The journey to designing a world-first servitization technology

Posted on: 18/10/2022

The Design Innovation Network team met with Ian Machan, Managing Director of the Advanced Services Group, and Iain McKechnie, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Advanced Services Group, Aston Business School to discuss the importance of design for servitization. This conversation opportunities and technological innovations that design for servitization unlocks.

We began by discussing what their design servitization roles involve. Ian Machan said that he leads the commercial application of the research carried out within the centre for excellence on advanced services at the business school. Essentially, he finds brilliant people that have experience and capabilities to support our customers, who then apply the research and tools developed. Iain McKechnie added that he engages with the manufacturing sector to transfer the latest research on advanced services, and explores partnerships where we bid for Innovate UK R&D funding as well as UK Research Council funding and, finally, disseminating the impact stories that come about through our research.

What’s your biggest priority at the moment?

Ian Machan described in detail that the current supply chain, energy, and political challenges are creating an uncertain marketplace for many manufacturers. Therefore, we are helping them to progress with new business models while also achieving more recent sustainability objectives. Following on from this, Iain McKechnie talked about their project involving exploiting a new facility in Warwick with their partner Baxi. In mid-2020, Baxi led an Innovate UK Manufacturing Made Smarter project focusing on ‘Heating-as-a-Service’ and he represented Aston University as one of the project partners. This also meant collaborating with Ian and his colleagues at The Advanced Services Group, as one of the four SMEs on the project, along with Siemens, Digital Catapult, Oxford Brookes Business School, and Exeter Business School. The £1.7m project concluded in June 2020 and they now have a world first – a Digital Servitization Demonstrator, in Baxi, where firms interested in testing alternative ways of delivering services to support customers or where they are investigating the changes required to deliver a different type of business model.

What upcoming technology innovations are you excited about in your industry?

For this question, Iain McKechnie outlined his areas of excitement which included the alignment of sustainability, circularity, and net zero which all play a role in helping to strengthen an alternative business value proposition. One other innovative aspect comes in the form of ‘financing’ where firms become innovative with the value capture process – where third-party financiers, or captives if the firm is large enough to support one, provide the funding to allow the delivery of the service under Opex conditions rather than having to find all of the Capex.

Tell us about something exciting you’re working on?

Ian Machan said he enjoyed working with a large manufacturer to evolve their frameworks to address their B2nearC and B2C delivery. This is a shift away from traditional B2B servitization and brings some new challenges as well as opportunities. Furthermore, Iain mentioned he is passionate about working on innovative business models in the process equipment sector, the food sector, and the cleantech sector. Outside of Aston, he supports the work of the Through-life Engineering Services (TES) National Council to encourage firms with large, long-term assets/contracts, to extend the use and effectiveness of the asset by providing outcome-based contracts and advanced services. Ian Machan then remarked that design for servitization is a vital factor in delivering sustainable products. The days of “make, use, throw away” are going and we all have the opportunity to think about life cycle use and reuse from the outset. Increasingly the manufacturers will retain ownership of the products they create, providing their customers with the outcomes they are looking for, not just a transactional sale of goods.

What is your previous work experience?

Iain reflected on his career and shared that he was a Professional Engineer at the National Engineering Laboratory for 20 years followed by management roles at the University of Limerick, the Open University, Cranfield University, and a couple of roles in the private sector before joining up with Professor Tim Baines at The Advanced Services Group at Aston Business School in 2012. Following that, Ian listed his areas of expertise which included engineering and production in the food, and pharmaceutical industries followed by strategic consulting advice, and acquisition support.  He mentioned that he is an Industrial Fellow at Cranfield university and subsequently at Aston Business School. Since 2012 he has been working increasingly in the field of servitization. Since 2015 he has been with the Advanced Services Group working with large and small manufacturers.

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