The winners of 2018’s Hack and Pitch competition

The 2018 Hack and Pitch competition offered digital startups and scaleups the chance to pitch innovative ideas to Sellafield and Unilever.

Electrozest's Martin Timms receives the Hack and Pitch Award from Digital Catapult for his pitch to Sellafield on remote condition monitoring of nuclear storage
Electrozest’s Martin Timms (left) receives the Hack and Pitch Award from Sellafield’s Duncan Steel for his pitch on remote condition monitoring of nuclear storage containers.

A micro SME that pitched an IoT idea that would effectively monitor nuclear waste containers at the Sellafield nuclear site has won one of the challenges set by Digital Catapult’s Hack and Pitch competition at Digital Manufacturing Week in Liverpool.

Electrozest, which is based in Northumberland, pitched an idea that would improve the time in which it takes to assess the contents of nuclear storage containers. They came up with a system that’s using four to five different energy harvesting methods. Data can then assess whether the containers are leaking or rusting. Sensors are able to detect the levels of hydrogen, humidity, temperature and pressure of the containers to ensure they’re safe.

Commenting on his company’s victory, Martin Timms, the firm’s R&D director said: “It was quite amazing to be voted Hack and Pitch champion. It was not something that I had anticipated on first entering the Digital Catapult competition.

The Hack & Pitch competition, which is run by Digital Catapult as part of the Smart Factory Expo, offered digital startups and scale-ups the chance to pitch innovative ideas to some of Britain’s biggest manufacturers. As well as the challenge thrown down by the nuclear engineering company Sellafield, there was one from the consumer goods multinational Unilever.

Sellafield’s competition involved pitchers suggesting a system that effectively monitored nuclear storage containers while Unilever wanted challengers to come up with new technologies to improve the efficiency of factory packing lines. Alongside Electrozest, the other category winner were Bristol company Inductosense.

Each company was granted 15 minutes to sell their idea, with two-thirds of that time set aside for product pitching and the final five minutes for Q&A. Judges then deliberated to pick four category winners before an afternoon ‘Champion Pitch Off’ decided who would be crowned ‘Hack & Pitch Champion.’

DecisionLab won the Unilever Challenge for their idea about improving the efficiency of factory packing lines.
decisionLab was one of the Unilever Challenge winners. Their idea involved improving the efficiency of factory packing lines.

The winners of the Unilever challenge were decisionLab and Cortexica. decisionLab’s idea involved using an AI reinforcement learning model to, as they describe it, “minimise machine downtime in packaging lines and increase overall throughput. They’ll do this by minimising minor jams and predicting machine failures.”

The contest allowed participants to pitch solutions to industry leaders and players in the digital and manufacturing sector with the potential for UK pilots. Hack & Pitch also allowed the companies to raise their profile among the dominant players in the sectors.

Cortexica Vision Systems’ solution was an AI-based machine vision that was predominantly around detecting any anomalies or abnormal behaviour within a manufacturing line.

Interestingly, Unilever also showed interest in Electrozest’s idea of energy harvesting sensors, and both they and Sellafield have started discussions with Electrozest. For Martin Timms, this fact rounds up a fantastic year for him and his company.

“Electrozest and I are looking forward to taking the concepts pitched through to development so that Sellafield are able to better monitor our legacy nuclear waste and so that Unilever can monitor areas of their factory that do not always have access to mains power.”

Smart Factory Expo is Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show – presenting the most extensive free programme of presentations across seven stages, 150+ exhibitors, and thousands of digitally-savvy manufacturers.

It is the largest component of Digital Manufacturing Week, an annual celebration of UK manufacturing excellence that takes place every November in Liverpool. This year saw 5,322 visitors to Digital Manufacturing Week (up 36% on 2017).

Clear your diary and join us next year: 13-14 Nov 2019!


Reporting by Harry Wise