Simon Edmonds, director of the Technology Strategy Board's Catapult programme, outlines the future for the industrial innovation network as more money is invested and new centres created.
SE: This is core funding for capacity expansion – the entire HVM catapult is more or less at capacity now. Some of the money will also be used to encourage new commercial innovation programmes in miniaturisation, embedded electronics and intelligent systems.
TM: The Catapults function on a tri-funded finance principle – so will this additional money be met with increased private sector and EU money?
SE: Yes. Remaining true to that funding model is essential for the long term sustainability of the Catapults and Dick [Elsy, CEO of the HVM Catapult] knows what targets he needs to meet.
TM: Along with the announcement of new money for HVM, Dr Cable revealed that two new Catapults will open in 2015. One of these is for Energy Systems. Explain why this investment is necessary when there are existing centres for Offshore Renewables and Future Cities and Infrastructure.
SE: Obviously those centres do have an interest in the development of future energy systems – as do many of the other Catapults. But we looked at the scope of research and the potential size of the market for energy management systems and decided they were far too great for existing centres to take on effectively as an aside to their core purposes.
The Offshore Renewables Centre, for example, needs to concentrate on developing subsea energy transfer infrastructure – around seventy to eighty per cent of the work it is ding at the moment is in working out how to get large amounts of energy generated offshore, onshore efficiently.
The storage, demand planning, distribution and supply of energy for consumption is another separate area of research, and this is what the Energy Systems Catapult will deal with.
Clearly however, there is huge benefit to be gained through collaboration between the Energy Systems centres and the existing centres for Offshore Renewables and Future Cities and Infrastructure. This will be strongly encouraged.
TM: What other opportunities are there for cross-Catapult collaboration?
SE: There are so many – and they are developing all the time. The Satellite Applications Catapult is already working with an array of the other centres, although it only launched this year.
It is working with the HVM centre to highlight supply chain opportunities for UK manufacturers in the space sector and to develop new materials and applications for 3D printing in space. It has a big programme with the Offshore Renewables centre to exploit satellite data on global weather systems to plan energy production and demand. And it is working with the Transport Systems and Future Cities and Infrastructure Catapult’s too.
TM: When can we expect to see a report on the value the Catapult network is adding to the UK’s industrial competitiveness?
SE: The individual centres report regularly to the TSB [Technology Strategy Board] but we will likely produce and top down report for government – and the public – in late 2014.
I am confident the findings will be very positive. All of the centres are being run in an extremely business-like way but individuals with extensive relevant industry and business experience. The CEOs are very focused on their targets for project completions and value add.
This report will be important in the run up to 2016 when government funding for the Catapults will be up for renewal.
TM: That’s after the next general election. Do you worry about the continuity of government support in the eventuality of a change of government?
SE: Emphatically not. We hear no concerns from the Opposition about the value of our work. The Catapult concept was first devised under Mandelson and the Hauser report which advised on its structure emphasized that it would only work with long term, consistent support. This is accepted.
TM: So what challenges remain? Are you happy with the Catapult’s accessibility to SMEs for example?
SE: I am satisfied that we are working well with SMEs – particularly in the more mature Catapults like HVM where there is a constant flow of SMEs working at the centres. The Connected Digital Economy is very strong on working with SMEs too – largely due to the nature of the industry which is dominated by smaller companies.
Other centres, like Offshore Renewables, are having more of a challenge reaching down into the supply chain and we are working on this.
The main challenge however is in getting wider understanding of the network as a whole. While many in manufacturing will know about, and understand the relevance of the HVM Catapult, they may not realise the opportunities presented by many of the other Catapults to help increase their competitiveness.
Vince [Cable] has been very clear that this is something we need to work on and we know that simply advertising is not the way forward. We have lots of plans to appear at a range of industry events and to take our message onto the doorsteps of businesses.
We also recently carried out some research which suggests universities do not understand the Catapults – although we work very closely with some. This is a concern. We must avoid universities developing an impression that we are in competition with their research institutions – this is not the case. We are the next stage.
The Manufacturer is hosting two events in London on October 16 to assist companies to innovate and increase exports.
Export Connect is the launch event in The Manufacturer magazine’s Accelerated Growth Series, new for 2013. – See more at: www.themanufacturer.com/eventsite/export2013/
The Innovation in Manufacturing conference is part of The Manufacturer’s Future Factory series and will provide delegates with the knowledge and expertise they need to nurture innovation in the workplace and find more efficient ways of developing new, more sophisticated products. – See more at: www.themanufacturer.com/eventsite/innovation2013/