UK university training centre aims to use AI to boost the UK metals industry

AI to boost the UK metals industry

A new training centre at the University of Leicester aims to use the skills in data and AI to boost the UK metals industry.

The new £18 million ($23m) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Digital Transformation of Metals Industry (DigitalMetal) has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), who announced £7m ($8.9m) in funding with partner universities (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick) and industry.

The centre is part of the UK’s biggest-ever investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral skills, totalling more than £1 billion ($1.28bn), announced by Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan.

A total of 65 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) will support leading research in areas of national importance including the critical technologies AI, quantum technologies, semiconductors, telecoms and engineering biology.

The DigitalMetal CDT has been designed to meet a national, strategic need for training a new generation of technical leaders able to lead digital transformation of metals industry and its supply chain with the objective of increasing agility, productivity and international competitiveness of the metals industry in the UK.

It will provide postgraduate training that combines metals and alloy engineering with digital technology and AI skills, to help the UK metals and manufacturing industries to reap the benefits of ‘big data’.

The vision, the University said, is to train future industry leaders who can rapidly take advantage of the latest discoveries in manufacturing processes through digital twinning to enable defect-free, ‘right first-time’ manufacturing at reduced costs.

The metals industry is a vital component of the UK’s manufacturing economy and makes a significant contribution to key strategic sectors such as construction, aerospace and space, automotive, energy, defence and medical, directly contributing £20bn to UK GDP, and underpins over £190bn manufacturing GDP.

Professor Hongbiao Dong FREng from the University of Leicester School of Engineering, and Director of the Centre, said:

Without a new cadre of leaders in digital technologies, equipped to transform discoveries and breakthroughs in metals and manufacturing technologies into products, the UK risks entering another cycle of world-leading innovation but losing the benefits arising from exploitation to more capable and better prepared global competitors.


For the UK metal industry to lead at a global level, we must raise its competitiveness and create robust and agile manufacturing processes and sustainable supply chains enabled by digital technology. DigitalMetal CDT is timely due to the readiness of smart digital technology and the availability of new scientific advances to help move the industry to Industry 4.0 and sustainability.  Future students trained by DigitalMetal CDT will lead this important industry sector to drive economic growth, job creation and global inward investment in the current challenging post Brexit and Covid-19 economic landscape.”

Professor Sarah Davies, Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Science and Engineering said:

I am delighted that the University of Leicester will be working with the EPSRC, our four partner universities and thirty-five industrial partners to develop and deliver high-quality, exciting research training to our future scientists and engineers. The University of Leicester has a strategic commitment to nurture the next generation of researchers and this Centre for Doctoral Training, led by Professor Hongbiao Dong FREng, will train metals and manufacturing researchers and engineers with the required combination of experimental, analytical, computational, business and professional skills needed for innovation.”

Professor Charlotte Deane, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, said:

The Centres for Doctoral Training announced today will help to prepare the next generation of researchers, specialists and industry experts across a wide range of sectors and industries.


Spanning locations across the UK and a wide range of disciplines, the new centres are a vivid illustration of the UK’s depth of expertise and potential, which will help us to tackle large-scale, complex challenges and benefit society and the economy.


The high calibre of both the new centres and applicants is a testament to the abundance of research excellence across the UK, and EPSRC’s role as part of UKRI is to invest in this excellence to advance knowledge and deliver a sustainable, resilient and prosperous nation.”

Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said:

As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy.


By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development.”

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