Transforming Foundation Industries at Materials Research Exchange 2022 - a vision for 2050

Posted on: 23/09/2022
Steel mill

At Materials Research Exchange 2022 (3rd-5th October), the Transforming Foundation Industries (TFI) Challenge will look at how the industries need to evolve to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities that lie ahead.

TFI Plenary: 4th October, 4–4.30pm

In 2050, the world will be a very different place. Our use of natural resources will need to change dramatically to curb climate change and allow continuity of material supply. The Foundation Industries produce 75% of material we see around us, so they play a critical role in shaping this future.

In the opening plenary session for TFI, Bruce Adderley (TFI Challenge Director), Cheryl Anderson (Tata Steel) and Prof. Steve Evans (Director of Research in Industrial Sustainability, Institute for Manufacturing) will discuss the 2050 vision, what needs to change and why.

Why does the industry need to evolve?

New Demand – Roundtable discussion: 4th October, 4:30–5:15pm


  • Geoffrey Scamans – Professor of Metallurgy at Brunel University and the Chief Scientific Officer of Innoval Technology Limited.
  • Jude Allen – Chair of IOM3 Packaging Society
  • Michael Kobes – Head of Sustainable Products & Advanced Materials at Schaeffler
  • Su Varma – Academic Director, R&D Incubator at NSG Pilkington

The Foundation Industries underpin supply chains in many strategic sectors (e.g. manufacturing and construction). Towards 2050, there will be New Demands from these sectors as end-users become more sustainability focussed and regulatory controls more stringent. There will be increasing focus on efficient use of materials through design and process because there is finite supply while the world’s population is projected to increase to 9.9 billion by 2050, a more than 25% increase from 2020. Circular economy approaches will become more significant, and the sectors will expect support from the foundation industries.

A roundtable discussion, hosted by Ben Walsh (Deputy Challenge Director), with key stakeholders from the sectors that rely on the foundation industries will outline their New Demands for the future and how the foundation industries need to respond.

How will the industry change?

New Players – Roundtable discussion: 5th October – 1:30pm – 2:40pm

Innovation intensity in the UK’s foundation industries is generally lower than that in key competitor countries. For example, well over a third of foundation industry businesses had not introduced new products in the last three years, and a similar proportion had not introduced new processes. Innovation has been stifled by the risk and high costs associated, as well as limited collaboration across the industries. There is also a widespread perception across surveyed businesses that under-developed management and leadership skills in foundation industry businesses act as a constraint on innovation activity.

The TFI challenge has addressed these issues through funding 60 business-led projects including 140 organisations with a total of £66 million (government investment) to stimulate innovation and facilitate collaboration within the industries. Into the future New Players will be critical to overcome the skills gap and exploit the innovation.  These new players include:

  • Women – to address the stark gender disparity in the foundation industries leading to more diverse organisations which are proven to be more innovative and productive.

Related initiative: Women Innovators in Foundation Industries

  • The next generation – who will be the leaders in 2050 so need to be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead

Related initiative: Future Leaders group

  • Designers – Design-led thinking needs to be more widely adopted to ensure more efficient use of materials through their life cycle.

Related initiative: Student designers will be competing in a Hackathon at MRE to present opportunities that could provide a step change in the sustainability, energy efficiency and build speed of new social housing in the UK.

In the New Players session, the panel of experts from within the foundation industries will outline the ongoing initiatives to encourage the participation of these new players in the industry and what is needed in the future.

What will these changes look like?

New Models – Presentations: 5th October, 10:30am–11:40am

As a consequence of the New Demands, and the increased involvement of the New Players, it is expected that New Models of operation will be adopted and enabled through technical developments to fully exploit the opportunities for the foundation industries. Reduction in material supply and increases in their costs will necessitate, and make more profitable, circular economy principles. To add further complexity, this is all happening in a fast changing policy and regulatory environment. For example, in the packaging sector, extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation is set for implementation in 2024 which will increase the obligations of the producer. Hence, new business models can address the changing value of materials as we perhaps move from consumers to custodians.

The New Models session will include presentations on the work in this area including material and energy flows and emerging business models enabled by digital technology.

Your involvement

We look forward to seeing you at the event, which will also be an opportunity to connect with others in the foundation industries, facing similar challenges, and those looking to address them.

We plan to run a survey during the event to capture your involvement in the challenge, feedback on the event and thoughts for the future. We would appreciate your input so we can support the community as best as possible.

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