|University of Bristol|
The next few years have the potential to be transformative in the history of our society and our planet. We are faced with numerous choices in how we live our lives, and our decisions could either embed the practices of the last two centuries or empower new paradigms for the production of our food and energy, our buildings and transport systems, our medicine, furniture and appliance, all of those things on which we have grown to depend. It could be a transformation in what we own or borrow, how we use it…. And how we make it.
Bristol is one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Global Resilient Cities. Unlike many of the other cities (and somewhat unconventionally), Bristol, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have adopted a holistic definition of resiliency that includes not just adaptation to future change but also the contemporary behaviour that minimises the chances of future shocks. Recognising that, the launch of the Bristol 2015 European Green Capital year focussed on the need to bridge the gap between our resource intensive and environmentally harmful current behaviour and a more sustainable – and resilient – future.
This combination is key. Increasingly we recognise that our non-sustainable behaviour could bring about dangerous climate change and resource stress. But we are also obtaining a sharper understanding of the limits of our knowledge. Unfortunately, our behaviour is not just threatening the security of our food, water and energy but is inducing a profound uncertainty in our ability to forecast and adapt to future change. Not only does such radical uncertainty demand mitigative rather than adaptive action but, where we fall short or the damage has already been done, it will require an equally radical emphasis on resiliency.
|Bristol Energy Coop - community |
Manufacturing has undergone a suite of radical transformations over the past decade, the potential of which are only now being harnessed across a range of manufacturing scales from high-value (such as Bristol’s aerospace industry) to SMEs and community groups. Crudely put, the options for the manufacturer have traditionally been limited to moulding things, bashing things into shape, cutting things and sticking things together. New technologies now allow those methods to be downscaled and locally owned. Other technologies, enabled by the exponential growth of computer power, are changing the manufacturing framework for example by allowing complex shapes to be made layer-by-layer through additive manufacturing.
|Bristol Hackspace - example|
of the maker movement. Image
credit: Matthew Venn,
There are limits, however, to the reach of these new approaches if they remain dependent on traditional manufacturing organisations and systems into which we are locked by the technological choices made in two centuries of fossil-fuel abundance. As well as the technologies and processes that we use, a better understanding of how to organise and manage manufacturing systems and of their relationship with our infrastructure and business processes is central to the concept of re-distributed manufacturing and its proliferation. It requires not only local production but a fundamental rethinking of the entire manufacturing system.
|A Bristol plastics manufacturer reshores|
its manufacturing to the city. Image
credit: Bristol Post. Find out more.
It seems entirely appropriate that Bristol and the SW of England assume a prominent leadership role in this endeavour. In many ways, it is the intellectual and spiritual home of the industrial use of fossil fuels, responsible for unprecedented growth and prosperity but also setting us on a path of unsustainable resource exploitation. Thomas Newcomen from South Devon produced arguably the first practical steam engine, leading to the use of fossil fuels in mining and eventually industry; in the late 1700s, coal-powered steam energy was probably more extensively used in SW England than anywhere in the world. Continuing this legacy, Richard Trevithick from Cornwall developed high pressure steam engines which allowed the use of steam (and thus fossil fuels) for transportation, and of course Brunel's SS Great Western, built in Bristol, was the first vehicle explicitly designed to use fossil fuel for intercontinental travel.
|University of Bristol students taking part |
in an upcycling project.
Image credit Compass Project
These are reasons for optimism not guilt. This part of the world played a crucial role in establishing the energy economy that has powered our world. On the back of that innovation and economic growth have come medical advances, the exploration of our solar system and an interconnected society. That same creative and innovative spirit can be harnessed again. And these approaches need not be limited to energy and materials; our colleagues at UWE been awarded funds under the same scheme to explore redistributed healthcare provision. The movement is already in place, exemplified by the more than 800 organisations in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. It is receiving unprecedented support from both Universities of this city. This new project is only one small part of that trend but it illustrates a new enthusiasm for partnership and transformative change and to study the next generation of solutions rather than be mired in incremental gains to existing technology.
This blog is written by Cabot Institute Director Prof Rich Pancost and Prof Chris McMahon from the Engineering Department at the University of Bristol.
|Prof Chris McMahon|
|Prof Rich Pancost|
More informationFor more information about the issues covered in this blog please contact Chris McMahon who is keen to hear from local industries and other organisations that may be interested in the possibilities of re-distributed manufacturing.
The grant has been awarded to the University of Bristol, supported by the Universities of Bath, Exeter and the West of England and Cardiff University, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The network, one of six being funded by the EPSRC for the next two years to study RDM, will also explore mechanisms by which interdisciplinary teams may come together to address societal grand challenges and develop research agendas for their solution. These will be based on working together using a combination of a Collaboratory - a centre without walls - and a Living Lab - a gathering of public-private partnerships in which businesses, researchers, authorities, and citizens work together for the creation of new services, business ideas, markets, and technologies.
EPSRC Reference: EP/M01777X/1, Re-Distributed Manufacturing and the Resilient, Sustainable City (ReDReSC)