Back in 2007 I was a Knowledge Transfer Manager at the North West Development Agency’s Innovation Team. Our North West Science Fund project funded the development of leading edge technologies in Universities across the North West. My role within this project was nurturing commercial application of the technologies. This included liaising with a good number of businesses engaging in Manufacturing and Engineering in Lancashire. However, there was one major thing we hadn’t taken into account, which no manager alone could solve. Today – while this challenge still exists – new initiatives will help us break down these barriers.
How do you measure the maturity Manufacturing and Engineering in Lancashire?
To understand the challenge it’s good if you know a little about TRLs, or Technology Readiness Levels. TRLs are a measure initially developed by NASA for measuring maturity levels of projects within the Space industry. They’ve since been adopted by many other industry sectors due to their usefulness in assessing the maturity of a project. It’s actually quite widely used in engineering and manufacturing in Lancashire already. The levels run from 1 (an idea) to 9 (in-service) but can be broadly categorised into 3 distinct groups:
- 1-3: Early stage research – The initial R&D, proving the feasibility and potential for eventual application.
- 4-6: Applied development – Further development to make then suitable for industrial application, and ready for commercial use.
- 7-9: Transition into service – Actual use in a commercial environment, ironing out challenges to optimise performance.
… and this is where the challenge arises.
The Valley of Death (it’s not in Pendle…)
Academic partners excel at early R&D, but don’t always have the commercial knowledge to address applied development. Many have the opinion that this should be funded by the industrial partner.
However, the industrial partners won’t consider the potential risk of using unproven technology until commercially proven. Their opinion is that applied development should be performed by the academic partner, and released when ready for industrial application.
As a result, the area of applied development has adopted a series of hollywood-esque titles from the “ valley of death” to the “chasm of doom”. This is, literally, where great technologies fail in their transition to commercial use, and fall to be forgotten.
Can ERDF support help manufacturing and engineering in Lancashire?
Many people look to ERDF projects for the solution, but they’ve never quite hit the mark. This is because projects are highly focused, and fail to address the collection of challenges required to cross the gap. In addition the typical 12hr limit was hardly enough to scratch the surface of any problem – let alone solve it.
Companies regularly started an ERDF project, only to be told “yes it’s possible, here’s a report. Sadly though, we’ve not actually developed anything useful and you’re on your own now”. And, the vicious cycle continues.
The big breakthrough for manufacturing and engineering in Lancashire
In a seemingly sparse landscape, a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon. This is due to the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) gathering pace, with digital capabilities starting to become better connected. With this, the possibility of a joined-up future starts to take shape.
Since late 2018, this has started to become a reality though two key North West projects. These will change the landscape for many businesses across the region.
Firstly, we have in4.0. It’s mission is to establish the North West as the place for pioneers in the fourth industrial revolution. It achieves this by supporting businesses to be early adopters of industrial digital technologies, building a future workforce that supports innovation.
We’re extremely proud to be involved in the development and delivery of a series of workshops for in4.0. These workshops help you develop a digital strategy aligned to your key growth aims.
This project is impressive in itself. But, when you combine it’s potential with another key project, the opportunities are further amplified – the development of AMRC NW.
The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre
The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) specialises in industry-focused technical R&D. The group has specialist expertise in machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites, testing and training. It has a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems. It has become a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry, worldwide. And now, it’s coming to the Samlesbury site, next to BAE Systems.
This is the bridge that traverses our “chasm of doom”. The team at AMRC can help you address key challenges you’re facing. Combined with the support from in4.0, it can turn them into delivery projects, setting your business for future growth. But that’s still not it. Pull this together with the new funds available from the Made Smarter programme, the Manufacturing Growth Fund, and other support from Boost Business Lancashire and suddenly we’ve got all the pieces of a jigsaw.
The best thing is, that all of these programmes are working together and talking to each other. This ensures that every client has a bespoke journey which maximises the impact from the various options available to them. These will greatly boost the profile of manufacturing and engineering in Lancashire.
So what do you do next?
Albert Szent-Gyögyi once said “Research is four things – Brains with which to think, Eyes with which to see, Machines with which to measure, and fourth, Money”. Yes, money.
This is where we come in. The beauty of R&D is that in many cases you can claim costs back through HMRC’s R&D Tax Credit scheme. With this in mind, we’ve been passing through a mini-industrial revolution of our own. We work with a new state of the art digital system which allows us to develop your claim more quickly and efficiently. As a result, we can charge a fixed fee rather than a percentage of your claim value.
So why does this matter? If you’ve never claimed before, you can potentially claim a significant amount of money to help you invest in your growth. If the sums add up, you may even be able to invest in growth without having to spend anything.
Secondly, working with these partners results in further R&D projects, which may be eligible for R&D tax credits. This provides you with more money in your pocket.
Some of the best things in life ARE free. We’ll help you understand what you can currently claim through the R&D Tax Credit system at no cost at all, with no commitment. Just send me a message, and we’ll have a chat and arrange your claim quote.
So in the dull clouds of Brexit, there is a silver lining allowing the sun to shine over Lancashire and the North West. The route forward shines on for our manufacturing and digital industries.
Further Details for support for Manufacturing and Engineering in Lancashire
For more details on any of these projects, or to find out more about manufacturing and engineering in Lancashire, please contact:
R&D Tax Credits: Richard Harrison (myself) or Nick Roach, visit RandD Tax Claims – Home Page
in4.0: Mo Isap or Alan Reid, visit https://in40.co.uk
AMRC NW: Melissa Conlon, visit https://www.amrc.co.uk/facilities/amrc-north-west
Boost Business Lancashire: Andrew Leeming, visit https://www.boostbusinesslancashire.co.uk