Venturefest flies collaboration flag in Bristol

Posted on 15 Nov 2013 by The Manufacturer

This year’s Venturefest arrived in Bristol on Thursday, showcasing innovation throughout the West Country region. James Pozzi was in attendance.

After Bristol was earmarked by then-chancellor Gordon Brown as a city of scientific significance in November 2005, it was a naturally fitting venue for this year’s annual Venturefest. As a showcase for innovation, it saw its biggest exhibition to date as at the University of the West of England’s Conference and Exhibition Centre. This brought together delegates from the world of manufacturing, software and academia into to share ideas, exhibit their work and network.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB), in collaboration with the three local universities – two from Bristol and the other from Bath – has thrown its weight behind the event. With that all-encompassing term innovation continuing to set the agenda for UK industry, the need for sharing ideas (this year’s event theme was Collaborate to Innovate) is reflective of the emergence of new sectors joining the party.

Bigger is better

Upon arrival, I was told how the size and scale of the event had shifted considerably in just a year. Last year it was predominantly engineering firms making up the delegates. But now there are more representatives from the hi-tech and software sectors. So what has changed in those twelve months?

Two factors come to mind. Firstly, the positive step change in attitudes towards investment throughout 2013. With money on the table, the time to talk and collaborate effectively is now. Also, there is the recognition from government level down of the usefulness of integrating academia with industry to impact on areas such as skills and research.

Not additive free

HiETA, a company specialising in additive manufacturing, is a good illustration of this change. Having only been in business since the end of 2011, the Bristol-based company has experienced a meteoric rise. Thanks to part-funding by the TSB coupled with an ever-growing list of partners, HiETA has pioneered the use of additive manufacturing to build components for compact heat exchangers and micro-turbines through metals. It also now employs AM to reduce development time and cost for a variety of products.

Company CEO Mike Adams said his company will look into other areas beyond automotive and aerospace in the future. “Those industries have relatively long product lifecycles, so in the shorter term, we feel there’s going to a lot of opportunities in renewables and micro CHD. Additive manufacturing is applicable in a lot of areas so there’s probably going to be an opportunity out there that we don’t yet know about that we can become a leader in.”

The Technology Strategy Board’s Andy Sellars, lead technology for High Value Manufacturing, believes the UK’s collaboration agenda has gradually been driven forward by risk aversion subsiding. “Companies in the UK have started to realise that if they don’t go out and take a chance on an idea, then a rival company in America, for example, will instead,” he told me.

Collaboration is obviously very much a part of the UK manufacturing’s future, for a whole plethora of reasons. With the need to be more efficient, save on costs and produce more specialised products, the power of collaboration has found legs in previously unchartered territories, most notably aerospace primes and pharmaceutical giants. With events like Venturefest on hand to facilitate cross-industry access in a region serving as a forbearer for innovation, it serves as a reminder of the promise in Britain’s high value manufacturing future.