3.3.2 Future-proofing state-of-the-art research infrastructure

As the UKRI Infrastructure Roadmap recognises, in engineering and physical sciences research a world-class infrastructure comprises not just large high-specification equipment and access to central facilities, but also the distributed investment in laboratory-based equipment and the technical support needed to ensure its productivity. Use of computational approaches such as modelling and simulation, meanwhile, is a ubiquitous feature of research; encompassing computing facilities, data analysis capabilities, modelling/simulation software and expert support, this pervasive component of 21st century research infrastructure is critical to sharpening the UK's industrial competitiveness. All our investments acknowledge the relationship between laboratory-based, distributed facilities and large-scale campus-based facilities. We also seek to ensure maximum availability and sharing of equipment across organisations, to realise the benefits from our infrastructure investments.

Long-term ambitions

We will provide researchers with the world-class infrastructure they need, at all sizes and scales, to deliver world-leading discovery and translational research. Our long-term aspiration is to ensure that:

  • we have a stronger understanding of, and vision for, the impact of major infrastructure investments on the research landscape, such as through longer-term planning and improved appreciation of sustainability issues. Success will be reflected in the widespread use of monitoring and assessment frameworks for infrastructure investments
  • productivity of research infrastructure has been maximised by working with our university partners and businesses, including relevant Catapults, to optimise sharing and usage, ensuring access for the right teams with the right skills to tackle specific challenges. Success will be reflected in patterns of use and increased links to scientific impact
  • recognition of the essential roles of research technical professionals and research software engineers across all scales of infrastructure becomes business-as-usual in the laboratories we invest in
  • there is a sustained world-leading computational research community which has access to an integrated HPC ecosystem and the required software infrastructure. Success will be reflected in our community's use of infrastructure and the quality of research outputs
  • our e-infrastructure capability has been enhanced in accordance with the e-Infrastructure Roadmap, ensuring there is enough computing power and capability to support our community's needs.

Near-term actions

In 2019-20 we will:

  • with NERC, deliver the next national HPC service, ARCHER2, with a managed transition that minimises the effect on users. The UKRI Investment Committee has approved a £40 million capital budget plus an annual operational resource budget of £8 million for four years
  • work across UKRI to deliver the long-term opportunities identified within the UKRI Infrastructure Roadmap. Work with STFC on the e-Infrastructure Roadmap to identify the most effective e-Infrastructure solutions and support for engineering and physical sciences research
  • ensure effective delivery of strategic equipment and national research facilities as part of our £50 million/year World Class Labs portfolio, in response to emerging research needs
  • scope capital support of up to around £40 million (subject to budget) for our CDTs, for funding in 2020-21
  • scope, for funding in 2020-21, a further £4 million for institution-based capital awards to support early-career researchers building on an evaluation of the £8 million pilot launched in 2018-19
  • work with UKRI partners to develop a coherent strategy for use of the research facilities at the Research Complex at Harwell, and identify opportunities arising from co-location of the Rosalind Franklin Institute with STFC facilities at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
  • deliver a call for multidisciplinary collaborative computational projects, for funding in 2020-21 of up to £5 million. Our aim is to make this a joint call with other UKRI partners
  • refresh the Tier 2 HPC Centres with investment of up to £15 million.

Case study

Revolutionising UK car manufacture

The Advanced Metal Casting Centre (AMCC), an academic/industry facility at Brunel University, is driving development of innovative technologies to make automotive components lighter and completely recyclable. A £3.9 million EPSRC investment in metal casting equipment was key to its establishment, with co-investments from project partners JLR, IUK and global aluminium producer Constellium. Equipped with state-of-the-art scale-up facilities, the centre turns lab-proven concepts and processing technologies into commercial reality. As well as helping Constellium cut R&D times by at least 50%, AMCC's revolutionary casting technologies have enabled the company to introduce a new generation of high-strength alloys that achieve weight savings of 15-30%; several car manufacturers, including BMW, are using the alloys. In addition to supporting collaborative research, AMCC helps develop skills across the automotive industry, academia and the supply chain, and expanded from under 50 staff in 2015 to nearly 100 in 2017.