Brexit and the Future of AM Research in the UK

On Thursday the 23rd of June the UK woke up divided following a national referendum asking whether or not the country should remain or leave the European Union. Since then individuals and whole industries have been asking, “What does this mean for us?”. Nobody really knows, in fact it would seem that this uncertainty is the only thing that is certain for now! We’ve seen that financial markets don’t like it, and already there has been much discussion on Brexit’s impact on UK research, but what does this mean specifically for the future of AM research in the UK?

As an engineer there’s nothing I hate more than arguments with no factual basis. So what evidence do we have to inform our opinion of what the future holds for AM Research in the UK? Innovate UK formally known as TSB is the government’s technology strategy board and with our consultants support they have published two reports on the state of AM research and innovation in the UK. One in 2012 and another in 2015. What does the data tell us about the possible scenarios for the future?

Brexit could see at least 24% of the UK’s AM research funding disappear.















This graph taken from the 2015 report, shows the amount of funding secured from various sources for AM research projects in the UK between 2013 & 2022. Hence the FP7 label. It’s a snap shot from 2015, so it also shows the funding secured for the future years after 2015 at that point in time.

Let’s assume that the breakdown of funding is a similar story today. It’s the best data I’ve got to go on. FP7 has now been superseded by Horizon 2020 and we’ll assume based on our historical data that Horizon 2020 accounts for £19.5 million or 24% of the total funding available for AM research in the UK today. Existing commitments may be fulfilled (but there is no guarantee) but this 24% now hangs in the balance.

Back to the topic of uncertainty, I’ve been quite generous by assuming that only Horizon 2020 money will be influenced by Brexit and that all Industry, University and UK funding body money won’t. Probably too generous as university funding may be redistributed to cover various short falls and leading academics are already highlighting that if the UK were to pull out of Horizon 2020 and future framework projects, that they don’t trust the UK government not to re-distribute all the money to UK research concerns. Finally these days there are few large companies who are not global concerns.

Research departments continually need to find new sources of funding as their funding levels rapidly dry up 1-2 years into the future

Funding for AM Reseach in the UK

There’s that old cliché of “the financial markets hate uncertainty”, well so do research departments and research funding councils alike. We can see from the graph above that unfortunately it is a typical part of life for most research departments. Again this graph is a snapshot from 2015 and you can see that secured funding for future years rapidly dries up by 2017. The idea being that as you win new funding you can keep your head above the water.

If we assume that on June 23rd 2016 the graph looked similar to the one above (albeit a year later) you’re funding levels are already down by 38%. This is without the current climate of uncertainty queering any deals you had lined up.

The Wohler’s reports have continuously shown that Europe is a big player in the AM market. Making up 28.2% of the installed machine base at the end of 2015. The UK presenting a key part of that market too. But ultimately still only a small part of it with 4.3% of the global installed base at the end of 2015. With the UK only home to one major AM systems manufacturer, Renishaw and only LPW producing materials sold on a global basis we are living up to our reputation as nation of shop keepers by having over 47 different resellers and service bureaus. With the decline of manufacturing industry in the UK we have become a predominately services based nation who I would argue are not primarily in the business of funding research. Only the time will tell the true fallout of Brexit, but certainly worrying times for many universities not just their AM departments.