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The Academic Purpose of the Centre for Manufacture (CfM)

December 7th, 2004

Article published in the Journal of Industrial & Systems Engineering

S F Bush

The academic purpose of the Centre is the development of a science of manufacture for which the experimental foundations are derived from direct engagement in process and product research, and from factory and business operations. The theoretical framework for this endeavour is the four-level system of molecular processes, mechanical equipment, factory control systems, and company management.

This academic purpose is motivated by the long-term problems in British manufacture expressed in familiar fashion by the following contemporary quotations:

“The good news is that we have a remarkable science base in the UK, but we are not very good at linking it up with industry to reap the (economic) rewards”[1].

“In general, a productivity gap exists between UK and US manufacturing. Boosting productivity in the UK is vital to improving competitiveness and overall living standards”[2].

These are two facets of an enduring problem, bearing directly on the country’s future[3] which, by its complexity and subtlety both technical and human, have resisted so far all attempts to solve it generally. It is surely worthy of research in a university whose research range stretches from nanoscience to marketing and which is located in the largest concentration of manufacturing enterprises in Britain.

Of course the Centre for Manufacture is not alone in its efforts to address aspects of this linked problem, which in any case, like most serious diseases, is multifaceted and varied in its incidence.   But in our view CfM has settled on the most comprehensive approach yet tried, aimed mainly at the most intractable part of our manufacturing industries, namely the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We are focused on the process industries (which represent about 60% of all manufacturing). That is to say on those industries – specifically polymers, food, chemicals, metals, fibres and plastics – where materials are changed both in chemical composition and physical form.   We also have a major focus on healthcare as an expanding market for our process industries, and on electronic systems as an enabling technology, particularly for embedded control as part of process and product designs[4].

Manufacturing processes for the above industries have a substantially common research base – particularly in the fields of mixing, rheology, reaction kinetics, physio-chemical interfaces, energy transfer and systems technology. Polymer composite materials and processes exemplify all these elements, – are continually expanding in scope and application, – and represent an area where the Centre has an international research position[5] [6] and a track record of successful process innovation* which is being added to each year**.

Most ideas for new products and processes come, in fact, from within manufacturing industry and its immediate customer base. However, whether originating from within or without – a university or independent inventor for instance – there will be a long knowledge-and-cash intensive path to traverse before a commercial product or functioning process is obtained. For this reason, an integral part of CfM’s programme has been to construct a unique techno-economic (TE) mathematical model, using the cell-balance principle[3], which connects the research design, production and sales functions of a business in quantitative terms.

The TE model in effect provides the intellectual scaffolding for our four-level system approach to the basic manufacturing problem alluded to by the quotations above[1] [2]. Field data for this model are progressively being obtained both from research-based new processes applied in FTSE-sized companies at home and abroad and from the 70+ regionally-based SME projects which the Centre has run under its Innovation, Strategy and Technology Assessment (ISTA) programmes in the last 5 years[7]. These programmes are run in part with NEPPO Ltd which with CfM disposes of the resources needed to traverse the design and innovation pathway in the plastics and allied sectors, thus providing an established organisational model for other industrial sectors. NEPPCO Ltd has now spun off its own subsidiary SURGIPLAS to develop its own and CfM’s innovative ideas in the healthcare field.

There are currently three new innovation areas – one process, two product – which are increasingly engaging the Centre’s attention. New processes for the conversion of waste materials into saleable materials are a pressing environmental need. These new processes are likely to involve all of the common research base defined above, as well as the TE model. Our embryo ‘Rubicon’ process for combining waste tyre rubber with cement to give a concrete with some elastic properties is a case in point, based as it is on our CIRRAC rubber – calcium carbonate – polymer alloys.

In the product field, the pending “End of Life (EOL)” legislation has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in (consumer) product design, away from maximising short-term value with its throw-away corollary, towards maximising maintainability and component replaceability. To a considerable degree, new research under this heading will feed into the second area of product innovation opportunity, namely the Centre’s “product pipeline” concept[4] [8], where, as in the pharmaceutical industry, the market is anticipated and research and design are done in advance. There is potentially a wide gain from this approach: where ideas emanating from university research groups or specifically from the ‘pipeline’ objective meet the TE criteria, there will be a very high chance of public sector funding for the follow-on-research.

Overall then, CfM’s academic vision is to establish a new corpus of knowledge in the fields described above, using the standard Baconian methodology, and having a particular relevance to manufacturing enterprise[8]. It will do this mainly in partnership with SMEs – and if opportunity presents – with other groups in the University***. It will continue to seek research contracts and grants-in-aid at levels around the four-year average (£190,000 per annum per academic excluding the £400,000 STRIX grant in 2001/02[9].

To accelerate progress towards what is an ambitious goal, the Centre will seek to increase its academic establishment to at least the number (4) foreseen when it was set up[4]. In the light of the accelerating flow of results, the Centre will further accelerate their publication. It will continue also to disseminate the basic concepts, and where appropriate the results, through the medium of its final year undergraduate courses[4] [8] – principally Engineering Foresight, Product Design with Polymers & Composites, Process Manufacture – and its Technology for Business post-graduate short courses.


* Pre-2004: SMARTFORM, SAFIRE, GRANEX, MAP, CIRRAC, ROTOFOAM processes and materials.

** In 2004: RUBICON (a waste tyre rubber compound), ROLLET (for food distribution), BIOKAB (for healthcare)

*** At present: Textiles, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and the Medical School.


[1] Professional Engineering 17 (14) 18 August 2004 p.35.

[2] “Manufacturing at the Crossroads” – Engineering Employers Federation report, December 2001.

[3] S F Bush “On the Importance of Manufacture to the Economy”, Trans Manchester Stat Soc 169 (1999) 1-46.

[4] Centre for Manufacture “Future Development”, CfM report, April 2004 (for Faculty Working Party.)

[5] E.g. (1) Bush, S F: References in “Scale, Order and Complexity” in Polymer Processing. Proc Inst Mech Eng 214E, pp217-232. Invited Paper for Millennium Edition 2000.

[6] E.g. (2) Methven, J M et al “Manufacture of Fibre-Reinforced Composites by Microwave Assisted Pultrusion (MAP”, Polymer Composites 21 (4) (2000) 586-594.

[7] G D Davidson “The competitiveness of UK manufacturing and the role of innovation” M.Phil thesis, CfM, UMIST 2004.

[8] “Where we are and where we are going”, CfM report (Jan 2003) (for official opening of STRIX Centre).

[9] Centre for Manufacture “Statistical Record” Rev IV, 22 June 2004.