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Everything you need to know about digital supply chains

Posted 16 May 2024

What are digital supply chains?

Digital supply chains use digital technologies to optimise the flow of goods and information across the end-to-end supply chain, with cross-sector applications.

Promoting technologies that add layers of security to supply chains, and build trust in a hybrid digital and physical world, results in a range of benefits including:

  1. Efficiency gains
  2. Sustainable practices 
  3. Greater traceability
  4. Opportunities for new data-driven business models

How are digital supply chains impacting the UK economy?

In 2023 the UK manufacturing sector contributed 41% of all business R&D to the economy, and with the UK at 8th place in the global manufacturing rankings, it would be naive to overlook the importance of applying digital technologies to supply chains.  For example, artificial intelligence in supply chains can optimise operations, increase resilience to external factors, and promote sustainable consumption.

Reaching net zero with smarter manufacturing processes

Materials such as steel, concrete, and chemicals are carbon-intensive to produce. To mitigate these emissions, Digital Catapult is developing carbon accounting systems and infrastructure that combines AI with blockchain technology to improve the energy efficiency of materials production.  We have joined forces with The Alan Turing Institute and Energy Systems Catapult to launch the AI for Decarbonisation’s Virtual Centre of Excellence (ADViCE) programme, to develop innovative artificial intelligence technologies to support the transition to net zero. By linking traditional manufacturers with agile startups, we can create value for the UK and beyond in a sustainable way.

Enabling supply chains for the renewables sector

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 This will help address the gap created by the future closure of outdated supply chains (such as combustion engine manufacturers) and navigate the new world of future supply chains.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 enabling digital adoption in supply chains? 

Digital Catapult has been driving digital adoption across the UK for over a decade. As part of our work to accelerate the adoption of advanced digital technologies in supply chains, we are 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. Here are a few examples of how our experts have been applying digital technologies to existing cross-industry problems.

Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Hub

Digital Catapult is leading the Made Smarter Innovation Digital Supply Chain Hub, 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, National Physical Laboratory and TWI, and funded by the Made Smarter Innovation Challenge at UKRI, the Hub seeks to transform UK manufacturing by accelerating digital innovation and supporting UK supply chains to be globally competitive, 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 renewables, textile, and logistics sectors. Working with a host of industry partners, the programme 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. So far, the Hub has run a total of 26 projects with industry, technology and academic partnerships with 105 industry participants across all manufacturing sectors.

Smart Nano Northern Ireland 

Digital Catapult is part of the Smart Nano NI programme, 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 to drive self-sustaining local industry and economic growth through research and innovation. 

With its proud manufacturing heritage and local 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 a range of industry partners around the UK to develop new, open and transparent supply chains that drive the positive impact of digitalisation through optimised flows of goods, finance and information, and to enable resilient and sustainable opportunities for new data driven business models.

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.

Stay up to date with Digital Catapult’s work to develop and strengthen digital supply chains here.