Manufacturing made smarter: digital supply chain, industrial research

Key Features

UK registered businesses can apply for funding towards an industrial research project in digital technologies to transform supply chains in UK manufacturing. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     £1 million - £3 million project costs

Opens: 6th Jul 2020

Closes: 7th Oct 2020

! This scheme is now closed


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is to invest in 2 competitions to drive digital innovation in UK manufacturing supply chains. The funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

Your project must help UK manufacturing supply chains to develop digital technologies to become more efficient, productive, flexible, resilient. These must encourage the use of digital approaches to better integrate and optimise the performance of supply chains.


Your project must develop a supply chain integration or optimisation idea and carry out a project to test the concepts. It must focus on a digital application.

Your project must investigate one or more problems that your specific supply chain is experiencing and develop ideas for digital technology solutions to address these problems. For example:

  • real-time tracking of products throughout the supply chain using digital technologies such as low-cost sensors, NFC (near field communication), real-time data capture and data analytics
  • improved track and trace capabilities to help companies optimise inventory management and/or establish clear and accurate demand signals to help them eliminate waste

Your project must carry out activity that develops and tests innovative digital solutions in UK manufacturing supply chains, focussing either on supply chain design or supply chain execution, comprising any one of the following:

  • improve and optimise existing supply chain networks
  • re-design or re-engineer existing supply chain networks
  • design new supply chain networks for either new products or processes

Your project must be across a supply chain, not just focused within one organisation or within one supplier.

Planned outputs must be:

  • increased understanding of the problems faced by the specific supply chain
  • tested proposal for digital solutions to address these problems
  • case study outlining the proposed digital solution, the results of the project, and qualitative and quantitative evidence of benefits identified

In addition, where possible provide open access to the set-up of the project as a demonstrator of the digital solution.

Your project application must describe how it will help the ISCF Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge programme achieve the following objectives:

  1. Increase UK manufacturing sector investment in industrial digitalisation research and development (R&D) and adoption of new industrial digital technologies (IDTs).
  2. Increase the number of digital technology companies providing solutions for manufacturing industries
  3. Increase the number of collaborations between SMEs and larger, more established companies up the value chain.
  4. Increase the sustainability of UK Manufacturing considering reduction in waste, reuse of resources and reduction of carbon emissions.

Specific Themes

Project topics can include, but not be limited to, the following:

Supply chain design:

  • effective risk management through transparency, collaboration, and trust
  • inventory optimisation
  • sustainable supply chains for increased flexibility
  • warehouse optimisation through the consideration of logistics and infrastructure usage
  • confidence in shared data considering provenance, traceability, verification, and quality management
  • new business models that affect the configuration of the supply chain, such as distributed manufacturing and manufacturing as a service

Supply chain execution:

  • demand management, sensing and shaping
  • proactive use of use of demand data for supply chain performance optimisation
  • delivery performance and customer engagement
  • improved decision-making through analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)
  • production planning or scenario modelling
  • track-and-trace technologies and best practice


This competition is not funding projects that:

  • focus on internal supply chains without including an external customer or supplier
  • last longer than 24 months
  • are not collaborative
  • do not include an SME in the consortium


To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size
  • collaborate with other UK registered businesses, academic institutions, charities, public sector organisations or research and technology organisations (RTO)
  • involve at least one SME
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

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

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, academic institution, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • be invited by the lead organisation

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding by entering their costs during the application.

Funding Costs

Your project must:

  • have total eligible costs between £1 million and £3 million
  • apply for total grant funding of no more than 50% of your total eligible costs
  • start by 1 April 2021
  • last up to 24 months

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

In this competition the total grant funding your project applies for, which is referred to as ‘funding sought’ in the application, must be no more than 50% of the total eligible project costs. Funding claims from RTO’s and academic partners count towards this 50% limit. Cumulative funding to all parties cannot exceed this limit.

If your organisation’s work on the project is mostly commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

Of that 50%, you can get funding for eligible project costs of up to:

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

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs.

Of that 30%, RTOs can claim up to 100% of their costs, and academic institutions can claim up to 80% of their full economic cost (FEC).

If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

Funding claims from RTO’s and academic partners count towards this 50% limit. Cumulative funding to all parties cannot exceed this limit.