A new partnership between businesses, research and technology organisations and universities will help give UK manufacturing an edge as global markets become ever more competitive. The Materials Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), an organisation aimed at making cutting-edge science available on the factory floor, was launched at the London Science Museum by Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Sainsbury, on 19 January.
The £200 billion materials sector contributes 15 per cent to the nation's GDP, directly employs 1.5 million people and supports another 4 million jobs. Lord Sainsbury said: 'The Materials KTN will bring together industry and research expertise, and as a result make the best use of resources and spread best practice. It will provide a one stop shop for unsurpassed materials advice to UK manufacturing and service providers.
'By participating in the network, companies will be able to learn about, and make use of, the very latest developments in materials technology from around the world. Businesses will have access to the very best of our scientific and manufacturing facilities to research and apply innovations in the use of materials.'
The Department of Trade and Industry will provide more than £11 million for the Materials KTN over the next three years.
The Materials KTN will give users access to up-to-date information on materials' properties, where to get advice, research and development and other services and provide a forum for sharing information. The network will have sections dedicated to each class of material, for example, metals, composites, plastics, ceramics, minerals and smart materials.
The Materials KTN is an important element in the Government's aim to consolidate the UK materials industry as one of today's key drivers for a successful manufacturing sector.
Lord Sainsbury said: 'Collaboration is the key to the UK retaining its position at the cutting edge of science and innovation. We must focus on the transfer of knowledge and the application of research, and the creation of a Materials KTN is a major step towards reaching that goal.
'With manufacturing sector competition growing very rapidly, particularly from developing countries, this sharing of information, research and innovation will help give UK companies a competitive edge.'
Notes to editors
The Materials Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) builds on the former Advanced Materials Forum. It incorporates Faraday Advance, Plastics, Packaging, PowderMatrix and Technitex, as well as the National Composites Network. It has new nodes covering Smart Materials, Surfaces and Structures and will soon include the National Metals Technology Centre.
Bringing these existing networks together under one umbrella will ensure they work together, optimise resources, spread best practice and provide a one stop shop for materials advice and expertise to UK manufacturing.
The Government recognises it has a key role in strengthening the science base and has committed significant extra resources to research, increasing the science budget from £1.3 billion in 1997/98 to £3.4 billion by 2007/08.
The Government has allocated £370 million over three years to the Technology Programme, which is overseen by an industry-led Technology Strategy Board, to deliver Collaborative R&D projects and KTNs. There are currently 17 KTNs established within DTI and other Government support of £40m over the next three years. For further details visit www.dti.gov.uk/technologyprogramme.
A number of innovative UK companies have received help through the National Composites Network, which is now part of the Materials KTN, to gain a competitive edge. For example, Team Jota, a leading British sportscar championship team, was looking for a durable, low mass, low volume way to prevent heat from the car exhaust's system from damaging its floor. The NCN was able to link Team Jot with materials joining specialist TWI Ltd, which is investigating flame spraying an aluminium-based powder directly on to the structural floor to produce a heat-reflecting surface.
In another example, NCN tech support helped London-based Solarcentury optimise the design of a support frame for its new range of solar power roof tiles. Solarcentury wanted to explore using a composite, rather than steel, support frame to lower costs and allow more features. This partnership not only showed that a composite frame would provide a cost-effective alternative to steel, but also reduced time and costs at the design/prototype stage.