NPL relaunches with digital/EV focus

NPL, the UK’s National Measurement Institute, will re-launch this month with a new digital focus to give UK manufacturing a welcome shot in the arm, and among its new initiatives is research into battery development for electric vehicles.

UK manufacturing is, contrary to opinion, a key contributor to the UK economy, accounting for 45% of exports and employing 2.7 million people.

The NPL aims to support it further by applying the latest advances in measurement science, engineering and technology to help the industry gain a competitive edge on the global stage. This new approach will see NPL become a driver of significant change by helping businesses big and small to become more competitive, sustainable, and efficient through the application of better measurement, from raw materials to end product quality assurance.

The increasing availability and capability of digital technologies is rapidly changing the landscape of manufacturing. Industrial digitalisation will disrupt and change traditional manufacturing, with the potential to make UK industrial production 30% faster and 25% more efficient. NPL will help industry to exploit these new technologies by providing trusted traceability of measurements and data back to international standards, and deliver confidence in their performance.

NPL is now unveiling a number of new programmes and facilities to grow the economic impact of UK manufacturing and drive high productivity growth:

It will launch a Digitally Enabled Supply Chain (DESC) programme that will establish the UK’s supply chains in a world-leading position, enabling businesses to become highly flexible, efficient, traceable and responsive to customer needs. The programme will provide industry, particularly SMEs, with the skills and infrastructure to realise the benefits of industrial digitalisation, and trust and confidence in data as it flows throughout a factory, through the value chain and in to the end product.

It will open a new facility to accelerate uptake of composites, to help UK industry secure a share of a global market set to reach $105.8bn by 2020. NPL is working with UK company, Instron on a world-leading mechanical testing capability to provide assurance in the suitability and performance of new composite materials, and fast-track their real-world application.

It will work to establish a National Sensor Systems Innovation Centre, bringing together industry and academia to accelerate the development and commercialisation of sensor technology, paving the way to smart factories and increased automation.

It will develop new standards for additive manufacturing to unlock the benefits of reduction of wastage, increased flexibility and efficiency for industry. Uptake of the process has been hampered by concerns over reliability and repeatability, so NPL is working to develop testing standards to improve confidence in part performance, especially for safety critical applications.

NPL will also consult with industry on the future battery development. It is widely agreed Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries cannot meet future battery needs, particularly for electric vehicles, due to limited range. NPL is conducting research into next generation battery technologies, to increase their lifetime, and develop new techniques for testing the claims and viability of new batteries.

Professor Matthew Maynard, head of advanced manufacturing at NPL said, ‘Far from a declining industry, manufacturing in the UK accounts for 45% of UK exports and employs 2.7 million people. New technologies and processes offer enormous possibilities for growth, if industry can take advantage of them, but barriers remain. With a lack of standardisation, verification and confidence, new technologies risk never getting off the ground. By expanding our support of industry, NPL will provide assurance to manufacturers that the technology they embed in their systems works; develop new, international comparable standards to ensure better quality control; and ensure the confidence of manufacturing data, to make Industry 4.0 a reality rather than an aspiration.’

Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of NPL, added, ‘Many people are unaware of the scope, scale or quality of work that NPL delivers, or the part that it has played in some of the biggest discoveries in modern history. The effects of the science, technology and engineering that NPL delivers are felt by everyone, everywhere. After a century as the silent partner to industry, we are proud to re-launch NPL, to ensure it can further accelerate UK industry and deliver extraordinary impact on our economy and quality of life for many years to come.’