What is: the High Value Manufacturing TIC?

Posted on 6 Jan 2012

The UK has four out of the world’s top 10 universities and plenty of world class engineering universities. But it has a relatively poor record in translating this rarified body of knowledge into market ready products. Enter the HVM TIC, aka the HVM Catapult. Will Stirling reports.

In recent decades the UK has struggled to convert many of its myriad inventions and engineering processes into scalable commercial gain.

There are some notable exceptions: Prof. David Payne of Southampton University has spun-out successful companies from his Optoelectronics Research Centre, especially Southampton Photonics Inc, a leading company in manufacturing optical fibre components for communications networks. Rolls-Royce and Boeing have harnessed an academic fulcrum at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Rotherham to great effect. But, generally, the UK’s record of translating research brainpower into commercial benefit is not great.

This isn’t merely a shame but presents genuine economic risk, to the calibre of both university research in the UK and the high technology products that British industry makes.

In 2009, Lord Mandelson commissioned the electronics polymath and entrepreneur Dr Hermann Hauser to research the UK’s weaknesses in commercialising good ideas, in the fields of engineering and science, and to recommend remedial action.

One of Hauser’s conclusions was that: “The UK’s approach to exploiting research is sub critical, follows no national strategy and pays insufficient attention to business requirements and the location
of relevant expertise.”

His report, “The Current and Future Role of Technology Innovation Centres in the UK”, proposed that the Government create a network of innovation centres, focusing on sectors where the UK has a comparative advantage such as cell therapies and plastic electronics.

These should take technologies from university labs – where they are normally taken as far as proof-of-concept or technology–demonstrator level – up to the stage where they can be taken to market by an investor.

His research compared the UK’s non-strategic approach with that of several countries including France, Germany, Korea, Spain and Sweden.

Most countries that were studied identified the need for Technology Innovation Centres (also commonly referred to as the ‘intermediate sector’) as a critical element to deliver governmental, or wider public sector, policies and strategies to promote innovation.
TICs – now relabelled Catapults – are intended to help companies get their ideas into higher Technology Readiness Levels, a scale used by the US Department of Defence, the Ministry of Defence and NASA for product market-readiness.

“If level one is the light bulb moment in the bath, and nine is seeing your product flying about in a passenger aircraft, the TIC is meant to help companies get through the critical stages from four to six,” says Marc Saunders, director of UK sales at Renishaw, who is chair of the Technical Fellows Board and Executive Board member at the AMRC.

Different paths to HVM Catapult funding and research

Catapult launched
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) identified three technology areas suitable for setting up a centre, and launched the first centre, the High Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centre (HVM TIC), in October. Further centres will focus on cell therapies and offshore renewable energy. The HVM TIC comprises seven centres of excellence for advanced manufacturing research and development, located nationwide from the National Composites Centre in Bristol to the Advanced Forming Research Centre in Glasgow. The TIC unites these seven centres into what David Bott, director of innovation platforms at the TSB, is keen to emphasise is a single management structure.

Companies of any size with a high value product or technology idea with strong commercial potential, can now contact the HVM TIC, via the Technology Strategy Board, to initiate the process of approval. Assistance comes in the form of access to expensive equipment, research facilities, academic experts pooled from the seven subcentres and, where appropriate, some funding. There are plans to create a head office and website for the HVM TIC (now HVM Catapult), based at the TSB in Swindon, but at the moment initial enquiries for assistance should go via the contacts at each centre. The diagram overleaf explains the structure.

Examples of SMEs linking to the HVM TIC

Technicut: Tier One member within the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Rotherham.

Working in aerospace, Technicut’s route to market is by definition slow, as “everything we do must goes through a stringent validation process,” says managing director Mark Kirby. “The AMRC allows us to machine parts for aircraft, and develop strategies in parts cutting, to demonstrate capabilities that can be migrated into new, commercial stage machining platforms. These might be validated by companies like Rolls-Royce to adopt in their production process.” Adrian Allen was sales director at specialised cutting tool manufacturer Technicut before co-founding the AMRC in 2001.

McDonald Engineers: manufacturer of metal storage systems Collaborated with Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) in Strathclyde on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership beginning June 2010.

McDonald Engineers had made copper storage solutions for many years but market demands were changing. The company worked with the AFRC, now part of the TIC, to use its in-house expertise to develop a manufacturing facility for stainless steel hot water cylinders, and the line was opened in November. It worked with a research scientist at the AFRC on the project, who has been invaluable. “He is a higher standard than we would have got in the general job market and we will almost certainly offer him a job at the end of the KTP,” says managing director Bill Stewart. Mr Stewart says they will look at how the new HVM TIC might provide the business with more assistance.

Torotrak: designer and licenser of traction drive technologies to manufacturing third parties.

Torotrak has worked extensively with the Technology Strategy Board. Dick Elsy, managing director, says: “The use of their funding has helped bring some new innovations to the fore. These have been consortium projects bringing diverse businesses together. This approach has helped to bring Flywheel Hybrids into reality. Torotrak’s work with the FHSPV consortium (Flywheel Hybrid for Premium Vehicles) has delivered some very good results on a Jaguar vehicle (some 22% fuel economy improvement).

The consortium featured Torotrak, Jaguar, Prodrive, Ricardo and Flybrid Systems LLP. In terms of exploitation, Volvo, although not in the consortium, has declared plans to equip its new SPA car platform with flywheel hybrid technology, using Flybrid LLP and Torotrak technology. “Torotrak has not used the TIC, but if it had existed, then Torotrak could have benefitted from some early manufacturing process development, which in turn could have helped our business model. Torotrak is predominantly a licensing business and, as such, the introduction of the technology into manufacturing is led by our licensees. Some manufacturing pre-development, with help from the TIC, could have helped build further confidence in the journey into volume manufacture.”

HVM Catapult – Fast facts

  • Seven nationwide centres make up the TIC
  • All the centres, under the umbrella organisation the HVM TIC, are now open for business
  • Mission: The HVM TIC purpose is similar to that of the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, or ITRI in Taiwan = to close the gap between product idea and commercial success.
  • Disciplines cover metal forming, composites, aerospace materials and structures, automotive engineering research, nuclear energy, process manufacturing techniques and more.
  • The Technology Strategy Board will invest £140m over six years.
  • Three-way funding: Approximately Technology Strategy Board (BIS) 1/3; direct contracts with UK business 1/3 and competitive Research and Development grants inc EU funding 1/3.
  • Some of the centres are well-established (WMG, AMRC), others are brand new (NCC opened on November 24)
  • The HVM TIC’s objective is to help increase the % of UK GDP from manufacturing from 12% today to 20% by 2025

Make-up of the HVM TIC2
Make-up of the High Value Manufacturing TIC (Catapult)


Hermann Hauser’s report, The Current and Future Role of Technology Innovation Centres in the UK, can be found at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/ biscore/innovation/docs/10-843- role-of-technology-innovationcentres-hauser-review

Will Stirling