriers to actual take-up and market growth has been slow. These barriers include high cost, inconsistent material properties and the lack of applicable industry standards. They also include unexpected pre and post-processing requirements. There are also high risks involved in making the radical design changes which the technology offers. We need further step-change innovation in the additive and related manufacturing processes to overcome these challenges.

The efficiency and flexibility of the whole manufacturing proposition can improve when this links to other production cells or elements of its supply or distribution chain using the industrial Internet of Things. This can also increase competitiveness. This approach to manufacturing is sometimes described as the fourth industrial revolution or connected digital manufacturing. It can transform the entire production and business model proposition. According to a PWC report it can also increase productivity by up to 18% in 5 years.

6.2 Global market opportunities

This disruptive technology offers huge potential for UK businesses. By embracing radically different end-to-end manufacturing processes and business models, they will become more competitive.

The worldwide market for all additive manufacturing products and services was worth $4.1 billion in 2014. It is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 35%, driven by direct part production, which now represents 43% of the total revenues.

We estimate that the UK can win around 5% of this rapidly growing global market for AM products and services, forecast to reach £70 billion by 2025.

6.3 Why we are funding this competition

We have already invested over £30 million in additive manufacturing innovation projects. This includes one competition focused on design freedoms and application development. This new competition aims to address some of the remaining technical challenges.

Challenges include slow and size-limited processing capability. They also include the high and disproportionate cost of material handling and component post-processing. For example, heat treatment and surface finishing which often need costly manual intervention.

Outcomes of recent research and other technology advances can help address these inhibitors. Most AM processes available today are unable to build large, high integrity structures with linear dimensions of more than a metre. We need to provide machine platforms that can build parts with dimensions measured in metres. New deposition methods, control techniques and multi-material processes emerging from research are providing a wealth of innovation-ready opportunities for extending the reach and productivity of this new industry.

6.4 Manufacturing Readiness Levels

We have structured the scope of this competition around the Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) scale. This is less well known but more relevant to innovative manufacturing companies. It provides a language and maturity scale that aligns with their needs and challenges.

Phase MRL Definition
Conception and assessment of manufacturing technology 1 Basic manufacturing implications identified
Conception and assessment of manufacturing technology 2 Manufacturing concepts identified
Conception and assessment of manufacturing technology 3 Manufacturing proof of concept developed
Conception and assessment of manufacturing technology 4 Capability to produce technology / demonstrator in a laboratory environment
Pre-production phase 5 Capability to produce prototype components in a production-relevant environment
Pre-production phase 6 Capability to produce prototype system in a production-relevant environment
Production implementation 7 Capability to produce prototype system in a production-representative environment
Production implementation 8 Pilot line capability demonstrated. Ready to begin low rate production
Production implementation 9 Low rate production demonstrated. Capability in place to begin full rate production