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UK manufacturers boosted by new academic support network


Helping UK manufacturers to prosper in today’s highly competitive global marketplace is the principal driver behind Brunel University's new Collaborative Research Network (CRN) in Innovative Manufacturing, which launched at the University on 16 February.

The CRN will provide UK industry with access to Brunel's extensive manufacturing capability and create new opportunities for innovation in knowledge transfer, cross-disciplinary research and industrial collaboration.

Over 70 delegates from industry, professional bodies, Brunel and other universities attended the launch event, which featured guest speakers from the Technology Strategy Board, TWI, PERA and the Manufacturing Technologies Association. A key theme was the importance of collaboration to the future of both academia and manufacturing in the UK, in the light of a Government drive to generate long-term sustainable growth by pushing UK manufacturing into increasingly high-value and high-tech areas.

Speakers from within Brunel gave examples of the University's record in successful industrial collaborative ventures, and a number of new projects and directions were proposed during networking sessions. The Innovative Manufacturing CRN will draw on the expertise of the 500 researchers working in manufacturing across the University, including those from Brunel's world-renowned specialist research institutes: the EPSRC-funded Liquid Metals Engineering Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (LiME, led by Professor Zhongyun Fan); the ESPRC-funded Multidisciplinary Assessment of Technology Centre for Healthcare (MATCH, led by Professor Terry Young); the Brunel Innovation Centre run with TWI; the Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Technology; the Wolfson Centre; and the Experimental Techniques Centre.

Outlining their vision for the new CRN, Director Professor Kai Cheng and CRN Co-ordinator Dr Richard Bateman stated that, with the combined support of the University, the members of the CRN and the professional bodies, "we can get the network built and run as a real hub, in an innovative, robust and impacting manner both inside and outside of Brunel".

Prior to the launch, Professor Cheng explained that the new CRN was needed now because the nature of manufacturing has fundamentally changed. "In the last few decades, manufacturing has moved from comprising those activities which take place within the factory walls to a multi-skilled, multi-disciplinary cycle of activities combining research, design and development, production, logistics, service provision and end-of-life management.

"Many different players and partners up and down the value chain are needed to undertake these activities. As a result, it has become difficult for all but the largest players to assemble the skills, knowledge and technologies needed to develop new products and services successfully.

"The Innovative Manufacturing CRN will enable UK manufacturers of all sizes to access in one place the expertise they need."

Dr Bateman said that, despite widespread public perception, manufacturing remains absolutely critical to the UK's economy. "Manufacturing accounts for 14-15% of the UK's GDP, 50-55% of exports, and employs three million people. Most people are surprised to hear that the UK is the sixth largest manufacturer in the world."

Professor Geoff Rodgers, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Brunel University, said the launch of the Innovative Manufacturing CRN was a "natural and important step" for Brunel. "The network will provide a lively forum and interface between Brunel's manufacturing researchers and our industrial partners. It will build collaboration between researchers in different disciplines and ensure they are working on problems of interest and value to business and the British economy.

"Most importantly, it will provide an environment in which manufacturing research at Brunel, and our long track record for innovative industrial collaboration, will sustain and prosper."

Closing the event, the Vice Chancellor Professor Chris Jenks emphasised the University's commitment to working closely with industry for the benefit of society, and described the launch as "a strong signal of our intentions here at Brunel". 

Notes to editors

To arrange an interview with Professor Kai Cheng or Dr Richard Bateman please call Phil Smith on 01727 733888 or email phil@communicationsmanagement.co.uk.

Photos from the Innovative Manufacturing CRN launch are available and can be previewed at www.flickr.com/photos/bruneluniversity/sets/72157625955978861.