Theme: Knowledge exchange, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Ben Ricketts (NMITE), Prof Beverley Gibbs (NMITE) and Harriet Dearden (NMITE)

Keywords: Challenge-based Learning, Timber Technology, Levelling-up, Skills, Future of Work

Abstract: NMITE is a greenfield engineering-specialist HEI in Herefordshire which welcomed its first students in September 2021. Partnership is key to our growth, from both necessity and choice. Our MEng Integrated Engineering is infused with partners who facilitate a challenge-based learning pedagogy, and our Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (opening September 2022) works in national partnership to deliver a curriculum developed by ‚Äď and for – the timber engineering industry. Alongside a rich educational offer, NMITE‚Äôs greenfield status brings with it the responsibility to contribute to civic and economic growth. We are a named partner in Western Power Distribution‚Äôs Social Contract as we pursue shared goals for regional development and reduced economic inequality. Key to our goals is our role in in Hereford‚Äôs Town Plan, leading an initiative called The Skills Foundry which will promote community engagement around individual skills, and with businesses in the changing nature of work.

 

NMITE is a greenfield HEI founded to make a difference to the people of Herefordshire and to its economy. Herefordshire is  characterised by lower-than-average wages, lower-than-average skills, higher proportions of part-time work, a GVA gap of £1.75bn[1], and is categorised as a social mobility coldspot [2].  Into this context, NMITE was launched in 2021 without any antecedent or parent organisation, and with an engineering and technology focus whose graduates would help address the national shortfall of engineers.  We see ourselves as educators, educational innovators, a catalyst for upskilling, and agents for regional change.

An HEI founded in partnership

From NMITE’s earliest days, building strong relationships with partners has been a core part of our culture.  NMITE’s first supporters were industry partners, a mixture of local SMEs and national and international companies with a regional presence, united by the need for access to a talent pipeline of engineering graduates. The urgency of this need was evidenced in the raising of over £1M of seed funding, from a range of businesses and individuals. This early investment demonstrated to Government and other stakeholders that the concept of an engineering higher education institution in Hereford had industrial support. In turn, this unlocked significant Government funding which has subsequently been matched through donations and sponsorship to NMITE.

Over the last five years, the portfolio of partners has continued to grow. The nature of the support spans equipment, expertise and financial donations. Our Pioneer Fund raised money to support NMITE’s first students, with donations recognised through naming opportunities. For NMITE, this enabled us to offer universal bursaries to our students joining in our first two years of operation Рa powerful tool in student recruitment, and with a longer-term outcome for those early investors in their ability to develop relationships with students, increase their brand awareness and achieve their own recruitment targets in the future.

Curriculum Partnerships

NMITE welcomed its first MEng students in September 2021, and this has provided new opportunities for industrial partnership in the curriculum. The MEng Integrated Engineering is a challenge-led pedagogy where learners work in teams to address real engineering challenges provided by an industrial (and occasionally community) partner. During the process, learners have direct contact with professionals to understand commercial pressures and engineering value, apply theoretical knowledge and develop professional capabilities.

In the sprint-based MEng, NMITE learners tackle around 20 different challenges in this way. Since September, our first students have helped re-engineer the material on a torque arm, designed and built a moisture sensor for a timber-framed house, visualised data from a geotechnical survey, and validated/optimised their own designs for a free-standing climbing structure. Students are already building their portfolio of work, and employers are building relationships with our student body.

Amplifying Innovation

Whilst NMITE is comfortable in its positioning as a teaching-focused HEI, we are mindful of the contribution we can make to the regional economy. NMITE has benefitted from LEP investment to support regional skills and productivity [3], and we have identified opportunities in advanced timber technology, automated manufacturing and skills for a changing future of work.

The Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) will open in September 2022 on Skylon Park, Hereford‚Äôs Enterprise Zone. Drawing on insight from a series of round table meetings with global and national businesses in timber, we came to understand that the UK timber industry needed to be much better connected, with more ambitious collaboration across the industry both vertically (seed to end product) and horizontally (between architects, engineers and construction managers, for example). In pursuing these aims we once again opted for a partnerships-based approach, forging close relationships with Edinburgh Napier University – internationally recognised for timber construction and wood science – and with TDUK ‚Äď the timber industry‚Äôs central trade body. Founded in this way, CATT is firmly rooted in industrial need, actively engaged with industrial partners across the supply chain, and helps join up activity between Scotland, England and Wales.¬†

CATT’s opening in 2022 will spearhead NMITE’s offer for part-time, work-based learners (including professionals, reskillers and degree apprentices) and provide a progressive curriculum for a sustainable built environment. In keeping with NMITE’s pedagogical principals, the CATT’s curriculum will be infused with a diverse portfolio of industrial partners who will provide challenges and context for the CATT curriculum. In future years, the Centre for Automated Manufacturing will provide educational options for comparable learners in the manufacturing industry.

Our initial research in establishing need in these areas pointed not only to skills shortages, but to technological capacity. Herefordshire has a very high proportion of SME’s who report difficulties in horizon scanning new technologies, accessing demonstrations, attracting and retaining graduates with up-to-date knowledge. In this space, and an HEI can play a key role in amplifying innovation; activities to support this will be integral to NMITE’s work at Skylon Park.

The Changing Nature of Work

NMITE is active in two further projects that support the regional economy and social mobility, founded in the knowledge that today’s school leavers will face very different career paths and job roles to those we have enjoyed. Automation, globalisation and AI are hugely disruptive trends that will change opportunities and demand new skills.

NMITE‚Äôs ‚ÄėHerefordshire Skills for the Future‚Äô project is funded by the European Social Fund and helps SMEs, micro-businesses and young people to develop and secure the skills needed to flourish in the economy of 2030. Activities include:

NMITE’s Future Skills Hub is a central element of the Hereford Stronger Towns bid [4] to the Government’s Towns Fund, a flagship levelling-up vehicle. The overarching goal of the hub is to provide access to skills and improve employment opportunities for Herefordians, in the context of changing job roles and opportunities.

Conclusion

Our core mission of innovation in engineering education is enhanced by our civic commitment to regional growth and individual opportunity. From the outset, NMITE has been clear that to meet business demand for work-ready engineers, business must contribute meaningfully to their development. We aim to contribute to closing the gap in regional, national and global demand for engineers, but without that critical early investment from partners we would not have been in the position to establish the radical institution that NMITE is today, that remains so close to the original vision of the Founders.

 

[1] Herefordshire Council. Understanding Herefordshire: Productivity and Economic Growth, 2022. Available online at Productivity and economic growth – Understanding Herefordshire [accessed 17th January 2022].

[2] [1] Herefordshire Council. Understanding Herefordshire: Topics Related to Social Mobility, 2022. Available online at Topics relating to social mobility – Understanding Herefordshire [accessed 17th January 2022].

[3] Marches Local Economic Partnership. Marches LEP backs NMITE project with £5.66m funding deal. Available online at Marches LEP backs NMITE project with £5.66m funding deal РMarches LEP [accessed 17th January 2022].

[4] Stronger Hereford. #StrongerHereford ‚Äď The independent Towns Fund Board for Hereford

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development¬†

Authors: Amer Gaffar (Manchester Metropolitan University); Dr Ian Madley (Manchester Metropolitan University); Prof Bamidele Adebisi (Manchester Metropolitan University).

Keywords: Decarbonisation; Local Energy; Skills; Economic Growth.

Abstract: Greater Manchester (GM) has committed to carbon neutrality by 2038. There is a 97m tonnes carbon emission gap between solutions currently available and a net zero budget. To bridge this innovation gap under the leadership of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority the agency brings together: Bruntwood, Hitachi, MMU, UoM, GM Growth Company, SSE and UoS to support R&D and innovation initiatives focused on customer pull to enable rapid deployment of new and emerging technologies, services and business models to meet the challenge of GM becoming a carbon neutral city-region by 2038, drive skills development and deliver economic growth.

 

The need for an Energy Innovation Agency

The Mayor for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has committed the city region to carbon neutrality by 2038.  An analysis of the implications of the Paris Climate Change Agreement for Greater Manchester (GM) (Figure 1) has identified that there is a 97m tonnes carbon emission gap between solutions currently available and the actions needed to reach net zero.  We refer to this as the Innovation Gap.

 
Figure 1 GM Net Zero Carbon Budget and implementation pathways. Source GM 5-year Environment Plan [1]

 

[2] Unconstrained implementation of Scatter methods
Achievable implementation of Scatter methods

 

To bridge the GM innovation gap under the leadership of GMCA the agency brings together: Bruntwood, Hitachi, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, SSE and  University of Salford to support R&D and innovation initiatives focused on customer pull to enable rapid deployment of new and emerging technologies, services and business models (energy innovations) to meet the challenge of GM becoming a carbon neutral city-region by 2038, driving skills development and delivering economic growth.

Forming the Energy Innovation Agency

GMCA initially approached the city’s three universities to seek advice on how their academic expertise could be harnessed to help bridge the innovation gap.  This quickly led to discussions between each of the universities that identified a wide pool of complementary, and largely non-competitive, areas of research expertise that could address the gap (Figure 2).      

Figure 2 Research expertise by university partner – darker colour indicates a greater depth of expertise in the area.

 

It was also clear that the timescales needed to deliver city wide change would not fit within a traditional academic approach to research and knowledge transfer that required a public-private partnership.

At the core of this partnership approach are three key components.

Using existing networks, a core team comprising GMCA, Bruntwood, Hitachi, MMU, UoM, SSE and UoS came together to develop the business plan for the agency and to jointly provide the funding for the first three-years of the operation of the agency.

Vision, Aims and Objectives

To accelerate the energy transition towards a carbon-neutral economy by bridging the energy innovation gap, increasing the deployment of innovative energy solutions in GM and beyond, to speed-up the reduction of carbon emissions.

Aims:

  1. Innovation Exploitation: supporting and scaling the most promising decarbonised energy innovations to maximise the early adoption of effective carbon-neutral energy systems.
  2. Decarbonisation: reducing Greater Manchester’s carbon emissions from energy to meet our ambitious target to be a carbon-neutral city region by 2038
  3. Rapid Commercialisation: rapid transition of carbon-neutral energy innovations to full-scale integration.
  4. Investment: creating and promoting investment opportunities for carbon-neutral energy innovations and projects in the city region.

Objectives:

Scope

With a population of 2.8 million covering 1,277 km2 the ten metropolitan boroughs of GMCA comprises the second most populous urban area in the UK, outside of London. The scope and potential for the Energy Innovation Agency is huge.

 

Figure 3 GMCA Energy Transition Region showing local authority boundaries.

 

Establishing the GM-city region area as an Energy Transition Region will provide the opportunity to develop the scale of deployment necessary to go beyond small-scale demonstration projects and develop the supply chains that can be replicated as a blue-print  elsewhere in urban environments across the UK and internationally.

Progress to date

Following the investment by the founding partners a management team has been established within GMCA‚Äôs subsidiary ‚ÄúThe Growth Company‚ÄĚ.¬† An independent board chaired by Peter Emery CEO ENWL has also been established.

The formal launch event will take place on 28th April 2022, at which a first challenge to the innovation community to bring forward solutions to decarbonise non-domestic buildings  will be set.

Key contacts and further information

Energy Innovation Agency

Case Study

Amer Gaffar, Director Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre, Manchester Metropolitan University a.gaffar@mmu.ac.uk

References

[1] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/1986/5-year-plan-branded_3.pdf

[2] Kuriakose, J., Anderson, K., Broderick, J., & Mclachlan, C. (2018). Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement for Greater Manchester. https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/83000155/Tyndall_Quantifying_Paris_for_Manchester_Report_FINAL_PUBLISHED_rev1.pdf

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Knowledge exchange, Graduate employability and recruitment

Authors: Prof Simon Barrans (University of Huddersfield), Harvey Kangley (Associated Utility Supplies Ltd), Greg Jones (University of Huddersfield) and Mark Newton (Associated Utility Supplies Ltd)

Keywords: Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Design and Innovation, Student Projects, Railway Infrastructure

Abstract: A six year collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and Associated Utility Supplies Ltd has resulted in one completed and one ongoing KTP project, two successfully completed First of a Kind projects for the rail industry and the development of a new design department in the company. Benefits to the University include, graduate and placement student employment, industrially relevant final year and masters projects and the application of University research. Continued collaboration will generate a case study for the next REF. In this paper we explore the various mechanisms that have been used to facilitate this work.

 

The opportunity

Network Rail felt that their current supply chain was vulnerable with many parts being single source, some from overseas. They addressed this issue by engaging with SMEs who could develop alternative products. A local company, AUS, believed they could tackle this challenge but needed to develop their design and analysis capability. Their collaboration with the University of Huddersfield enabled this.

Seed funded taster projects

In 2016 AUS approached regional development staff at the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, the University‚Äės business and innovation centre, with two immediate needs. These were: an explanation as to why a cast iron ball swivel clamp had failed in service, and a feasibility study to determine if a cast iron cable clamp could be replaced with an aluminium equivalent. Both these small projects were funded using the University‚Äôs Collaborative Venture Fund, an internal funding scheme to deliver short feasibility projects for industry. This incentivises staff to only engage in collaborations where there is a high expectation of significant external future funding, and which are low risk to an industry partner.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Projects

KTPs are managed by Innovate UK and are one of the few Innovate UK grants that are designed to have a university as the lead organisation. They are particularly attractive to SMEs as Innovate UK funds 67% of the project cost. The costs cover: the employment costs for a graduate, known as the Associate, who typically works full time at the company; an academic supervisor who meets with the Associate for half a day a week; and administrative support. The key measure of success of a KTP project is that it leaves the company generating more profit and hence, paying more tax. Increased employment is also desirable.

The first, three-year KTP project, applied for in January 2017 and started in June 2017, aimed to provide the company with a design and analysis capability. A Mechanical Engineering graduate from Huddersfield was recruited as the Associate and the Solidworks package was introduced to the company. A product development procedure was put in place and a number of new products brought to market. The Associate’s outstanding performance was recognised in the KTP Best of the Best Awards 2020 and he has stayed with the company to lead the Product Innovation team.

The second, two-year KTP project started in November 2020 with the aim of expanding the company’s capability to use FRP materials. Whilst the company had some prior product experience in this area, they were not carrying out structural analysis of the products. FRP is seen as an attractive material for OLE structures as it is non-conductive (hence removing the need for insulators) and reduces mass (compared to steel) which reduces the size of foundations needed.

First of a kind (FOAK) projects

The Innovate UK FOAK scheme provides 100% funding to develop products at a high technology readiness level and bring them to market. They are targeted at particular industry areas and funding calls are opened a month to two months before they close. It is important therefore to be prepared to generate a bid before the call is made. FOAKs can and have been led by universities. In the cases here, the company was the lead as they could assemble the supply chain and route to market. The entire grant went to the company with the university engaged as a sub-contractor.

The first FAOK to support development of a new span-wire clamp was initially applied for in 2019 and was unsuccessful but judged to be fundable. A grant writing agency was employed to rewrite the bid and it was successful the following year. Comparing the two bids, re-emphasis of important points between sections of the application form and emphasising where the bid met the call requirements, appeared to be the biggest change.

The span-wire clamp is part of the head-span shown in figure 1. The proposal was to replace the existing cast iron, 30 component assembly with an aluminium bronze, 14 component equivalent, as shown in figure 2. The FOAK project was successful with the new clamp now approved for deployment by Network Rail.

The University contributed to the project by testing the load capacity of the clamps, assessing geometric tolerances in the cast parts and determining the impact that the new clamp would have on the pantograph-contact wire interface. This latter analysis used previous research work carried out by the University and will be an example to include in a future REF case study.

The second FOAK applied for in 2020 was for the development of a railway footbridge fabricated from pultruded FRP sections. This bid was developed jointly by the University and the company, alongside the resubmission of the span-wire FOAK bid. This bid was successful and the two projects were run in parallel. The footbridge was demonstrated at RailLive 2021.

Additional benefits to University of Huddersfield

In addition to the funding attracted, the collaboration has provided material for two MSc module assignments, six MSc individual projects and 12 undergraduate projects. The country of origin of students undertaking these projects include India, Sudan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria and Qatar. A number of these students intend to stay in the UK and their projects should put them in a good position to seek employment in the rail industry. A number of journal and conference papers based on the work are currently being prepared.

 

Figure 1. Head-span showing span-wires and span-wire clamp.

 

Figure 2. Old (left) and new (right) span-wire clamps.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Knowledge exchange, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Research, Graduate employability and recruitment

Authors: Alex Prince (Sheffield Hallam University) and Prof Wayne Cranton (Sheffield Hallam University)

Keywords: Innovation, SMEs

Abstract: The Sheffield innovation Programme led by Sheffield Hallam with the Growth Hub and the University of Sheffield, delivers bespoke R&D, consultancy and workshops, driving innovation in regional SMEs. In total, since 2016, our experts from across the University have supported over 400 projects with regional businesses, enabling them to grow, diversify and meet changing customer needs. Many projects lead to further collaborations such as KTPs and create new products, processes and market opportunities.

 

Background

The Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP) was set up in 2016 to support small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the South Yorkshire region to access academic expertise, facilities and resources at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield, to stimulate innovation and growth and to increase business competitiveness. The focus of this paper is on activities delivered by Sheffield Hallam University.

Sheffield Hallam University leads the programme, and with the £3.1m second phase of the programme also introducing two Innovation Advisors working for the Growth Hub. The programme is jointly funded by; the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the universities, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), providing support at zero-cost to businesses. It runs until June 2023.

Activities

The programme has now reached a milestone of 400 projects with regional SMEs, enabling them to grow, diversify and meet changing customer needs. To date over 150 academics have worked with companies. Of these 76 staff who are based in Sheffield Hallam’s engineering research centres have worked with 85 companies. 

SIP supports time for academics to undertake work with clients. It uses funding to enable delivery of R&D consultancy services to the businesses, helping to establish new products or services, resolve problems or advise on appropriate routes forwards.

Outputs

The main output is ‚Äėbusiness assist‚Äô interventions- a minimum of 12 hours of engagement.¬† These are delivered through bespoke R&D-based consultancy and workshops. The average intervention is approx. 7 days, recognising the potential time required to work with a client meaningfully.

Sheffield Hallam has implemented a light-touch internal approval process for clients where support may take more than 10 days of time. Such investment needs to demonstrate significant added value- for the client in terms of market opportunity or jobs created, or potentially for us also in terms of joint funding proposal development.

SIP has now resulted in 8 successful KTP applications for Sheffield Hallam with more in the pipeline, plus other Innovate UK and commercial consultancy activities, plus considerable reputational benefit regionally.

SIP, Innovation and Engineering expertise

SIP has developed a proven model for collaborating with SMEs, buying out the time of engineers and other academic experts so they can work with companies.

The core areas of academic support are the expertise within the Materials Engineering Research Institute (MERI), the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE), and the Sport Engineering Research Group (SERG) and Design Futures (Product and Packaging).

In a region with a very low level of innovation and investment in R&D, the project provides an important entry point to the University’s expertise and a platform for longer term projects and creates opportunities for early career researchers, graduate interns and KTP associates.  Project delivery connects our engineering expertise with specialisms across the University resulting in collaborations with designers, biosciences and materials, and supports targeted engagement with sectors for example glass and ceramics and the food industry.

Examples: 

  1. Thermotex Engineering a family-run business which operates in the field of thermodynamics and specialises in manufacturing thermal insulation. The company required physical evidence of how a fabric performed in order to make a bid for a major project based in Arctic Russia. We undertook accelerated weathering testing on the durability of a fabric material when it was exposed to cycles of freezing and thawing, UVB radiation and high temperature / relative humidity. ‚ÄėThis solution provided us with indicative product testing for unusual characteristics, access to laboratory equipment, and performance of specific tests,‚Äô said Paige Niehues, the Commercial and Technical Executive at Thermotex Engineering. https://www.shu.ac.uk/research/specialisms/materials-and-engineering-research-institute/what-we-do/case-studies/accelerated-weathering-testing
  2. Sheffield-based SME Safety Fabrications Ltd manufactures fall protection and building access solutions. This includes roof top anchoring systems that allow roped access (e.g., abseiling) at height.¬† The company wanted to develop a new davit arm and socket system that could be used on tall structures to improve rope access for building maintenance. Their unique product idea avoided permanent obstruction on roof tops and allowed for easy installation and removal.¬† MERI worked with Safety Fabrications Ltd to design different davit arm configurations which would satisfy the complex needs of the BS specification. ‚ÄúWorking with engineering specialists within the university allowed us to theoretically explore a range of options prior to manufacture & physical testing.‚ÄĚ John Boyle, Managing Director at Safety Fabrications Limited https://sip.ac.uk/portfolio/safetyfabrications/
  3. Equitrek provides an excellent example of cross disciplinary working and progression of relationships with a company. In summary our design expertise enabled the company to manufacture new horse boxes targeting entry into the American market and has led to longer term KTPs.  The KTP has enabled Equi-Trek to enhance all aspects of their new product development processes, including ergonomics, spatial design, technical analysis and manufacturing.   https://www.shu.ac.uk/news/all-articles/latest-news/hallam-knowledge-transfer-partnership-local-firm-outstanding
  4. Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering helping local business Dext Heat Recovery, who worked with restaurant chains including Nando’s and Frankie and Benny’s, to develop a heat exchanger to work in industrial kitchens Рreducing energy costs and environmental impact. https://www.shu.ac.uk/national-centre-of-excellence-for-food-engineering/our-impact/all-projects/dext-heat-recovery
  5. Guildhawk employs thousands of translators across the world for hundreds of clients . A project with SIP led to a KTP. At the SHU Innovation Conference 2021. Jurga Zilinskiene MBE, the CEO, told delegates in her keynote address that the KTP helped create an extraordinary SaaS platform that for the first time will help businesses of all sizes to manage people in a fast, easy and secure way.  The partnership resulted in the launch of new software products, Guildhawk Aided, Text Perfect and Guildhawk Voice avatars. https://www.fenews.co.uk/education/clean-data-for-ai-at-the-heart-of-industry-4-0-technology-revolution-says-guildhawk-ceo-coder/

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Knowledge exchange, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Research

Author: Prof Sa’ad Sam Medhat (IKE Institute)

Keywords: Innovation Benchmarking, Innovation Portfolios, Innovation-driven Leadership, ISO 56002, Industrial Collaboration, Growth

Abstract: The Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange works closely with business and industry as well as with universities (e.g. City of Birmingham, Plymouth, Westminster). The case study will feature the application of the Investor in Innovations Standard (Aligned to the ISO 56002 Innovation Management System) within the Research, Innovation, Enterprise and Employability (RIEE) Directorate of Birmingham City University (BCU). The Case Study will look at six key areas: 1. Strategy and Alignment; 2. Organisational Readiness; 3. Core Capabilities and Technologies; 4. Industry Foresight; 5. Customer Awareness; and 6. Impact and Value.

 

Introduction

This case study draws upon the work and outcomes of the Investor in Innovations (I3) ISO56002 Standard programme Birmingham City University’s (BCU) Research, Innovation, Enterprise and Employability (RIEE) department undertook with IKE Institute to benchmark their existing innovation capabilities, identify gaps and provide an action plan for future improvement in innovation and knowledge exchange (KE).

The validation and benchmarking work conducted with BCU RIEE used a six category standard framework (see fig. 1): strategy and alignment, organisational readiness, core capabilities, technologies and IP, industry foresight, customer awareness and impact and value.

 

Fig. 1 Investor in Innovations ISO56002 Standard Framework

 

Aim

The aim of the case study was to examine each of these categories to assess how knowledge exchange methodologies, practices, tools and techniques were being used to support the university’s innovation ambitions, and ultimately, to drive up value and impact.

Innovation and knowledge exchange are inextricably linked (see fig. 2). Innovation needs knowledge exchange to fuel every stage of its process, from listening and discovery, through design and experimentation to implementation and measurement. Conversely, knowledge exchange needs innovation to create a focus for engagement. Innovation gives knowledge exchange its creative, entrepreneurial spirit. The two are required to work in unison if an organisation is to achieve higher levels of innovation maturity.

 

Fig. 2 The link between the innovation process and knowledge exchange

 

Enabling innovation and knowledge exchange to work concurrently was shown to be a central theme within RIEE, exemplified, particularly, through their STEAMhouse project (see fig. 3). A collaborative innovation campus which provides product and service innovation and knowledge exchange to business.

 

Fig 3. BCU RIEE’s STEAMhouse project

 

Strategy and alignment

The critical aspect of this category was to examine BCU’s Innovation Strategy and how well aligned this was to the overall 2025 Strategy for the university. An underpinning element of the innovation strategy, was reviewing, supporting and improving their innovation ecosystem partners (both business and industry and academic), widening and growing their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) communities of practice, and supporting direct knowledge exchange through the roll-out of commercialisation policies, training, capital and digital infrastructure to support more students and entrepreneurs.

Organisational readiness

This category assessed BCU’s innovation culture, creative capabilities and the structures, processes and governance in place to support innovation developments. When examined through the knowledge exchange lens, these areas translated into BCU’s ability to use KE to spark discussion, curiosity and inspire creativity accelerating the build up of a virtuous growth mindset. BCU have engaged with over 2,500 businesses, and formally assisted 1,425 to start, grow or innovate since 2017/18. BCU demonstrated their ability to leverage this landscape to create powerful sub-networks within their wider ecosystem for greater knowledge exchange, thus, generating a force multiplier at every stage of their innovation process. Internally, dissemination of innovation wins and promotion of ideas sharing has ramped up the institution’s innovation knowledge base and underpinned a sustainable innovation pipeline of activities.

Core capabilities, technologies and IP

For an institution like BCU, this category focused on building capacity in expertise and resource. Rapid access to external knowledge sources within RIEE’s ecosystem helped to reflect different perspectives from SMEs, larger businesses, other academic stakeholders and industrial representatives from associations and learned societies. Development of 100 innovation ambassadors within RIEE has brought greater access to the ambassadors’ own communities of practice and collaborative networks. The use of crowdsourcing mechanisms such as innovation challenges, have helped build momentum around specific product, service or societal problems. Use of collaborative knowledge STEAM tools such as STEAM Sprints, have enabled greater creative problem solving and refinement of selected ideas.

Industry foresight

At the heart of this category is knowledge exchange. Through analysis and synthesis, information becomes intelligence supporting innovation directions. Within RIEE, long-established and engrained partnerships with external stakeholders and engagement on industry forums have been utilised to acquire sectoral knowledge and key market intelligence informing and shaping the exploration and exploitation of new scientific, technological and engineering discoveries. The university’s representation on key regional advisory boards positioned them as thought leaders and led to sculpting regional strategies and plans.

Customer awareness

BCU‚Äôs Public and Community Engagement Strategy forms the basis for mechanisms to drive productive knowledge exchange. This category focused on understanding the needs of the customer and involving them in the innovation development process. RIEE demonstrated its ability to use collaborative networks and customer ecosystems to identify challenges. They harnessed co-creation practices and funding ‚Äď e.g. Proof of Concept Support Fund for Staff – to then deliver innovative solutions.

Effective knowledge exchange requires coherent, relevant and accurate data. Through  BCU’s CRM, segmentation and narrow-casting has been achieved. This targeting of specific information through BCU’s online platforms and social media channels has encouraged 13,591 connections with businesses and proliferated greater knowledge exchange with over 2,500 engaged relationships.

Impact and value

This category’s focus ensured that a structured approach to implementation was adopted to maximise commercial success, and measurement of the innovation process meets organisational objectives. In this context, BCU’s community engagement and knowledge exchange through multiple pathways helped to underpin continual improvement of RIEE’s innovation process. The positive impact of knowledge exchange for RIEE has been defined by the development of STEAMhouse project Рphase 2, and the creation of BCU Enterprises, to further drive the impact of RIEE, including research, experimentation, exploitation, and commercialisation of product IP and service know-how in STEAM disciplines.

Outcomes

Gaps were identified across all six of the I3 Standard framework categories. The key improvements in KE included:

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development; Knowledge exchange.

Authors: Prof Tony Dodd (Staffordshire University); Marek Hornak (Staffordshire University) and Rachel Wood (Staffordshire University).

Keywords: Regional Development Funding, Innovation Enterprise Zone

Abstract: The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire region registers low in measures of economic prosperity, research and development expenditure, productivity, and higher skills. Staffordshire University has received funding to support regional growth in materials, manufacturing, digital and intelligent mobility and to develop higher skills. Packaged together into the Innovation Enterprise Zone these projects have made positive impacts in the region. This presentation will provide an overview of our approach to regional support and highlight impact and lessons learnt for companies, academics, and students.

 

Background

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire economy underperforms compared to the wider West Midlands and England [1].

Industry is dominated by SMEs with strengths in manufacturing, advanced materials, automotive, logistics and warehousing, agriculture, and digital industries [1].

Aims and Objectives

The aim was to develop an ecosystem for driving innovation, economic growth, job creation and higher skills in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

The objectives were to:

Enterprise Zone and Projects

Funding was successfully awarded from ERDF, Research England, and Staffordshire County Council.  The themes of the projects were developed in collaboration with regional partners to identify key strengths and potential for growth.  Each of the projects is match funded by Staffordshire University including through academic time.

Innovation

Skills development through the Enterprise Academy

The projects are part of the wider Staffordshire University Innovation Enterprise Zone (launched November 2020, Research England) to support research collaboration, knowledge exchange, innovation, and skills development.  This includes space for business incubation and low-cost shared office space in The Hatchery for new start-ups.  We also provide a Creative Lab (funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP) for hosting business-academic meetings and access to the SmartZone equipment for rapid prototyping.

Spotlight on Innovation Projects

To highlight the differences between approaches we highlight two innovation projects.

Staffordshire Advanced Manufacturing, Prototyping, and Innovation Demonstrator (SAMPID) Staffordshire Connected & Intelligent Mobility Innovation Accelerator (SCIMIA)
Advanced manufacturing and product development Connected and intelligent mobility
ERDF funded ERDF funded
SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire
12-weeks of funded support Up to 12-months of support
Innovation consultants (students/graduates) Innovation consultants (students/graduates)
Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support
Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE) Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE)
3x funded PhD students to support projects and develop advanced innovation 2x Innovation and Enterprise Fellows to support technical business engagement
Funded advanced manufacturing equipment (including 3D metal printing, robot arms) and access to equipment in SmartZone Access to equipment in SmartZone
   

 

Case study videos:

Lessons Learnt

Business engagement

Project length

Student roles and recruitment

Supporting roles

Academic involvement

Possible future developments

References

[1] Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (2019).¬† Local Industrial Strategy ‚Äď Evidence Base September 2019.¬† Available from Development of a Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Industrial Strategy (SSIS) (stokestaffslep.org.uk)

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

 

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