Big boost for NI manufacturing with new £50m data hub

19 May 2022

Image: © Shawn/

Led by Ulster University, the Smart Manufacturing Data Hub will help NI businesses to keep up with the latest tech in the industry.

Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set to get a big boost from a new £50m data innovation hub based in Ulster University.

The Smart Manufacturing Data Hub announced yesterday (18 May) will support small and medium-sized UK manufacturers to accelerate their development of digital technologies in manufacturing processes with inputs and expert recommendations from data scientists.

Businesses across a range of sectors, from food and drink to aerospace technology, will benefit from the hub. It will support developing, testing and adopting the latest data-driven technologies such as internet of things and AI to increase productivity and scale business.

Nearly 10,000 manufacturers are expected to benefit from the hub and 13,000 jobs will be supported as a result of the hub’s creation.

UK industry minister Lee Rowley said that the hub will support companies “to implement cutting-edge production and process techniques themselves, helping bring the next generation of products to our shelves in a more efficient and sustainable way”.

The investment comes with a £20m fund from the UK government through UK Research and Innovation and the remaining £30m from business co-investment.

It is part of a broader £300m collaboration between the UK government and industry, called the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge, which aims to promote the use of new industrial digital technologies such as AI and virtual reality.

“Made Smarter Innovation is creating a connected collaborative ecosystem for digital manufacturing that can transform UK manufacturing making it more productive, competitive and sustainable,” said Chris Courtney, director of the challenge.

Initially accessible to only SMEs in Northern Ireland, the smart manufacturing data hub will eventually be made live for the rest of the UK through partners such as the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing, Industry Wales and Scottish Engineering.

“The necessity of data is an inescapable reality for any competitive business in today’s digital economy,” said Simon Ratcliffe, principal at end-to-end managed services firm Ensono.

“Manufacturing is particularly reliant on data, with modern production processes increasingly reliant on a vast web of connected devices and sensors – all of which generate a copious amount of data.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic