Funding competition Made Smarter Innovation: Industry ready Robotics and Automation

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £6 million for late-stage robotics and automation innovation projects. This is to develop industrially ready solutions deployable within manufacturing processes in factories.

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Competition sections

Description

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £6 million in innovation projects. These will be for innovation in late-stage robotics and automation to increase productivity, sustainability and resilience within manufacturing processes.

The aim of this competition is to develop and demonstrate industrially ready robotics and automation solutions deployable within a factory production area.

Your proposal must:

  • deliver an innovative digital development or significantly novel application of robotics and automation
  • overcome a technical barrier within manufacturing processes in a factory production area

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process. This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type

Grant

Project size

Your project’s total costs must be between £200,000 and £4 million.

Who can apply

Your project

Your project must:

  • have total costs between £200,000 and £4 million
  • not exceed the maximum grant limit of 50% of your total costs
  • start by 1 October 2023
  • end by 31 December 2024
  • last between 9 months and 15 months
  • involve at least one factory
  • include both manufacturing and digital technology capabilities in your consortium
  • be applicable to at least one manufacturing sector
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

We encourage projects that cover multiple manufacturing sectors.

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian and Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian and Belarusian source.

If your project’s total costs or duration falls outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to support@iuk.ukri.org at least 10 working days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

If you have not requested approval or your application has not been approved by us, you will be made ineligible. Your application will then not be sent for assessment.

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size
  • collaborate with other UK registered organisations

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

Academic institutions and research and technology organisations (RTOs) cannot lead.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account and enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service.

To be an eligible collaboration, the lead and at least one other organisation must apply for funding when entering their costs into the application.

Non-funded partners

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding. Their costs will count towards the total project costs.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

Number of applications

A business can only lead on two applications within this competition but can be included as a collaborator in a further two applications.

If a business is not leading any application it can collaborate in up to four applications within this competition.

Research organisations, charities, not for profit, public sector organisations and research and technology organisations (RTO), can collaborate on any number of applications.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

We will not award you funding if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

This competition provides funding in line with the Subsidy Control Act 2022. Further information about the Subsidy requirements can be found within the Subsidy Control Act 2022 (legislation.gov.uk)

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. We will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the Subsidy Control Act 2022 or the State aid rules you should take independent legal advice. We are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must always make sure that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.

This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to, or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.

Funding

Up to £6 million has been allocated to fund innovation projects in this competition. Funding will be in the form of a grant.

The total grant funding request for your project must not exceed 50% of your total project costs. This limit applies regardless of the individual partners grant claims or research category chosen.

Individual organisations may need to adjust their grant request, for projects to remain within the overall maximum grant limit against total project costs. Research organisation costs must be taken into account to ensure that the total grant applied for does not exceed these limits.

If your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium sized organisation
  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 35% if you are a medium sized organisation
  • up to 25% if you are a large organisation

Projects that span more than one category of research must enter the research category that reflects the majority of your work. If your work is going to be evenly split across categories please email support@iuk.ukri.org.

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Research participation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

Of that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-S registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to develop and demonstrate industrially ready robotics and automation solutions deployable within a factory production area.

Your project must:

  • deliver an innovative digital development or significantly novel application of late stage robotics and automation
  • overcome a technical barrier within manufacturing processes in a factory production setting

Your project must focus on demonstrating the robotic and automation innovations to deliver productivity, sustainability and resilience improvements to the manufacturing process.

Your project must:

  • be robotics or automation focused within a factory production area
  • be focused on value-adding production tasks or directly associated load, unload and move tasks
  • include a physical deployment within a manufacturing facility or very near equivalent, for example, a comparable development facility
  • demonstrate a clear, scalable commercial exploitation route within the project consortium

We encourage you to:

  • demonstrate clear, scalable commercial exploitation route to other manufacturers and manufacturing sectors beyond the initial project consortium itself
  • include a demonstrator element with access beyond the project timescales (host visits, on-line access, video footage)

Portfolio approach
We want to fund a variety of projects across different markets, research categories, strands or themes, technologies, technology maturities, locations, industrial sectors, project sizes, exploitation potential and business sizes. We call this a portfolio approach.

Specific themes

Your project can focus on one or more of the following:

  • flexible and modular automation: driving repurposing and flexible redeployment to maximise use life
  • systems integration: productising scalable commercial solutions
  • mobile robotics: including modular robots and multi purpose
  • human assisted and cobots: including ethics and human machine interface (HMI)
  • no-code and low-code solutions: to improve SME accessibility and lower access cost
  • flexible packaged solutions: reconfigurable modular solutions, tight access retrofit, hygiene friendly
  • gripper and end-effector optimization: especially for challenging production environments, fragile, shape
  • self powered or cableless systems: to reduce installation and safety challenges, maximise flexibility
  • improving robotic accuracy and dexterity: developing low cost metrology to self adjust
  • AI in robotic control: developments in machine learning to improve performance

Projects are also encouraged to consider, as an element of their project:

  • safety of HMI, including integration with smart cells
  • robot ethics, roboethics
  • equality, diversity and inclusion opportunities
  • relevant standards compliance

This list is not intended to be exhaustive or limiting.

Research categories

We will fund industrial research projects and experimental development projects, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects that are:

  • outside of the value adding production area
  • focused on activities outside of manufacturing production processes
  • mainly installing currently available technologies and involve minimal innovation
  • where the main exploitation route is not within manufacturing
  • early stage feasibility projects
  • activities focused on goods-in or warehousing
  • activities focussed on distribution centres, supply chain connectivity or flying factories
  • construction, other than manufacturing activities carried out off-site within a permanent fixed factory
  • offsite repair and overhaul
  • focussed on product design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), unless this is only a minor element of robotic innovation
  • business process automation (BPA) to automate business transactions through robotic process automation (RPA) of data

We cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product

18 January 2023
Online briefing event: register to attend
19 January 2023
Competition opens
5 April 2023 11:00am
Competition closes
9 June 2023
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Before submitting, it is the lead applicant’s responsibility to make sure:

  • that all the information provided in the application is correct
  • your proposal meets the eligibility and scope criteria
  • all sections of the application are marked as complete
  • that all partners have completed all assigned sections and accepted the terms and conditions (T&Cs)

You can reopen your application once submitted, up until the competition deadline. You must resubmit the application before the competition deadline.

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

1. Project details.

2. Application questions.

3. Finances.

Accessibility and inclusion

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and are committed to making our application process accessible to everyone. This includes providing support, in the form of reasonable adjustments, for people who have a disability or a long-term condition and face barriers applying to us. Read more on how we are making our application process more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

You must contact us as early as possible in the application process. We recommend contacting us at least 15 working days before the competition closing date to ensure we can provide you with the most suitable support possible.

You can contact us by emailing support@iuk.ukri.org or calling 0300 321 4357. Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

1. Project details

This section provides background for your application and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on your project and invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

Application details

Give your project’s title, start date and duration.

Research category

Select the type of research you will undertake.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign the right experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Scope

Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be sent for assessment. We will give you the reason why.

You must ensure that all of the aspects within this scope section are clearly covered in your answer.

You must, where you have chosen the research category as Industrial Research, explain your reasons for that selection.

You must describe how your proposal will contribute to the objectives of the Made Smarter Innovation challenge, including:

  • how this project is innovative in robotics and automation within a manufacturing production area
  • how within the project timescale, the project will demonstrate clear, scalable commercial exploitation within the project consortium
  • how post project outcomes will be exploited by participants to maximise the adoption of robotics and automation
  • which manufacturing sectors will be involved during the project
  • the applicability to multiple manufacturing sectors post project, the exploitation phase, including which manufacturing sectors are expected to be targeted

Where possible we encourage the provision of demonstrators that last beyond the life of the original project. State whether your project will deliver a demonstrator and explain what this will comprise of.

You must describe how your project will contribute to one or more of the Made Smarter Innovation challenges.

Challenge targets:

  1. Up to 30% increase in productivity.
  2. Up to 25% decrease in waste (resource efficiency).
  3. Up to 30% decrease in carbon emissions (energy efficiency).
  4. Increase in the number of jobs requiring digital technology skills.
  5. Increase in Gross Value Add to the manufacturing sector.

Your answer can be up to 1200 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score all your answers apart from question 1. You will receive feedback for each scored question. Find out more about how our assessors assess.

You must answer all questions. Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Applicant location (not scored)

You must state the name and full registered address of your organisation and any partners or subcontractors working on your project. We are collecting this information to understand the geographical location of all applicants.

Question 2. Research Category

You must select which research category your proposal is most applicable to in this competition:

  • industrial research
  • experimental development

You must explain your reasons for selecting industrial research.

You must enter that you have chosen experimental development if you have chosen this category.

Question 3. Need or challenge

What is the business need, technological challenge, or market opportunity behind your innovation?

Explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • whether you have identified any similar innovation and its current limitations, including those close to market or in development
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project focuses on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations, using our Horizons tool if appropriate

Question 4. Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how will you improve on the similar innovation that you have identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project, for example report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

Explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including subcontractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • if your project is collaborative, the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any roles you will need to recruit for
  • any steps you have taken to strengthen the equality, diversity and inclusion within your project team

You can submit one appendix with a short summary of the main people working on your project to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 4 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe:

  • the target markets for the project outcomes and any other potential markets (domestic, international or both)
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • the size and main features of any other markets not already listed

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 7. Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to grow your business and increase long term productivity as a result of the project?

Explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers or end users, and the value to them, for example, why they would use or buy your product
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

You must download the impact table template and upload when completed, as an appendix to this question. It must be an Excel Spreadsheet, no larger than 10MB in size and the font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Describe and, where possible, measure the economic benefits from the project such as productivity increases and import substitution, to:

  • external parties
  • customers
  • others in the supply chain
  • broader industry
  • the UK economy

Describe and, where possible, measure:

  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 9. Project management

How will you manage your project effectively?

Explain:

  • the main work packages of your project, indicating the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to get a successful and innovative project outcome
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You must submit a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 10. Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, and data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will manage this

You must submit a risk register as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 11. Added value

How will this public funding help you to accelerate or enhance your approach to developing your project towards commercialisation?

What impact would this award have on the organisations involved?

Explain:

  • what advantages public funding would offer your project, for example, appeal to investors, more partners, reduced risk or a faster route to market (this list is not exhaustive)
  • the likely impact of the project outcomes on the organisations involved
  • what other routes of investment you have already approached
  • what your project would look like without public funding
  • how this project would change the R&D activities of all the organisations involved

Question 12. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

In terms of your project goals, explain:

  • your total project costs
  • the grant you are requesting
  • how each partner will finance their contributions to your project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners

any subcontractor costs and why they are critical to your project

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application. Academic institutions must complete and upload a Je-S form.

For full details on what costs you can claim see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

Made Smarter Innovation

The Made Smarter Innovation programme, together with our partners, is investing £300 million to accelerate the development of game changing digital manufacturing ideas.

The aims are to deliver a UK manufacturing sector that is:

  • resilient
  • flexible
  • more productive
  • environmentally sustainable

This will also develop new technologies that can be exploited commercially across manufacturing worldwide. This will be achieved through the creation and novel application of digital technologies.

Customers’ needs are changing fast and problems with the availability of supplies mean supply chains need to:

  • adapt
  • be more effective
  • be flexible
  • be resilient
  • be sustainable

The Made Smarter Innovation Challenge has a range of objectives that we need to ensure are delivered. Within this competition we have stated the objectives that relate to this competition scope. Applicants must demonstrate how they will contribute by describing how the project meets these objectives and completion of the impact table.

Data sharing

This competition is operated by Innovate UK.

Innovate UK is directly accountable to you for its holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with our own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application. Innovate UK’s Privacy Policy is accessible here.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

Find a project partner

If you want help to find a project partner, contact Innovate UK KTN.

Support for SMEs from Innovate UK EDGE

If you receive an award, you will be contacted about working with an innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. This service forms part of our funded offer to you.

These specialists focus on growing innovative businesses and ensuring that projects contribute to their growth. Working one-to-one, they can help you to identify your best strategy and harness world-class resources to grow and achieve scale.

We encourage you to engage with Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by a knowledgeable and objective specialist near you.

Next steps

If you are successful with this application, you will be asked to set up your project.

You must follow the unique link embedded in your email notification. This takes you to your IFS Set Up portal, the tool that Innovate UK uses to gather necessary information before we can allow your project to begin.

You will need to provide:

  • the name and contact details of your project manager and project finance lead
  • a redacted copy of your bank details
  • a collaboration agreement
  • an exploitation plan

In order to process your claims, we need to make sure that the bank details you give to us relate to a UK high street bank that is regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA). The account must have a BACS clearing facility and be in the same company name as your application.

If you have any doubts that your bank account will not meet Innovate UK's funding criteria, you can use the sort code checker. If you input the sort code and find a tick next to the ‘BACS Direct Credit payments can be sent to this sort code’, this will give you an indication that the bank account you hold is acceptable.

Finance checks

We will carry out checks to make sure you are an established company with access to the funds necessary to complete the project.

You must check your IFS portal regularly and respond to any requests we have sent for additional information to avoid any delays.

Failure to complete project setup may result in your grant offer being withdrawn.

Your Grant offer letter (GOL)

Once you have successfully completed project setup, we will issue your GOL.

The GOL will be made available on your IFS portal. You will need to sign and upload this before you start your project.

Your GOL will show the start date for your project, do not start your project before this date. Any costs incurred before your start date cannot be claimed as part of your grant.

If your application is unsuccessful

If you are unsuccessful with your application this time, you can view feedback from the assessors. This will be available to you on your IFS portal following notification.

Sometimes your application will have scored well, and you will receive positive comments from the assessors. You may be unsuccessful as your average score was not above the funding threshold or your project has not been selected under the portfolio approach if this is applied for this competition.

Contact us

If you need more information about how to apply or you want to submit your application in Welsh, email support@iuk.ukri.org or call 0300 321 4357.

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

Need help with this service? Contact us