When academia and business work together to share ideas and expertise, solutions to often complex problems often emerge. This ‘knowledge exchange’ has helped one enterprising business resolve one particularly sticky challenge.
Ever wondered how a sweet manufacturer ensures that their toffees have the right level of stickiness? Not so sticky that it clings to the wrapper – or your teeth – but not too hard that it can’t be chewed, or breaks the cutting blade during manufacture.
The solution is all in the temperature at which you cook the toffee, and tiny shifts in heat can be critical. But this is not at all easy. How can you accurately measure the temperature at really high heats without breaking the thermometer, and when it is constantly being coated in boiling toffee?
This was the challenge that Bedford-based electronics company Calex set our university. Using the University’s entrepreneurial spirit and funds from their £11.8 European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)-supported Low Carbon KEEP Programme, the company were able to innovate, adapt and succeed.
‘Knowledge exchange’ (KE) is all about the transfer of tangible and intellectual property, expertise, learning and skills between academia and the businesses. It also provides a significant driving force for enhancing economic growth and societal wellbeing. This two-way exchange element is at the heart of successful and sustainable collaborations.
This is how it works: a partnership is formed between a company and the University, and the collaboration is supported by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The collaboration is centred on a project that is of strategic importance to the company. The project involves a graduate known as an Associate to facilitate the transfer of skills and expertise. The Associate is employed by the University but for the majority of the project works at the company. The partnership is also supported by an academic supervisor will typically spend around 10% of their time providing academic expertise.
Thanks to the University’s enterprise and innovation specialists, the Low Carbon KEEP Programme, which ran from 2012 to 2015, was one of Europe's most successful KE programmes: it created 85 new jobs and helped over 200 SMEs in the East of England increase their competitiveness and profits.
On the back of this success ARU has secured more money for a similar ERDF–supported programme for the three years to December 2019: with a total value of around £19m to help and support businesses in the region.
The latest programme is called KEEP+ and is designed to help small and medium-sized enterprises(SMEs) launch new products and services.
KEEP+ unites seven delivery partners including Anglia Ruskin University as lead organisation, EELGA (East of England Local Government Association); University of Brighton; University of Suffolk; University of Essex; University of Greenwich; University of Hertfordshire.
To return to the thermometer challenge at Calex, the Business Development team at Anglia Ruskin were able to successfully implement and embed into the company the knowledge and expertise they desperately needed: skills in analogue electronic design, electromagnetic shielding techniques and electronic noise limitation.
Together they produced a new mini thermometer that was able not only to tackle issues such as accurately measuring toffee at high cooking temperatures, but also was very low in energy use compared to other products on the market. The thermometer is very small, works using infrared, does not need cooling or to make contact with the substance it is sensing, and can work in very high temperatures up to 1,000°C.
“The new sensor gives our customers a great opportunity to improve their energy efficiency and Calex a significant edge over its competitors. The project’s been a resounding success,” said the MD of Calex, Garry Fuller.
Simon Daly, ARU's Senior Business Development Manager who led the project was equally enthusiastic: “Knowledge Exchange is a ‘contact sport’ as it works best when people meet to exchange ideas and create new opportunities. Thanks to our world leading academics and outstanding graduates, I’m very proud that we are one of the leading providers of KE. It’s great to see our projects play such a key role in helping ambitious companies like Calex grow. It has been win, win for both parties!”