GOVERNMENT experts yesterday urged British companies to take up an offer of cash to help them exploit the latest manufacturing technologies.
The money available - pounds 7m annually - is put aside to fund joint research projects between companies and scientists at universities. The programme, with the unglamorous title Acme (Applications of Computers to Manufacturing Engineering), was set up 1984 and has spent pounds 45m on nearly 500 projects since then.
But John Puttick, who chairs the committee of industrialists overseeing the programme, said: 'There is a backlash against new technology in companies at the moment, against the 1980s view that technology would be a curative for industry.'
Bill Hillier, director of the Acme scheme, said it was hard to pick out the companies that might benefit from this sort of joint project. 'There are 143,000 manufacturing companies in Briain,' he added. 'I think we should be involved with the biggest 2,000 of those. The trouble is we don't know where they are.'
Acme has spawned several successful collaborations. Money from the initative helped the engineering department at Cambridge University to develop a new way of forming sheet metal components. Researchers are working with British Aerospace with the aim of commercialising technology to cut the cost and lead-time in developing prototype aircraft.
Technologists at Hull and Durham Universities have developed automated machines for shoe manufacturers which can 'recognise' cloth for shoes, cut it and sew it. British United Shoe Machinery, one of the world's largest suppliers to the shoe industry, has developed three new machine tools from the work.
Mr Hillier said he wanted new industries to get involved in the scheme. He is particularly keen to attract companies in emerging fields such as nanotechnology - the development of miniature machines to carry out delicate operations, such as remote-controlled surgery inside the human body.