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Comment: Celebrating ideas with Impact

Dr Jon Hall, Chief Innovation and Technology officer at Babcock International Group, comments on the finalists and winners of The Engineer’s sixth annual Collaborate To Innovate (C2I) awards

Throughout this week we've celebrated all of the winners and finalists of The Engineer’s sixth annual C2I Awards. It really has been an inspiring journey for me and all the judges.

Many of these projects will have endured trials and tribulations for months, sometimes years, to get to a point where they have a product or concept that is commercially ready. That’s why in my previous column I highlighted the real dedication and commitment the people behind these projects - the innovators - have shown to get to this point.

When we collaborate we can make a real difference in solving some of the biggest challenges facing us and our customers today

Something else I was struck by whilst judging this year’s entries, and really encouraged to see, is how diverse they are. It reminds us all that being innovative often requires us to do things differently; to think outside the box and that often means collaborating with others to find the best solutions.

That’s why partnerships are so fundamentally important to the work we do at Babcock - because when we collaborate we can make a real difference in solving some of the biggest challenges facing us and our customers today.

Engineers by their very nature are usually problem solvers and curious by nature. We’re built with an innate desire to understand how things work, and equally, how to fix things if they break, and improve on them.

And I genuinely believe great innovation is often about simplicity and the transfer of ideas from ‘adjacent’ fields - and definitely about impact.

This year’s C2I Grand Prix winner, Next-Gen Rice Milling, really demonstrates this. Their innovation is harnessing technology, combined with a multi-partner collaboration to tackle one of the biggest carbon emitters in the food/agriculture industry – rice production.

Looking to create the world’s first data-driven rice mill, in an ultra-low power way, is driving innovation in an industry that, across major population centres, hasn’t changed its main methods or technology in over a century.

The challenge is straightforward – getting there isn’t. That’s why the team they’ve put together really demonstrates that innovation can come out of collaboration. As environmental challenges increase around us, technology - in particular digital and data technology - will have a major role in how we address them.

At Babcock, whatever innovation project or technology application we’re looking at – whether it’s autonomy, additive manufacturing, or how we can retrofit digital twins on ageing assets, we start by looking at what we need to achieve, the vision, the impact – and what outcomes can we achieve in partnership that will create a safer, more secure world for us to live in – that’s where the real innovation kicks in.

So I’m really proud of the work our own teams have done in getting Highly Commended in both the Aerospace & Defence category with our Adaptive Learning project done in partnership with Area 9 Lyceum and also in the Manufacturing category with Automated Welding Equipment System Inspection & Monitoring (AWESIM).

In January, I talked about the importance of skills, and our new digital and data skills pilot with the South West Institute of Technology is now underway. We’ve been deluged with interest which is fantastic.

We’ll be doing a lot more on skills over the coming year, because industry is facing an increasing demand for people that can understand the increasingly complex world of digital systems and data we operate in. At the same time, as employers, we need to empower them to be curious about these new and increasingly powerful digital and data technologies, because that’s a future we’ll all benefit from.

What is clear is that the world needs innovation more than ever. But technology alone won’t solve all the challenges we face as a society today. It starts with us, as people.

Real innovation lies in our people and in our partnerships. It’s in how we collaborate, it’s in how we create and integrate technology solutions and it’s embedded in the skills of our people who deliver them.

Dr Jon Hall is Chief Innovation and Technology officer with Babcock International Group - headline sponsor for the sixth annual Collaborate To Innovate awards