UK Manufacturing Symbiosis NetworkPlus (UKMSN+)

Lead Research Organisation: Aston University
Department Name: College of Business and Social Sciences


Industrial symbiosis is a fundamental building block of the circular economy, for it provides a means to generate industrial competitiveness and sustainability through the creation of manufacturing ecosystems involving networks of organisations that generate new economic value through the continuous exchange of resources (materials and energy).

Manufacturing firms are embracing the opportunities of circular economy approaches as a means to save costs, prevent disruptions in materials input and generate additional revenue from waste streams. Despite the increase in circular economy practices within key manufacturing sectors (food, automotive, electronics, plastics, etc.), the industrial symbiosis capability of the UK manufacturing industry as a whole is still underexploited, with most of the circular economy initiatives being developed in sectoral silos. This fragmented condition holds the economy back from achieving better circular economy performance overall. To unlock the untapped circular economy potential of the manufacturing industry in the UK, a cross-sectoral industrial symbiosis approach is timely and necessary.

To address this gap we propose the creation of the UK Manufacturing Symbiosis NetworkPlus (UKMSN+), which will promote, support, facilitate and stimulate the creation of a UK-wide community of academics and practitioners who will address the challenges above mentioned with basis on the central question of 'how the industrial symbiosis capability of the UK manufacturing industry as a whole can be galvanised within sectors and fertilised across sectors?'

The UKMSN+ will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to exploiting enabling mechanisms and tools to facilitate and support the development of industrial symbiosis synergies in the UK manufacturing industry, this way improving the overall circular economy competence and competitiveness of manufacturing businesses across key sectors of the economy.

The development of manufacturing symbiosis 'capabilities' aimed at enabling industrial transformations toward the circular economy calls for scientific advancements and innovations in three domains: Business models, Digital systems, and Materials. These three domains represent key enablers of the circular economy, as they respectively refer to production, technological and resource capabilities that have direct impact on the modus operandi of manufacturing organisations. Structural elements such as the quality of logistics and transport systems, collaborative business relationships, policy and regulations are also critical factors to enable circular economy capabilities. The underlying manufacturing symbiosis topic of the network provides a clear and well-defined field of manufacturing research for the network to focus its activities in a cohesive way.

The activities of the network will establish the basis for the development of further research that can promote significant scientific and practical advancements on manufacturing symbiosis capabilities that enable deeper, rather than peripheral, industrial transformations toward the circular economy. Our view is that the manufacturing industry in the UK has a significant, but latent, potential to accelerate the shift to the circular economy. The network will strengthen the manufacturing industry contribution to circular economy research, praxis, strategy and policy making by establishing a common field and a unique world-leading forum to amalgamate multi-disciplinary knowledge on production models, digital technologies and materials science purposefully aimed at the circular economy.

Planned Impact

The network will create a number of pathways to impact based upon the creation of a critical mass of academics, practitioners and policy makers who will bring purposeful manufacturing research, practice and policy-making into the mainstream of circular economy developments.

To achieve this, the knowledge creation and knowledge transference initiatives developed over the 3-year period of this project will lay important foundations for future research and practice in the area, establishing a clear point of convergence for the development of more focused and cohesive activities that can effectively bring significant improvements in manufacturing symbiosis capabilities. The network will also promote the start of new relevant projects and support them to the stage of successfully progressing to follow-up studies and obtaining follow-on funding.

The network will proactively develop strong relationships with key stakeholders in order to enable adoption of the knowledge generated from the network by academia, industry and policy makers. For instance, from the outset the UKMSN+ Advisory Board (described in the Management Plan document) will comprise influential partners who represent industry, academia, government and scientific sectors. The Board will be instrumental in facilitating close interactions between network members and other stakeholders. This process will allow the network to align its activities and outputs with core activities and interests of stakeholders, which will significantly improve achievement of the expected impacts mentioned below.

Impact on business model innovations: Particular research impacts the network will enable in this area are: 1. Design and implementation of circular supply chains supporting closed-loop of materials across diverse manufacturing sectors; 2. Implementation of distributed manufacturing approaches to enable wider manufacturing symbiosis ecosystems; 3. Adoption of industrial symbiosis strategies as core circular economy initiatives in the manufacturing industry.

Impact on digital technologies and systems: The network will explore radical developments on digital technologies and systems based on cutting-edge technologies such as IoT, AI, smart apps and integrative software architecture supporting the development digital information hubs in the cloud. Advancements in these areas will be specifically oriented to improve manufacturing symbiosis capabilities and enable the implementation of the restorative manufacturing business ecosystems above mentioned. The network will explore innovations up to TRL levels 3 or 4 (proof of concept demonstrated experimentally or development of components validated in laboratory). We expect to impact academics and Catapult technology centres to build upon and bring these initial developments up to higher TRL levels.

Impact on materials science and engineering: The network will explore the development of novel materials with properties more suitable to sustain industrial symbiosis processes. The durability and reusability capacity of materials to enable longer use, reuse and transformation cycles will be particularly considered. Similarly to the development approach adopted for digital technologies and systems, the network will explore materials and composite innovations at TRL levels 3 or 4.
Besides the three areas above, research impact will be maximised through the generation of awareness and specific manufacturing symbiosis knowledge and skills at the base. For example, academic partners in the network will feed research into their educational programmes in order to reinforce impact on academia and include students in the critical mass the network will create.

There is also strong potential for the network to expand internationally. This is reflected in the commitment of the initial network members to ensure the project results are adopted at least on a European scale.


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Dossa A (2020) Diffusion of circular economy practices in the UK wheat food supply chain in International Journal of Logistics Research and Applications