"Innovation" - overhyped buzzword or business critical nous for manufacturers to succeed? A selection of learnings from TM's Future Factory Series' Inspiring Innovation Conference.
Margot Cooper, founder, Limbs and Things
Margot Cooper, founder of Limbs and Things, which she describes as “quite an unusual company”, began the afternoon session. As a designer and simulator of 3D models to respond to the needs of doctors, paramedics and nurses, there are challenges in her business.
Miss Cooper said while innovation was a difficult thing for the medical sector to accept, the market has come forward. One product demonstrated was a model arm used to simulate injections and blood transfusions as an example of innovation. There has also been a focus on synthetic skin, which the company’s first patent was based.
This factors into its models for open surgery, breasts and birthing models, all among the best selling. Cooper detailed Limbs and Things’ innovation in using chest models, used to account for car accidents, war wounds and other puncture injuries.
When starting its production, the key objectives set out were:
- low cost (worth £2.5k)
- fluid/air management
- training requirements
- ease of use
In development, the resistance of the chest was tested as it should be, because when you are replacing the patient, attention to detail is essential. Everything from tissue to bone has to be structured in all of the right places. With added air sacks, it can even be set up to simulate a cough.
For components to design liquid, it provided undercuts created to securing the lung and the diaphragm, while soft parts were a mixture of silicon and fabrics to help simulate the chest walls in the pads. As a world leader in the simulation medical market and with a growing business structure, Limbs and Things is on an innovative path to further establishing itself globally.
Dr Nick Farmila, business development manager, Materials and Engineering research institute, Sheffield Hallam University
Moving across into academia, Dr Farmila of Sheffield Hallam University discussed where academic bodies can help in the quest for innovation. Beginning by listing innovations he has seen, his institution delivers 350 jobs for industry each year. As more universities are able to offer services, he posed the question: what do you look for?
His answer? every university has its own expertise to offer. But something companies don’t think about as much is who is the right person to work with. “It seems pointless to me in starting the innovation route unless you know what you want to achieve,” he said. “There needs to be a real think about how you will set about achieving before you start.”
His steps to working with a successful university include:
- Find the right academic – if academic has a LinkedIn profile, this is a good sign, suggesting they are open to working with someone else. Also if you know the university you are interested in, contact its technology office.
- Arrange a face to face meeting and get 100% clarity from them, find out if the feeling is mutual in terms of working together.
But even if it’s a yes, there a things to remember. Don’t assume they will work your standard terms and conditions. Also, don’t simply issue a PO.
For funding, there are a range of options recommended by Dr Farmila to pursue:
KTP – up to three years work with a new person supported by university expert
TSB – topics announced on topics important to government
Hotizon 2020 – Eu research, £70bn funding available but highly targeted
Regional support – sometimes free, but limited
The video ended with testimonies, including a local Sheffield steel company, about its experience working with Sheffield Hallam University. While naturally positive, it was a good illustration of the innovation potential in business and academic collaboration, something set to be a mainstay of future manufacturing practices.
Professor Paul Maropoulos, professor in mechanical engineering, University of Bath
Professor Paul Marapoulos, professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath, resumed proceedings post-break with a presentation about creative centres for SMEs. He started speaking of his “light controlled factory” project, in conjunction with the The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). As a £3.75m research project beginning this year until 2018, it now has 12 partners, included UCL and Loughborough University.
The light controlled factory has four main tasks:
- Automated, factory-wide 7DOF meteorology network
- Integration of measurement with process control
- Measurement enabled tools and structure
- Understand thermal integration
The key factory trends and drivers right now are:
- Reconfigurable machines and tooling
- low cost automation
- real-time metrology
- integrated dimensional variation management
- Automated metrology networks
- Better understanding of measurement uncertainties
- Design for verification
- modelling thermal expansion
But there are barriers towards achieving this. Dr Marapoulos feels there is a gap between SMEs and universities, preventing the provision of coherent collaboration. SMEs are also constrained by factors such as a lack of time, resources, capacity to access and absorb knowledge and access to affordable prototyping facilities.
The creative centres are multidisciplinary and multi-domain, bringing science, technology, engineering, arts and maths disciplines together to satisfy regional business priorities. They will also serve to provide local business growth support through links to local universities, focusing on each region’s SMEs.
Peter Longdon, new technology & innovation manager, Tata Steel
Collaboration is key, says Peter Longdon of Tata Steel. As a worldwide conglomerate with revenues totalling $100bn, innovation is in the DNA of the company ranked last year in the top 50 most valuable brands on earth. Currently the second largest steel producer in Europe, it serves the automotive, packaging, rail and energy & power sectors, among many others.
Talking through the company’s primary and coating processes, Mr Longdon says there is not enough natural resources, which is a factor behind the need for increased collaboration.
Over the last two years Tata Steel has established a common NPD process across Europe and embedded in a single NPD management TOOL. The results have been prioritisation, robustness of business cases, project management and launch decisions.