Big boys increasingly turning to start-ups for help with innovation

Posted on 10 Dec 2021 by Tom St John

Digital Catapult’s 12-month Made Smarter Technology Accelerator has concluded and has undoubtedly contributed to helping manufacturing giants recognise the benefits of working with start-up technology specialists to help them with innovation.

The programme resulted in four start-up-led minimum viable products (MVPs) developed in record time for industry giants BAE Systems, Babcock International Group, Northumbrian Water Group and Safran Landing Systems.

Part of the Made Smarter programme, the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator has seen manufacturing titans pair up with pioneering start-ups to develop real-world innovations tackling major challenges. This year’s programme has supported 14 start-ups in total, who were given a share of nearly £700,000.

Four MVPs developed through the course of the programme were exhibited yesterday afternoon (Thursday 9 December) at a showcase event which brought the programme to a rousing conclusion – attended virtually by the challenge owners, sponsors – including Verizon Business and Software AG, and industry representatives.

Supervisor,And,Manual,Worker,Using,Digital,Tablet,In,Metal,Industry. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The final solutions included:

  • Machine Intelligence Ltd (BAE Systems): the MVP will use machine learning to identify defects in manufacturing, improve the quality of the end product, reduce waste and save money
  • JetSoft (Babcock International Group): this solution both reduces reliance on paper-based reporting to improve shop floor efficiency, and utilises existing equipment to create automatic 3D inspections – improving understanding of faults and operating performance
  • Total Control Pro (Safran Landing Systems): Total Control Pro has developed a data-driven planning, scheduling and resource optimisation solution to tackle the challenges of complex planning and resource management
  • Riscon Solutions and Inventia UK (Northumbrian Water): this project delivers cloud-enabled, remote water quality monitoring solutions

Willingness to collaborate? 

This comes at a time where manufacturers are increasingly looking to partner with start-ups to stimulate innovation. Nearly three quarters of manufacturing leaders (73%) say that collaborating with start-ups is part of their long-term business strategy.

In a Digital Catapult survey carried out amongst 100 UK manufacturing leaders, 82% said that working with start-ups will help them accelerate digital transformation objectives and allow them access to creativity and skills they don’t currently possess in-house.

However, only a quarter said collaborating with start-up businesses to experiment with technologies is a priority in the next 12 months, despite 92% of those who have already worked with a start-up saying they would do so again. Key barriers included a fear of failure and a lack of time.

When it comes to digital transformation more generally, a third listed risk of business disruption as a barrier. With external tremors showing no promise of easing, the research exposes how risk-averse manufacturers could miss out on key opportunities to innovate and absorb learnings from the more agile start-up community in the short-term.

Understanding how to harness digital technologies: Stock Image

Jeremy Silver, Digital Catapult CEO said: “As the impact of the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains around the world, heading into 2022, manufacturing leaders are looking to find new ways to weather the storm and at the same time keep pace with the speed of digital technology development, which is increasing competition globally.

“Many manufacturing heavyweights are not making collaboration with innovative early-stage companies a priority in the next year, despite recognising the potential benefits. Our survey suggests that there is a danger that UK companies will miss out on the opportunity to be early adopters of new technologies, and learn from start-ups’ creativity, innovation and agility.”

Iain Minton, Technology Capability Delivery Director, BAE Systems said: “Working with Digital Catapult gives us access to a wider pool of talent and technology from small companies with big ideas. The Made Smarter Technology Accelerator programme is a great enabler and catalyst for tech start-ups to take their ideas and innovations into industry and apply them.

“Our Factory of the Future programme has been the perfect incubator to have taken some of those ideas and put them to the test. At the same time that we get to explore new ideas and ways of thinking from outside the business, tech start-up companies like Machine Intelligence Ltd have been able to experiment and draw from our experience in the process. Schemes like this are critical for innovation in the UK.”

 Dr Jon Hall, Babcock’s Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, said: “Our prototype is helping us better understand measurement information enabling better decision making through improved information management; this enhances our technical authority and supports our growing sustainability agenda.

“Programmes like Made Smarter are providing the gateways for wider industry to invest in and support some of the best technology start-ups and SMES we have in this country do what they do best – innovate.”

For more on how manufacturers are finding intelligent ways to drive digital transformation, click here