Belfast digital twin center wins £37.6m funding

Belfast city center pictured at dusk with town hall in distance.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Belfast Region City Deal and Innovate UK are investing £37.6 million in the UK Digital Twin Centre, aimed at encouraging the adoption of digital twins.

Led by Digital Catapult, the center is also partly funded by Thales UK, Spirit AeroSystems and Artemis Technologie and will open later this year in Belfast city center.

It will initially focus on demonstrating the potential of digital twins - virtual models of a physical object or system which use streamed data from the real-world environment - in transforming the maritime, aerospace and defense sectors, kicking off with an initial six use cases.

"Our region is well positioned and ready to maximize the opportunities this investment will bring while also helping deliver on my economic priorities of creating good jobs, increasing productivity, and accelerating net zero ambitions," said economy minister Conor Murphy.

"The center will assist in lowering the barriers for industry to develop digital twins, bringing the benefits of reduced costs, faster time to market and improving the skills of the advanced manufacturing workforce."

The center will offer capabilities including rapid prototyping and real-world control mechanisms, with a series of programmes for all levels of industry, from SMEs to large enterprises. It will also include a collaborative space for academia, industry and the public sector aimed at fostering cross-sector innovation.

The plan is to develop rapid and cost-effective digital twin proofs of concept (PoCs) and proofs of value (PoVs), with the help of a dedicated team of digital twin experts and domain specialists.

"Today’s announcement is a pivotal moment in realizing the real-world value of digital twins for the UK," said Deborah Colville, UK Digital Twin Centre director at Digital Catapult.

"The center will give businesses across the UK access to the expertise, technology and resources necessary to accelerate the adoption of digital twins to reduce design and manufacturing costs, help meet net zero targets and drive competitive advantage globally."

The center has pledged to contribute 230 new jobs in the manufacturing sector across the UK, and to generate £61 million for the local economy in Northern Ireland by 2033.

"This is an ambitious project that will bring exciting opportunities for collaboration and accelerate the fantastic transformation Belfast’s digital sector is already witnessing," said Chris Heaton-Harris, secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

"The UK government’s £350 million investment into the Belfast Region City Deal will be used to support this project and ensure that we continue to make good progress across the City and Growth Deal programme, bringing even more prosperity to Northern Ireland, and ensuring it is the best place in the world to invest."

The National Digital Twin Programme (NDTP) was created by the UK government in 2018 in response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Data for the Public Good. It's directly run by the Department for Business and Trade, in collaboration with industry and academia.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.