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The Pre-Hub pipeline in the Speed to Scale Region Programme

University of Birmingham

Pre-Hub – Inviting our region to shape the future of the world

250 years ago, the ingenious spirit of our region triggered the industrial revolution and transformed the way we work and live. The Midlands have become the heart of UK manufacturing and indeed the workbench for the world. The Speed to Scale Region programme harnesses this spirit creating an unprecedentedly agile manufacturing network capable of quickly targeting the pressing challenges facing our country in healthcare, zero carbon energy, broadband communications and transport. The Pre-Hub will feed this agile manufacturing network with a pipeline for the future, once again placing the Midlands in a position to shape the world.   

The Pre-Hub will work with businesses and the public to realise the manufacturing opportunities offered by new developments in re-manufacturing in the circular economy, intelligent robotics, food innovation and quantum technologies. Within these areas, we will address a range of questions aiming at a better, healthy and more sustainable life for all.

Intelligent recycling processes

We all know that recycling is important, but can we do better than just re-using some easy to recycle materials? The Pre-Hub will bring enhanced intelligence into recycling to re-work existing equipment for a longer life and new purpose. This includes difficult recycling challenges in plastics and the recycling of magnetic materials for electric generators in wind turbines. In addition we will answer questions in how we can provide a second life to products, where just a tiny bit failed. Reverse manufacturing to harvest as much of the valuable past engineering as possible will require new ideas and intelligent robots, such as robots to able to reverse manufacture electric car batteries, a hazardous job not suitable for humans.

The artificial intelligence and visual interfaces needed to allow the robot to handle materials of different textures and shape to do this job opens vast opportunities, only limited by imagination. Have you for instance thought about an ultimate hygienic production of lunch sandwiches?

Meeting the sustainability goals

Innovation in food manufacturing is the backbone of more sustainable and healthy nurturing of the population. New foods should be developed to deliver both consumer satisfaction and health, such as low-fat or low salt products that have the same taste and texture as higher fat or salt products. The West Midlands has a large number of major company research centres with which startups can be linked. Working with these to innovate in new areas, such as meat substitutes ('cellular farming') not only will allow us to feed a growing world population, but also reduce the carbon footprint.

The 2050 zero carbon goals will be partly achieved with carbon sequestration, which will require monitoring for leaks and safety. Developing cost-effective manufacturing for quantum sensors for gravity will provide a solution to seeing carbon under the ground. Sensing beneath our feet has wider implications on increasing the productivity of the construction sector by detecting mineshafts and other underground risks before they delay infrastructure projects. Quantum magnetometers can see into the brain and we are working to develop precision mass manufacturing to equip all hospitals with scanners enabling new brain diagnostics, but also opening possibilities for brain machine interfaces with applications ranging from steering hazardous equipment to computer games.

West Midlands research is world leading in all the above areas, e.g. hosting National Robotics and Quantum Technology Hubs, in combination with an agglomeration of leading manufacturing and food companies as well as having a vibrant spin-off culture second only to London.   

We expect many innovations to arise from the above areas and valuable intellectual property associated with those innovations to be generated.  The intellectual property will help increase and secure the value of those innovations to the region.  The intellectual property could become a promising springboard for collaborations with international partners, securing investment, and spin-out or start-up companies to be created.

The Pre-Hub will attract the best international talent into the region, link students to regional companies and educate innovators and businesses in the future possibilities just around the corner. Working together we have the potential to generate over 20,000 jobs and £1bn/year in business for the region. 

We invite businesses and inventors to discuss their ideas and challenges and work with us to explore how the future of manufacturing may look. We will be ready to support you in developing prototypes and making unthinkable manufacturing challenges possible.

By Professor Kai Bongs, University of Birmingham with contributions from Profs Peter Fryer, Rustam Stolkin, Emma Kendrick and Allan Watson. In collaboration with Dr Jagvir Purewal, Senior Associate, Technology & Engineering, Forresters.

For further information about the Pre-Hub and the Speed to Scale Region programme please contact: ssr-enquiries@contacts.bham.ac.uk

This blog is one of a series focusing on the core elements of the bid put into central government for a Speed to Scale Region for the West Midlands focusing on the potential benefits and outcomes for jobs and economic growth. For an overview of the programme, please see the first blog or listen to the podcast. Further information is also available here.