Science and TechnologyWritten evidence submitted by Professor William O’Neill

Summary

The cluster of research and technology activities in Cambridge and the surrounding area has a strong track record in both invention and innovation. The Centre for Advance Manufacturing aims to bring to the cluster an element that has been largely absent until now, in order to enhance both research efforts and the likelihood of their successful commercialisation.

Translational research and development has been widely recognised as of vital importance to ensuring that the UK gains a wealth creation dividend from investment in science. However, the importance of parallel research and development in the supportive manufacturing sphere has, until recently, received less attention. Now, the United States, in particular, is starting to redress this imbalance and has analysed the crucial interdependencies and alignment issues between “technology readiness” and “manufacturing readiness”.1

For some inventions, for instance in the material sciences, manufacturability has remained a constraining challenge for years after the invention’s market potential has been recognised. These, wasteful, fallow years could have been foreshortened if the manufacturing research and development effort had been mobilised sooner. It is this missing role in the innovation eco-system which the Centre for Advance Manufacturing seeks to play.

To do so effectively, the Centre needs to co-locate as closely as possible with the research groups from which the breakthrough inventions are emerging. But, in the Cambridge area it can also give an added growth impetus to research-rich SMEs in the high tech cluster and the major firms with which they and research teams in the university and research institutes have close links. The Centre can.

Enable researchers to move their alpha-level advanced manufacturing technologies from University and company laboratories to a larger space for scaling to beta-level testing and development with companies.

Enable access to advanced manufacturing technology for growing companies to assist them in their commercial growth and accelerate their product development.

Build Cambridge area capabilities in advanced manufacturing to enhance equipment, product, process innovation, and development from within the region.

Description

The purpose of the CAM would be to accelerate the development and deployment of next generation manufacturing technologies and their application in the creation of new products and the growth of companies. The Centre would provide the facilities and opportunities for university, corporate and government laboratory researchers, university and laboratory spinout and other companies to extend their technical capabilities and advance their production/product offerings. The following are key summary points describing the Centre.

The value proposition for the Centre would be the provision of a facility with scale-up space for advanced manufacturing technologies, access to advanced pre-commercial manufacturing technologies for growing companies with limited abilities or capital for development of such systems within their commercial environment, access to specialist venture capital, potential customers, and business development services.

There would be two targeted user groups—1) developers of advanced manufacturing technology in need of a facility for scaling their alpha-level technology to beta-level and 2) companies in need of access to advanced manufacturing technologies for their product development and commercialization. Sources of revenue would include grants, corporate investments, government support, time-share fees, company and technology equity, vendor contributions, and technology licensing.

The Centre for Advanced Manufacturing would likely have advanced manufacturing technologies that are set to establish the production capabilities of future 21st century products including: reel to reel electronic production technologies; laser fabrication technologies; additive manufacturing systems; nano-scale direct write technologies; photonic systems technologies; novel materials fabrication routes; and device fabrication suitable for such next generation products as polymer electronics, medical devices, flexible displays, communication devices, bio-electronic systems, and electronic paper etc.

There are, of course analogies between this concept and the thinking behind the Catapult centres. However, the Cambridge cluster already faces several highly distinctive manufacturing challenges: for instance in relation to new electronic and photonic materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes; the need to establish low cost high volume reel to reel production of polymer based electronic systems; ultra-high resolution nano fabrication technologies for a new generation of genomic devices; in addition to many other breakthrough technologies in healthcare, communications, energy generation, biotechnologies and defence.

Co-location with the top-rated academic research groups will help remove the challenges inherent in transition from one TR level to another. As the diagram illustrates, the academic scientists and engineers will be encouraged and assisted to extend further into considerations of manufacturability whilst, at the same time, work within the Centre will be enabled actively to feed ideas back into the academic research teams.

Moreover, in UK terms, Cambridge has a unique community of high tech firms and, in particular, a number of technology development consultancies which have acquired international reputations. These in turn have established relationships with major global firms. Through these networks market signals will be transmitted into the Centre’s activities from a number of diverse business perspectives and help to ensure that the Centre is configures its activities both to current needs and new, emerging challenges.

November 2012

1 Note by Dr Eoin O’Sullivan to follow

Prepared 11th March 2013