Rosa Wilkinson, Communications Director at HVM Catapult discusses the plans for the Catapult to support UK manufacturing businesses.
In a recent interview Ben Peace, Head of Manufacturing at KTN asks Rosa Wilkinson, Communications Director at HVM Catapult about the plans for the Catapult to support UK manufacturing businesses and some of the things on the horizon.
What is the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and what is its mission?
The UK has an outstanding track-record of generating good ideas and innovations but too often we fail to turn those great ideas into commercial products in the UK, and the benefits are either lost or picked up by our overseas competitors. The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult exists to help UK businesses of all sizes accelerate new ideas to a commercial reality. Its mission is to create the conditions for economic growth by enabling manufacturers to achieve significant improvements in their performance and productivity.
What does the HVM Catapult do to support UK manufacturing companies?
Working through seven world-class centres of industrial innovation, HVM Catapult provides access to the specialist equipment and expertise needed to help investigate new technologies and processes and test their applications. It can also help to improve existing processes. Its clients report significant productivity improvements. The HVM Catapult approach helps strip away the risks of innovation and allows firms to hold off making investment decisions until they are confident that an idea can be scaled up to deliver on a commercial scale.
How can UK manufacturers access the expertise and facilities at the Catapult?
We try to make access to HVM Catapult facilities as easy as possible. Many of the companies we work with make a direct approach to one of our centres for the support they need, but companies who don’t know which centre might be best placed to help them with a particular project can either drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a ring on 01564 711540. Our central team will be able to connect you with the best centre to help you.
What does it cost? Are there any particular criteria businesses need to meet?
We are happy to have an initial discussion with any company looking to innovate in manufacturing but we know that we’re more likely to deliver successful results with companies who want to work on an innovation project that requires new manufacturing solutions and perhaps have a prototype or other material that proves the principles involved in the solution but needs development. The companies we work with will certainly need the technical/business resources with time available to commit to a project and should have plans about how they might finance a project. I’d also hope that companies either own – or have right of access to – any Intellectual Property they might need to start a project.
As you might guess, when you’re talking about innovation, there’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ project, so it’s hard to talk about standard costs. However, every project begins with a conversation with one of our business development officers who will be able to assess the support needed to turn an idea into something that helps a company develop and grow. There are no charges for this exploratory conversation which will also guide companies to potential sources of funding that may offset the cost of some of the work we do.
What are the most exciting innovation opportunities for manufacturers right now?
There are some amazing things coming out of the research base and through our centres. I think that the most exciting opportunities relate to some of the technologies that will help manufacturers tackle poor productivity and improve their competitiveness in fierce global markets. Those technologies are part of what many people describe as the 4th industrial revolution – the coming together of cyber networks, with physical networks, to create new autonomous systems. It creates an environment where businesses can give customers exactly what they want when they want it, with all the variations they specify, from the same factory, in a shorter lead time, and more profitably than is possible today. We’re investing heavily to make sure that we’re ready to give firms the support they need.
Since the Catapult was formed, what would you say has been its greatest success?
There are dozens of stories I could tell about saving companies millions, driving up their productivity and competitiveness and helping them capture new markets. One independent evaluation conducted last year which looked at just 20 of our most substantial projects concluded that the potential impact of those projects alone would be to add some £15.7 billion to GVA over the next 10 years. That goes to the route of why we’re here, but if I’m honest the things that most excite me personally are often about how our expertise is making world of ours a better place to be. In addition to a wide range of projects geared to reducing waste, increasing recovery, re-use and recycling, our current portfolio of activity includes some incredible projects to develop new battery technology for cars and for energy storage, to support the UK’s existing nuclear reactor fleet, new build and the development of modular reactor technology, to develop bio derived feedstocks to replace fossil fuels, and to reduce energy consumption. It’s something that I care passionately about.
What can we expect to see from the Catapult over the next year? How can businesses stay aware of new developments?
More great results across the full spectrum of manufacturing technologies and with companies of all shapes and sizes!
You’ll see us investing to make sure that we have the capability needed to support businesses in the areas which we think offer the greatest prospect for a vibrant and resilient UK manufacturing sector (Digital Manufacturing; Robotics and Automation; Materials processing &new materials; Process engineering, biotechnology & biologics; and Product design & verification).
You’ll see us forging ever stronger partnerships with colleagues in Government, in different parts of the research base, in other Catapults and other innovation organisations so that we deliver even more impressive results.
One soon-to-be-published survey found that awareness of the HVM Catapult is way too low among manufacturers for my liking, so you will certainly see us working ever harder to connect with a much broader range of manufacturing businesses.