Military operation

Technology transfer into and out of the defence sector can help SMEs, says Damien McDonnell.


The Defence Diversification Agency (DDA) was set up by the MoD in 1999 to promote the spread of technology between the civil and defence sectors. Today it is a leading, demand-led, technology-transfer consulting group that has helped more than 6,000 companies throughout the UK.

Each of the 27 regional DDA offices has a technology transfer manager whose role is to help businesses access defence science and technology for growth. They also help companies with innovative technology find their way into the MoD, defence sector and other parts of government to commercialise their products.

Businesses need to become more innovative in order to survive and prosper in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Small- and medium-sized enterprises in particular are hard pressed to meet day-to-day requirements and rarely have the time to think about the future.

DDA’s Technology Opportunity Study (Tops) programme is establishing a track record for helping companies resolve today’s problems and identify opportunities for future products and processes such as launching a new product or service, or breaking into a new market. In effect, it meets companies and encourages them to stop and think.

Tops programmes have been run in different parts of the UK, in some cases with the support of local regional development agencies. These help local companies become more aware of their markets and fundamentally more competitive. They usually come up with at least three good technology opportunities that the company can explore and for which the DDA can find assistance from within UK.

The flip-side of this process is when DDA identifies technologies being researched and developed in academic institutions that can be spun-out and used in defence and homeland security, or commercialised more widely. Using structured techniques that take an in-depth look at these technologies, it can help identify which of these ideas have the greatest chance of making money.

It is never as simple as just bringing parties together or having a good idea. It is also important to analyse intellectual property for its originality and scientific robustness. Without such due diligence, the potential to make money from new technology can be lost altogether. Critical to the processes involved is the enormous trust that DDA’s technology diversification managers have developed with clients. They know that, because it is a government body, they can rely on it to operate in complete confidence and to give impartial guidance.

The DDA has an extensive knowledge of technology but it also has wide-ranging contacts in the regions and UK business at large — especially within the MoD and defence sector — that provide valuable networks for helping clients exploit and commercialise their ideas.

Recently the DDA helped Derby-based electronics firm Pektron network into an appropriate new market in Germany for its new portable test equipment for hydraulics, lubrication and fluid systems. The company has diversified from its traditional motor industry background.

The DDA also helped wind energy generation specialist Natural Power Consultants from Dumfries to develop and use some new technology from European defence expert Qinetiq. Thanks to the links made, NPC was the first to use the new versatile and cost-effective Zephir, a portable wind measuring device that can help identify the best sites for new wind farms. Clyde Space, Scotland’s only spacecraft manufacturer, found test facilities for its range of baby satellite power packs through its connections with the DDA.

And through its business incubator in Enfield, the DDA was supportive of young business Crawford Brewin, the inventor of ‘concrete canvas’ a rapidly deployable hardened shelter that requires only water and air for its construction, creating a durable and secure portable building. The building in a bag is, in effect, a sack of concrete-impregnated fabric that can house refugees in war zones and huge areas devastated by natural disaster.



Prof Damien McDonnell is chief executive, DDA