Ahead of his appearance at The Engineer Conference in June, we asked Dick Elsy to outline some ofg the ways in which the High Value Manufacturing Catapult can help SMEs
What can the HMVC do for SMEs?
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult works with companies of all sizes, and over the last 12 months, we worked with well over 1,000 SMEs. What counts for us, is that a company is involved in advanced manufacturing activity that is R&D intensive and has the potential to yield big economic returns.
This can apply to the very big multinationals we work with, such as Rolls-Royce, Boeing, JLR to name but a few, but also to small and even micro-businesses. We do not offer financial support or generic business advice. There are others, such as Innovate UK and the Business Growth service, who do that. We very specifically work with companies to take some of the risk out of their technology innovation projects. Many innovations fail in the so-called ‘valley of death’ between early stage innovation and commercial production. This is the stage where the innovation needs to be tested, production moves from initial prototypes to be scaled up, specific – often very advanced and expensive – equipment and expertise is required. That comes at a great cost. We offer companies the opportunity to work with us and access the industrial scale cutting edge equipment on our shop floors, access the best of UK research and work with real industry experts. They only pay for what they use, thus making this much more cost and time-efficient than investment in their own resources. It means we improve their chances of success.
Where do they need to start?
The first step for companies who think they might benefit from working with us to take their project forward, is to contact us and have an initial conversation. If a company already has a fair idea of the type of support they need, they might want to contact the relevant centre directly.
If the project relates to printable electronics or biotechnology, for example, the only relevant HVM Catapult Centre is the Centre for Process Innovation, CPI. If the project relates to automation, assembly, metrology or another area that falls within the remit of several of our centres, then the company might want to approach the centre nearest to them in the first instance.
Our seven centres are located across the country. If the company isn’t sure where to start, contacting the HVM Catapult central office is a useful first step. We can find out if we can help and if so, which centre would be best placed to work with you.
What are some of the great success stories?
Many of our success stories take some time to come to fruition. Innovation often doesn’t pay off overnight. Yet in the mere three and a half years of our existence, we have already seen some tremendous success stories.
Toolmaker Tecnicut for example, worked with our AMRC Centre on the development of a system for their ground-breaking cutting tool for titanium alloys. This resulted in a tooling system which can cut titanium significantly quicker than other tools, and which is now applied in workshops across the world, as well as in the new Rolls-Royce fan disc factory in Washington, Tyne and Wear.
Lighting company Polyphotonix works with our CPI Centre on the development of their revolutionary Nocturna sleep mask, which provides a non-invasive and highly effective treatment for diabetes- and age-related eye disease. The company uses the CPI facilities, expertise and network and has gone from strength to strength, with clinical trials now well underway. The NHS has claimed this device could save them £1bn per annum.
Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT) – a company set up following a research project funded by the Technology Strategy Board and involving a partnership including MTC – provides solutions for seamlessly combining different technologies for the remanufacturing of high value metal parts. The company’s system combines additive manufacturing, axis machining, and in-process part-inspection. The new approach took the machine world by storm. The company recently won the $100,000 International Additive Manufacturing Award, the largest 3D printing award in history, sponsored by the Association for Manufacturing Technology and The German Machine Tool Builders Association.
In terms of the big companies we work with, it’s worth remembering that their success has an impact on the many SMEs in their supply chain and beyond. The fact that Rolls-Royce opened two new factories in 2014 on the back of technology innovations developed with our centres, for example, is tremendous news for the company and the people who work there, but also opens opportunities for SMEs in the industry.