Icon Aerospace Technology has fostered a strong knowledge bridge with the University of Derby to facilitate the exchange of ideas, information and access to technical resources.
Knowledge Transfer Partnership is a UK-wide programme overseen by Innovate UK. It has been helping businesses for the past 40 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity.
A KTP serves to meet a core strategic need and to identify innovative solutions to help that business grow, typically through improved quality and operations, increased sales and access to new markets.
In less than three years, Icon Aerospace Technology’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Derby has brought about several positive changes across the company’s operations.
Most clearly seen in Icon’s toolmaking process, the innovative aerospace supplier can now produce components within shorter timeframes and with greater design flexibility than conventional methods.
The Manufacturer recently sat down with Tim Pryce, CEO of the Nottinghamshire-based aerospace supplier. He noted that as well as delivering a two-way information and innovation channel, the KTP has also helped build talent bridges – vital to Icon achieving its ambitious goal of doubling revenue by 2019.
“Three years, the decision was made to bring in a CTO, chief technology officer. The role reported directly to me, and the both of us tinkered – for want of a better word – on various concepts or ideas exploration. Then we launched our KTP with Derby, which brought some PhD-level knowledge to Icon.
“It was agreed that we needed more resource for research and innovative development, so we found two MSc students from Derby University, who – as part of their studies – could go and work in industry for six months. Since graduating, we’ve recruited both of those students.”
In a broad-ranging interview with The Manufacturer, Tim Pryce also discussed:
- Aerospace supplier advises how to move up the value chain
- Long-term survival of UK manufacturing rests on NPI
- Is face to face still important?
- What does innovation mean to a fast growing UK aerospace supplier?
- Insights into the future of British aerospace
It’s not often you find an SME – albeit one nudging more towards medium-sized – with MSc-level graduates as part of the workforce. The net result for Icon is an “explosion of talent”, in the words of Pryce.
“We can now more easily go from concept to actually delivery, but obviously, you’ve got to balance any cost versus potential reward and timescale.”
The University of Derby’s Farhan Kahn is currently undertaking a sponsored technical research fellowship at Icon, following on from the KTP. Focused on product and process development, Kahn is exploring new technologies and production methods – particularly 3D printing.
In June 2015, there was a belief within Icon that 3D printing could help the business in some regard, but there wasn’t a clear picture as to where or how. In January 2016, the business set off on a journey to answer those questions.
The University’s capability in advanced virtual simulation offers Icon access to a technology it never would have had access to independently, allowing the business to simulate various 3D printed tools, jigs and fixtures.
In January 2017, Kahn developed a 3D printed channelled polymer mould tool, offering a means of direct heating vastly more efficient than the traditional indirect method.
It’s developments like these that gives Pryce the confidence that 3D printing will truly revolutionise manufacturing. For Icon, it has enabled the business to visualise more exciting products, to design, iterate, test concepts and realise products far quicker.
“It is one aspect of a KTP which is empowering Icon to lead the way in advanced polymer composites, enabling us to offer step-change innovations in what is a comfortable, mature market.”