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NPL at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

Annual Review 2020

National challenges 2018/19

Creating impact from science and engineering

Our science and engineering is focused on developing solutions for some of the biggest national and international challenges

Annual Review 2020

Advanced manufacturing

We are creating and delivering innovation and measurement technology to enable organisations across all industrial sectors to innovate and compete

Global and national trends in manufacturing such as digital industrialisation, environmental concerns and energy challenges are generating new markets, products and disruptive materials and processes.

The transition to a digitalised manufacturing landscape will see a step change in the volume of data used in manufacturing, how it is used and why. As people and processes become increasingly reliant on data to inform decisions and actions, trust and confidence in data will become critical. Generating trusted data and providing the confidence to act on the information it provides is dependent on having a good understanding of the measurement system that created it.

NPL is developing the metrology tools to give UK manufacturers the confidence to adopt digital technologies and devices. It is working to de-risk the use of data and its application throughout the manufacturing process and supply chains. As the UK’s independent and impartial National Metrology Institute, NPL is uniquely placed to lead the measurement, metrological and data confidence challenges that are arising in the space of industrial digitalisation.

NPL is working with industry to develop embedded sensors that give the highest quality information, for in-process monitoring. A recent example is the development of printing sensors onto cutting tools that enabled real time monitoring of tool wear. Overcoming the challenges of extracting and understanding the data flowing from such a harsh and noisy environment is not an easy task but enabled significant improvements in overall equipment effectiveness and reduction in waste. It is this kind of in-process technology that will help reduce the costly and time-consuming end-of-line inspection.

NPL is also working with national and international stakeholders in the autonomous transport sector to develop and deploy new measurement technologies to support the assurance of autonomous systems. This includes ground breaking projects with Lloyds Register to develop the testing framework to support marine audio video classification; and the development on behalf of Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, of standardised sensor testing frameworks and infrastructure, including complex data models for weather types, to support the safe and reliable deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles on UK roads.  In both cases NPL is helping UK businesses develop a position of international leadership.


Helping the UK become a world leader in emerging technologies

Digital technologies will underpin solutions to enormous global challenges, such as energy consumption, emissions and food security.  Measurement and standards are key to an effective digital infrastructure, providing confidence that will accelerate societal engagement with all things digital. The cornerstone of NPL's digital sector strategy is to embed measurement into processes using digital and data science, delivering confidence in the intelligent and effective use of data and emerging technologies.

In 2019 NPL initiated a national endeavour known as The Future Networks Initiative.  This is an industry-led activity to establish a mechanism for pre-commercial collaborative research and development to place the UK at the forefront of digital technologies, together with the communications networks required to enable digital transformation across multiple applications and uses. The focus of the initiative is to create a government-supported, national scale, converged network test bed that connects multiple communications networks and operators. By focussing on convergent communications, automated and delivered at the ‘speed of AI’, to the areas and applications that matter, the Future Networks Initiative is working on evolving the UK’s existing digital infrastructure while developing our future communications networks, technologies, services and supply chain. 

Scientific teams across NPL have also combined expertise and capability to generate new measurement solutions for the important UK precision farming and food market.  Yields have stagnated in many regions of the world, but an increase of over 70% is needed to meet the projected food demand by 2050. In 2019 NPL developed a new solution for imaging wheat, a key UK crop, in large scale field trials. The solution incorporated 3D sensor measurement systems, computer vision, a tractor pulled vehicle and post processing algorithms to offer a data-driven final product for agronomists and plant breeders. 

Food waste in farming remains a concern and we have continued our collaborative work for automated harvesting and sorting sensing systems, with strawberries and raspberry robotic pickers all in progress through this year’s current season to ensure all fruit is picked, disease detected at an early stage, helping to mitigate the continuing challenge of labour.

‚ÄčLife sciences and health

Working to deliver personalised medicine, new treatments and earlier diagnosis

In line with the industrial strategy, there is a drive for greater translation of technology development and improved patient access from academia to industry into the healthcare system.

NPL helps to maintain the UK's position as a world leader in translating life sciences research, accelerating access to new diagnosis and treatment techniques, and supporting rapid adoption of advanced healthcare technologies across the country.

We continue to lead the improved diagnosis and treatment of important diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. Through work in our National Measurement System programme, we have supported improvements in the application of advanced treatments in proton beam therapy used to treat cancer.

NPL won The Engineer’s Collaborate to Innovate Healthcare and Medical Award for its work with Lightpoint Medical for their laparoscopic molecular probe for prostate cancer surgery. And our research funded by Cancer Research UK to build a ‘Google Earth of cancer’ has delivered further insight to tumour biology, which will help to enable improvements to battle a disease that is forecast to impact 1 in 2 people in Britain over their lifetime. 

Ongoing investment in our Stimulated Raman Scattering microscopy instrumentation will further strengthen our imaging capability, and working with regulators around the world, we are developing methodologies to enable improved testing and analysis of drug therapies delivered through the skin.

Energy and environment

Enabling a clean, efficient energy system and working towards the sustainable use of natural resources, to ensure a healthy environment

The need to decarbonise our economy, while monitoring and adapting to climate change, is driving huge transformation in all sectors.

The UK government is committed to reducing our impact on the environment and transforming our energy system to make it cleaner and more affordable, through the Clean Growth Strategy and the 25 Year Environment plan, as well as collaborating and supporting other countries to reduce their impacts. Our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are among the most ambitious globally and the next few years will see record investment in clean growth innovation.

NPL is focusing on creating an integrated approach to transitioning to a net-zero UK economy by 2050, leading and delivering on climate science and assuring a sustainable relationship with our environment through resource efficiency, waste and pollution reduction.

Our science supports the entire energy value chain: from energy sources and through the energy vector, to energy efficiency in high emissions sectors such as transport, industry, land use and the built environment. Specific sectors where NPL works to address challenges include for renewables, nuclear, batteries, carbon capture usage and storage, and hydrogen. Through NPL’s work on hydrogen electrolysis, we have discovered how to half the cost of the most expensive component, the electrodes.

We have worked closely with Government to ensure good science underpins climate decisions and have successfully proposed the NPL-designed Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies (TRUTHS) satellite mission into the European Space Agency (ESA) Earthwatch programme. TRUTHS will establish an SI traceable, space-based climate and calibration observing system to improve confidence in climate measurement and climate forecasts.

To help reduce pollution and improve air quality in the UK, NPL is running a network of ambient measurement sites that provide public health information, monitor compliance with UK and EU regulations and input to air quality modelling and research aims on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Work with us

Our research and measurement solutions support innovation and product development. We work with companies to deliver business advantage and commercial success.
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