Innovation Exchange challenge: Sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, readily configurable structural elements

Supporting the UK arm of a major blue-chip international organisation to identify sustainable materials and manufacturers to existing traditional materials within outdoor exposure structures.

Opportunity Details


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Successful solution providers will be rewarded with a feasibility and pilot programme.

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The challenge holder is the UK division of a large global PLC with multiple diverse product lines.

Manufacturing is outsourced to supply chain partners who are well integrated to the PLC, not only commercially but in terms of values and collaborative development for mutual advantage.

Within a product line there are modular components that are currently produced in structural steel, aluminium, composites, timber and plywood. As part of this challenge holder’s sustainability strategy the product is being redeveloped to the most sustainable solution, measured against both carbon footprint and the UN Sustainable Development Goals but also cost, scalability, ease of use, circularity and robustness.

This challenge relates to these, current steel, aluminium, composites and timber, beam and panel components.

The challenge seeks both sustainable material suppliers and processors that could realise ramped up manufacturing within 6-9 months as well as less well-developed technologies that offer significant sustainability impacts to help the challenge holder meet its stretch sustainability targets.

The ambition is for highly sustainable solutions that offer a significant improvement in whole life cost and sustainability over a 60 year period with minor and easy refit and maximise circularity at the end of the product life-cycle.

The challenge

The challenge holder has an established pipeline to deliver a range of modular products that include framed and panellised components. Currently variants of S-235, S-275, S-355, mild steel hollow sections/plates/sheets, EN-AW 6061 extruded aluminium hollow sections/plates/sheets, aluminium honeycomb panels, PMMA and PC (thermoplastic) panels and SC3/SC4 timber and plywood sections/panels are used. There is a strong desire to significantly improve the overall sustainability of this component through novel material technologies; which in turn may require different mass production approaches.

Partners are sought who can provide and process (in quantity) measurably more sustainable materials – it is expected that this will rely upon greatly improved durability extending the time in use and also greater circularity.

The need is for both panel items and beam like elements, typically under 2.5m in size supplied in a palletised form for mechanical assembly and ultimate disassembly. An aesthetically pleasing structure is desired through efficient geometry and the intrinsic aesthetic of sustainable materials. It is recognised that the materials, geometry and processing have mutual dependencies.

The challenge holder primarily seeks partnerships of material suppliers, designers and processors; offering appropriate sustainable materials and the expertise to process and design them. It is recognised and accepted that organisations may offer only beams of panels, this is acceptable.

As a secondary ask the challenge also seeks lower TRL Material Suppliers and academia.


Entrants to this competition must be:

  • Established businesses, academic institutions, start-ups, SMEs, or individual entrepreneurs
  • UK based or have the intention to set up a UK base

Rewards & market opportunity

Successful applicants will have the opportunity to present to the challenge holder. Selected solutions, will be assessed, collaboratively developed and trialled with the potential for full adoption.

Lower TRL longer-term solutions, if selected, may attract collaborative development with the challenge holder.

The benefits package for a successful applicant may also include:

  • Support from Innovate UK Business Connect
  • Support in the development of a prototype or pilot
  • Technical support
  • Invitation to attend or present at UK Business Connect events
  • A potential business collaboration
  • Investor introductions (if investment is required)
  • Potential support to qualifying SMES from Innovate UK Business Growth
  • Support if any Innovate or similar competitions are relevant.

Related programme

Innovation Exchange

Innovation Exchange

Innovate UK Innovation Exchange is a cross-sector programme supporting innovation transfer by matching industry challenges to innovative companies from other sectors. It does this by putting large businesses with technical needs in contact with companies who have the right innovative solutions, for faster development of novel solutions.


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