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Manufacturing made smarter: Digital supply chain, industrial research


UK-registered businesses can apply for funding towards an industrial research project in digital technologies to transform supply chains in UK manufacturing.

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is to invest in two 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.

This competition comprises of two strands running at the same time. The strands are:

Please review the scope to ensure you are applying to the most appropriate strand for your project.

In this competition, all projects awarded funding must upload evidence for each expenditure with every claim made. These might include invoices, time sheets, receipts or spreadsheets for capital usage. This is part of Innovate UK’s obligations under the Managing Public Money government handbook in relation to assurance, financial management and control.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £1million and £3million.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to encourage the use of digital technologies to enable more efficient, productive, flexible, resilient and sustainable UK manufacturing supply chains. Projects should seek to integrate and optimise these supply chains.

Innovate UK will use a portfolio approach to achieve a balance between regional locations, industrial sectors, digital technologies, project types and company sizes.

Your project

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, focusing 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.

Online workshops

Innovate UK will hold online workshops while the competition is open to help potential applicants to:

  • Find resources to identify appropriate digital technologies, methods and frameworks
  • Develop strategies for data and benefits sharing
  • Identify appropriate mechanisms to establish trust between collaborating parties

There is one workshop that is available for all sectors, plus sector specific workshops to choose from. Participation in the workshops is optional.

Your proposal

In your proposal you must:

  • Describe how your project will contribute to the challenge objectives
  • Identify the range and size of benefits you expect the project to produce

Feasibility studies

Innovate UK are running this competition together with a linked competition for feasibility studies.

If you feel your project is not yet ready, or could be enhanced with up-front feasibility studies, you can choose to apply for the feasibility studies competition instead.

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

Your project must:

  • Have total eligible costs between £1million and £3million
  • 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

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.

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Partners must enter their own project costs into IFS.

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


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK or European Economic Area (EEA). Innovate UK would expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs.

Multiple applications

When a business leads on an application it can collaborate in a further two applications.

If a business is not leading any application, it can collaborate in up to three applications.

An RTO or academic institution can collaborate on any number of applications.

Innovate UK have allocated funding across two strands to support innovation projects in this competition:

  1. Industrial research (this strand)
  2. Feasibility studies

Your project

In this competition, the total grant funding your project applies for, which Innovate UK refer 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.

Organisations acting commercially

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

Organisations not acting commercially

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.

State aid

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Aid for research and development projects, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Innovate UK are 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

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.