Is horizontal innovation the key to strengthening UK industry?

This morning, Jonny Williamson visited the home of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the recently refurbished Savoy Place in London, to attend the launch of Horizontal Innovation.

The event celebrated the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) partnership to promote a more widespread exploitation of horizontal innovation across the nation’s business technology community.

According to the IET, horizontal innovation represents the “effective transfer of knowledge and technology form one sector to another”; something that currently happens on an ad-hoc basis in the UK.

Naomi Climer, president, the IET.
Naomi Climer, president, the IET.

President of the IET, Naomi Climer said that the UK is world-renowned for creativity and innovation, but wasn’t so well regarded for the subsequent commercialisation of said innovation.

All too often, when it does reach markets, Climer explained, we fail to fully exploit its full potential, locking ourselves in to just one sector and miss out on the potential benefits and rewards that could be created by breaking down silos and crossing boundaries.

“Horizontal innovation is something that all manner of industries and sectors could benefit from, and could lead to the answers for some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“Healthcare and retail are just two industries that are already seeing the benefits of leveraging cross-sector knowledge and technology transfer from parallel industries like motorsport, but there could be many more,” she added.

Horizontal Innovation - IET 1“At the moment we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg in exploiting the opportunity horizontal innovation presents for the UK, and innovation in general; which is why the IET has launched this UK-wide initiative to raise awareness and encourage wider take-up.”

The IET’s head of sectors, Gordon Attenborough added that taking existing technologies and applying them directly to other applications can create immediate results, and is often cheaper and easier than having to embark on your own research and development programme.

“However, to ensure our horizontal innovation initiative is successful and as far reaching as possible, it’s vitally important to engage with people outside of industry, not solely engineers and technologists,” he urged.

The launch event showcased several examples of horizontal innovation, including how Williams Advanced Technology has collaborated with UK start-up, Aerofoil Energy to develop a new aerodynamic device that can significantly reduce the energy consumed by supermarket refrigerators.

The technology is being trailed by Sainsbury’s and Asda, with preliminary findings showing an average energy saving of 21% – a significant number given that supermarket refrigerators consume around 3% of the country’s electricity.

Chief executive of the MIA, Chris Aylett noted that innovative technologies and engineering capabilities have been created by UK motorsport suppliers to meet the “relentless, fast-response demands of world-championship motorsport”.

Horizontal Innovation - IET 2“Increasingly, in recent years, these unique assets are being utilised successfully by diverse industries including defence, rail, aerospace and automotive as a result of the promotion of increased collaboration by the MIA,” he commented.

Aylett went on to note that the wider engineering and technology industries in the UK industry could stand to benefit if horizontal innovation increased and become normal practice, something he hoped this initiative would accelerate.

In the coming months, the IET and MIA will look to further explore the opportunities for innovation within the UK business technology community, via:

  • A branded series of ‘brokerage events’ to introduce specific sectors to each other in an effort to discover potential technology transfer. The first of these is likely to focus on introducing motorsport suppliers to a sector outside of their typical markets of aerospace; automotive; defence, and marine. Potential future target sectors could include food; FCMG; energy, or healthcare
  • A new dedicated online community within IET Engineering Communities focused on horizontal innovation and technology transfer. This is hoped to create a forum to facilitate the discovery of challenges, technologies and possible collaborations.
  • A new category – Horizontal Innovation – will be introduced to the annual IET Innovation Awards.
  • A new innovation programme will unlock funding and support for a project aimed at successfully overcoming a particular societal challenge set by the IET and MIA. The programme will be available to SMEs, with proposals formed upon the use of wholly, or predominantly, pre-existing technology.