Fostering innovation with next-generation manufacturing

Posted on 25 Nov 2019 by The Manufacturer

Graeme Cruickshank highlights the role of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and CPI in bringing together manufacturing partners in academia, industry and government to solve manufacturing challenges, boost UK innovation and create high-value jobs for the UK.

Translating a promising idea into a commercial success is the ultimate definition of innovation.

Businesswoman working with flip board in office innovation design thinking - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Proving a concept on the lab bench is just the first step in a long and difficult process – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Proving a concept on the lab bench is just the first step in a long and difficult process that requires investigating market needs, optimising materials and scaling-up manufacturing, and securing sufficient funding to pay for this effort.

Many start-up organisations, including university spin-outs, tend to lack the facilities and particularly the expertise required to successfully navigate this road to commercialisation.

Larger companies may well be more skilled in the process of commercialising ideas, but sometimes struggle to progress all their best opportunities given even their limited resources.

The result is that without the correct support in place, many great ideas can die right there on the lab bench.

A 2010 report commissioned by the UK government identified several issues hindering innovation in the UK, pointing out a lack of structured government support and funding for Technology and Innovation Centres (TiCs).

Indeed, the UK has historically lagged behind many of its European neighbours in innovation rankings. As part of the strategy to address this innovation gap, the UK government – along with industry partners – established a network of Catapult centres, including the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), of which Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is a founding member.

This article first appeared in the November issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe

The HVMC was set up with the aim of significantly growing the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the UK economy by acting as a bridge between inventions on the lab bench and marketable products.

Asset development

In order to fulfil the aim of the HVMC and increase the UK’s manufacturing output, CPI operates several specialist National Centres made possible through support from government funding and the involvement of industry partners.

Each facility offers advanced equipment and the industry-relevant expertise required to help others develop their products faster. The various facilities each focus on high-value sectors, including printed electronics, formulated products and the biotherapeutic drugs of the future.

Cleanroom at CPI’s National Printable Electronics Centre

Cleanroom at CPI’s National Printable Electronics Centre

Crucially, these centres provide access to technology and expertise that would otherwise be out of reach for many businesses, providing a breeding ground that supports the learning from pilot studies through to the scale-up of high-value manufacturing products and processes.

These assets reduce the risk for businesses across diverse markets, as they work to prove the commercial viability of their products or processes and develop a cost-effective route to market.

Facilities and expertise alone are not enough to create manufacturing innovations. Once the most suitable assets have been identified and developed in a particular field, it is important to create an innovation-friendly environment to support commercialisation of new products and processes.

This requires continuous effort to highlight the potential of that field, while improving access to funding and making the assets easily accessible to companies. This complex task often requires international collaboration between TiCs, industry and public bodies.

An example of this approach is the EU-funded EPRISE project that aims to build and promote capabilities in European photonics, of which CPI’s National Healthcare Photonics Centre is an integral part.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) uses applied knowledge in science and engineering, combined with state-of-the-art development facilities.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) uses applied knowledge in science and engineering, combined with state-of-the-art development facilities.

Light-based medical therapies have the potential to meet an increasing demand for non-invasive, cost-effective imaging and diagnostic procedures. EPRISE identified key photonics assets around Europe, and established a database of expertise that makes it easier for companies to access the technology and expertise they need.

A substantial part of the EPRISE project also comprises working with local funding bodies to highlight the potential of these photonics innovations, and help businesses secure access to greater funding for photonics projects.

Assessing impact

A recent, practical example that highlights the opportunities made available through the HVMC can be seen in the case of Stream Bio.

This UK-based SME worked closely with CPI in a technically challenging project to commercialise their Conjugated Polymer Nanoparticle (CPN) technology, which has broad application in therapeutic and tumour imaging.

CPI’s National Formulation Centre

CPI’s National Formulation Centre

Although the company had excellent scientific expertise and a good understanding of their market, their team lacked the funding and technology required to optimise a commercially viable route to market.

By partnering with a TiC, Stream Bio could access facilities, expertise and funding advice that enabled the company to secure £130,000 of external funding and innovate through their manufacturing process.

Within two years of partnership, Stream Bio was able to successfully market its CPNs and secure distributors around Europe.

Viewing the outcomes of forming the HVMC through a wider lens, the impact can also be seen in the improved international innovation ranking of the UK, which peaked in 2015 when the country was ranked second in the world.

This is largely driven by the fantastic quality and quantity of scientific research being performed at UK universities. The work performed by the TiCs set up since 2011 allows more of that academic research to be developed, scaled up and commercialised within the UK.

CPI’s National Biologics Manufacturing Centre
CPI’s National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

Addressing healthcare challenges

The UK has long been a leader in pharmaceuticals and healthcare in general, but with the industry trending towards more precision medicine, there is a need to tap into new medical approaches such as complex biotherapeutics.

These products are challenging to commercialise, as they are currently costly to develop and manufacture; they require new processing routes to allow scale-up and to make them more affordable.

Furthermore, they are frequently temperature-sensitive and self-administered by patients via injection. Therefore, it is critically important that they are manufactured with both the supply chain and the patient needs in mind.

To this end, CPI’s National Biologics Manufacturing Centre promotes collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry, academia and the end users, in order to bring more of these promising drugs to market sooner.

Addressing this challenge is key if the UK wishes to retain its competitive position in high-value manufacturing.

In order to meet demand for the creation of patient-centric drugs, CPI along with industry partners AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, is completing construction of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre.

This National Centre will focus on challenging pharmaceutical issues surrounding manufacture of ‘small-molecule pharmaceuticals’ in a GMP-capable environment.

This builds on the existing capability developed in the area from an ongoing partnership between CPI, GSK and AstraZeneca on the PROSPECT CP project, which is aiming to establish a digitally-enabled, small-scale continuous wet granulation facility due for completion in 2020.

As the country faces the challenges associated with Brexit, promoting the expertise and capabilities of the UK manufacturing sector, especially in these high-value areas, will become increasingly important.

Although government and industry investment in infrastructure has helped address the innovation gap between the UK and its European neighbours, a continued strategic approach will be needed to maintain this upward trajectory.

As part of the HVMC, CPI works through its National Centres to bring together partners in academia, industry and government to find cost-effective solutions for manufacturing challenges.

This work helps to boost UK innovation and deliver high-value manufacturing jobs for the UK economy.

What is the Centre for Process Innovation?

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) uses applied knowledge in science and engineering, combined with state-of-the-art development facilities to help firms develop, prove, prototype and scale up the next generation of products and processes.

The Centre works with its partners to develop products and processes that enhance health and well-being, protect and improve our environment and increase productivity across industries.

In doing so, CPI supports the development of next-generation manufacturing organisations which require highly skilled jobs, and will result in sustained economic growth for the UK.

CPI works across diverse markets, including healthcare, food and agriculture, FMCG, electronics, energy, transportation and construction. It’s able to support such a broad base of industries through its unique innovation processes, together with a diverse and expanding platform of technological expertise.

Overall, the combination of CPI’s innovation processes and outstanding scientific expertise enables its partners to get more products to market faster, and at a lower overall cost.