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Everything you need to know about digital supply chains…

Posted 3 May 2023

Digital Catapult has been driving digital adoption across the UK for almost a decade. In the past ten years our technology experts have supported a range of organisations both small and large, private and public to harness the power of emerging digital technologies. 

Working on hundreds of digital adoption projects across the UK we have learnt that while providing expertise and guidance on how to implement specific technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and distributed ledger technology, we’re increasingly seeing the most impact happen when multiple technologies are applied in combination at a market level. More frequently, our projects and programmes are demonstrating tangible outcomes when tech such as 5G and immersive technologies, or AI and blockchain, are used together to help solve critical business issues. As a result, Digital Catapult is focusing on three areas where a combination of technologies can have tangible benefits in the real world: Digital Infrastructure, Supply Chains, and Virtual Environments. 

What are digital supply chains?

Digital supply chains involve using digital technologies to optimise the flow of goods and information across the end to end supply chain, and is relevant for multiple industries. Building these ‘smarter’ supply chains makes them more efficient and sustainable, ensures greater traceability, and creates opportunities for new data-driven economies and business models. By promoting technologies that support security and trust in a hybrid digital and physical world, we can achieve open and transparent supply chains.

How will our work to digitalise supply chains impact the UK economy? 

Digitalising supply chains enables the use of artificial intelligence to optimise operations, increase resilience to external factors, and promote sustainable consumption. To address the significant greenhouse gas emissions caused during the production of energy-intensive materials like steel, concrete, and chemicals, Digital Catapult is developing carbon accounting systems and infrastructure that combines AI with blockchain technology to improve the energy efficiency of materials production. By linking traditional manufacturers with agile startups, we can reduce waste and create value for the UK and beyond. 

In addition, new sources of power like hydrogen, batteries, and small modular reactors (SMRs) will be crucial to future industry. Digital Catapult is working to ensure that supply chains supporting these industries are digitally enabled, creating opportunities for both new and existing companies to thrive. This will help address the gap created by the future closure of outdated supply chains (such as combustion engine manufacturers) and navigate the new world of future supply chains.

How is Digital Catapult furthering digital adoption in supply chains? 

Digital Catapult is committed to advancing digital adoption in supply chains by developing open and transparent supply chains, promoting the positive impact of digitalisation in industrial supply chains, and fostering sustainable and resilient opportunities for new data-driven economies.

These three ‘application’ areas act as a framework for Digital Catapult to build capability in, and direct our tools and talent towards. Focusing on driving technology adoption across these three application areas will be critical for ensuring Digital Catapult’s activities help drive growth across the UK economy into the future.

Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Hub 

Digital Catapult is leading the Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Hub (DSCH), a four-year programme to create a digital innovation ecosystem that empowers individuals and organisations to work together to make supply chains smarter. Developed by Digital Catapult in partnership with High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, NPL and TWI, and funded by the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge at UKRI, the ‘DSCH’ seeks to transform UK manufacturing by accelerating digital innovation and making supply chains more efficient, resilient, and sustainable.

The Digital Supply Chain Hub has received a £25 million investment to accelerate the commercial integration of advanced digital technologies across manufacturing supply chains in the aerospace and defence, pharmaceutical, and logistics sectors. Over the next four years, it will showcase the tangible impact of emerging digital technologies on mitigating the effects of component shortages experienced during the pandemic, improving efficiency, reducing waste, and supporting some of the UK’s most important industrial sectors by fostering a culture of innovation. The partners, led by Digital Catapult, are working with an array of UK stakeholders across industry, academia, and the technology community to develop a globally competitive, resilient, and sustainable digitally enabled ecosystem. 

The flagship projects of the hub will enhance existing expertise, create regional centres of excellence, and complement ongoing efforts to accelerate the commercial integration of industrial digital technologies.  The Digital Supply Chain hub is creating a platform for continuous collaboration, convening a community to facilitate the flow of essential knowledge, tools and connectivity

The Smart Nano-Manufacturing Corridor 

Digital Catapult is also involved in the Smart Nano NI programme, funded by the Strength in Places Fund (SIPF) and led by Seagate Technologies, a five-year project to develop and deliver a smart manufacturing innovation hub in Northern Ireland, and creating a corridor of expertise between Belfast and Derry – Londonderry. This project is developing transformative advanced prototyping and smart manufacturing methods that enable new nano-scale sensors. The project consortium aims to deliver 100 new prototypes, six new products for Northern Ireland-based companies, and 30% productivity gains for industrial partners. 

With its proud manufacturing heritage and local existing expertise in nano-manufacturing, this programme is pivotal in helping Northern Ireland stand out as a frontrunner to maximise the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0. The project consortium aims to deliver 100 new prototypes, six new products for Northern Ireland-based companies, and 30% productivity gains for industrial partners. 

Through our supply chain programmes Digital Catapult is working with industry partners to develop new open and transparent supply chains, to drive the positive impact of the digitalisation of industrial supply chains through optimised flows of goods, finance and information, and to enable resilient and sustainable opportunities for new data driven economies. 

What’s next for Digital Catapult? 

From device evolution and mass market adoption of augmented reality, to open standards in telecommunications, and human-centric technology and design, Digital Catapult’s expert technologists allow us to stay ahead of the curve in understanding which technologies and opportunities are most likely to be adopted commercially in the near term. 

As a new financial year approaches and with the recent news of our increased funding from Innovate UK, Digital Catapult looks forward to supporting organisations of all sizes in adopting and deploying technology across these three application areas. Discover the other application areas below. You can stay up to date with Digital Catapult work to develop and strengthen digital supply chains here.