ASTUTE 2020+ Contributes £541 million to the Welsh Economy through Industry-Academia Collaboration in the Manufacturing Sector

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Welsh Government and participating industrial partners and Higher Education Institutions, ASTUTE 2020+ has provided support to over 540 Welsh enterprises, created and safeguarded over 1020 jobs, and contributed an economic impact of over £541 million across Wales since its inception in 2010.

Demand-led by industry, ASTUTE 2020+ collaborates with companies, providing unique access to world-class academic experts, highly qualified researchers, technology, and research facilities, encouraging the stimulation of ideas and facilitating the adoption of change through research, development, and innovation (RD&I). It stimulates growth in the Welsh Manufacturing Industry by applying advanced engineering technologies to manufacturing challenges in three key specialist areas: 1) Advanced Materials Technology, 2) Computational Engineering Modelling, 3) Manufacturing Systems Engineering. 

Led by Swansea University in partnership with Cardiff University, Aberystwyth University, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and the University of South Wales, the collaborative research undertaken by ASTUTE 2020+ and their industry partners has improved over 640 new-to-market and new-to-firm products, processes, and services. Welsh enterprises reported increases in revenue and follow-on investment as a result of their engagement with ASTUTE 2020+, with one company predicting revenue increases of up to £12 million [1]. Over £28 million worth of internal follow-on RD&I investment and £18 million [2] additional external funding was secured by ASTUTE industrial collaborators.

RD&I will play a crucial role as Wales and the world strive towards achieving Net Zero targets and shift to greener, more sustainable, economic models. Bringing industry experience and academic knowledge together accelerates innovation with multi-disciplinary experts working collaboratively to find solutions to complex challenges.

ASTUTE 2020+ provides many such examples of the power of industry-academia collaboration, including a collaboration with Vernacare Ltd. and WRAP Cymru which resulted in the incorporation of up to 20% recycled content into the company’s medical waste sharps bins. Vernacare also successfully secured additional funding for the purchase of capital equipment and supplies that enabled them to significantly upscale production – part of which was awarded by the Welsh Government Circular Economy Fund delivered by WRAP Cymru.

Other similar successes included Brother Industries (UK) Ltd. who were supported by ASTUTE to produce the first Brother toner cartridges manufactured from recycled materials recovered from end-of-life products, and an aerospace company that benefitted from materials savings of up to £1million per annum thanks to the adoption of lower cost aluminium and the adaption of their drilling templates with the support of ASTUTE’s advanced materials experts.

Working across a variety of sectors like aerospace, automotive, and medical, ASTUTE 2020+ highlights the unique value that collaboration between Higher Education Institutions and the manufacturing sector can create. It is a testament to the positive impact European funds have had on the economy and future prosperity of Wales, as well as the lives of the people of Wales.

Vaughan Gething, Minister for the Economy of Wales, said:

“I’m delighted to see this collaborative project between government, academia and business succeed. Supported with over £32 million in EU funds since 2010, ASTUTE is a leading example of an industry collaborative research and development programme.

The Welsh Government remains committed to growing research and innovation within Wales, closely aligned to the market and with industrial, business and societal needs.”

Professor Johann Sienz, ASTUTE 2020+ Operation Director, said:

“Collaborative working via industry-academia partnerships has not only seen the development and delivery of many vital and valuable projects, but also the formation of key relationships that will continue to thrive and flourish for the benefit of the Welsh region beyond the scope of the ASTUTE 2020+ operation.

I would like to thank the ASTUTE team for their hard work and dedication over the years, and I would also like to thank our industry forums – Industry Wales, Welsh Automotive Forum, and MAKE UK, to name a few – who have championed ASTUTE 2020+, strengthening the bridge between academia and industry increasing economic opportunity and prosperity across Wales.”

ASTUTE 2020+’s ERDF funding will end on 31 December 2022 when it will no longer operate in its current pan-Wales format. The operation will continue to support UK businesses of all sizes as the ASTUTE Centre of Excellence, a delivery partner of the Analysis for Innovators (A4I) programme funded by Innovate UK – UKRI.

[1] Miller, N., Byrne, M., Pemberton, Y. and Butler, N. (2022). ASTUTE 2020 Operation External Evaluation. Abergavenny: Miller Research (UK) Ltd.

[2] Figure relating to ASTUTE 2020+ operation only, from 2015 – 2022.