Sharing technical knowledge

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), have joined forces to address the current lack of widespread exploitation of horizontal innovation in the business technology community.

Due to the competitive nature of the motorsport industry, the MIA has long pioneered cross-sector interaction between the motorsport industry supply chain and other industries. However, historically this sort of horizontal innovation is something the UK as a whole has failed to fully exploit, and has only participated in on an ad hoc basis, meaning the full potential of many technologies are not being realised.

Naomi Climer, IET President, commented: “The UK is internationally renowned for our creativity, research and innovation but actually we don’t have such a great reputation for commercialising our innovation. New technologies and processes can easily get locked into one sector, industry or even company - as an industry and as a society, we don’t tend to work together to fully exploit the potential of new technologies - and that’s not a good thing for the economy.”

Climer has previous experience in running Sony’s B2B arm in Europe, and in that role, made concerted efforts to understand what other verticals were doing outside of the broadcast communications vertical that Sony were in. She continued: “We rapidly discovered that there were many outlets for the technology and know-how that we’d developed in broadcasting – and those went into areas such as security, healthcare, education and cinema.

“We realised we had huge expertise in very high quality image creation and super accurate colour representation on screens – and that could mean life and death in healthcare. If you’re in an operating theatre using an endoscope it’s really important that the image is of exceptional quality to perform the very precision-based procedure that the surgeon is undertaking, and the colour of the blood can tell you quite a lot about the health of the patient during surgery – so it’s important that if you’re representing that on screen that it is accurate. These are the sort of things that we were good at and had decades of knowledge in, and we were able to transfer that know-how and make a commercial success of it.”

 Transferring that ethos to the IET, the Horizontal Innovation initiative is about addressing the barriers to sharing ideas and ensuring that more innovations are used where they’re needed – and not just in the sector that they’ve been created. “If we get this right it should drive growth, create jobs and opportunities for future engineers and most importantly, it should make sure that solutions that already exist are able to address challenges in other industries and verticals,” Climer added.

The IET and the MIA first entered into discussions around horizontal innovation around 18 months ago and the possibility of working together to create initiatives that will drive the notion of horizontal innovation away from more ad-hoc examples towards a more systematic exploitation of pre-existing technologies and knowledge across sectors. Gordon Attenborough, Head of Sectors at the IET, commented: “From an IET perspective we have scope and a very large target audience in the form of our membership base - and of course we have a wider reach than that. From the MIA perspective, they probably have almost unrivalled experience in this field and have some amazing examples of how it has innovated in this way.”

Chris Aylett , Chief Executive of MIA, added: “When we first had talks with the IET, with around 160,000 members all working across many different industries and sectors, it immediately excited my mind as to the capacity of the opportunity.”

Attenborough continued: “We understand that Horizontal Innovation is really exacting but we also realise that to convert that enthusiasm into tangible impact we have to be able to transmit those messages to other people and get them to understand what we’re talking about, why it’s important and what the benefits are.”

To take a step towards that, and to find a device to communicate some of those messages, the IET and MIA have launched a number of initiatives such as a branded series of ‘brokerage events’ that will introduce specific sectors to each other to discover potential technology transfer; a new online community within IET Engineering Communities; a new category (‘Horizontal Innovation’) added to the annual IET Innovation Awards; and a new innovation programme designed to unlock funding and support for SMEs.

The notion of horizontal innovation is essentially about the transfer of technology and knowledge and this is an area where the MIA has had recent success, notably in the automotive and defence industry. Not only that, the nature of the motorsport industry breeds very competitive engineers and that in turn, breeds innovation – opening the door to technology sharing.

Aylett concluded: “I applaud this initiative as this is exactly what Britain should do. This little island is knee deep in great capabilities and it’s ridiculous that a place this small has these isolated, individual silos of innovation. So not only is this initiative good for the IET and my sector, it’s vital for the future prosperity of the UK and I hope that that’s where this initiative will lead. I believe that this horizontal innovation will help dissolve these barriers of silos which will be for the future benefit of the UK.”

Horizontal Innovation in action

As mentioned, the MIA can call on several examples where technology originating from within the industry has been rolled-out across other sectors to solve key challenges.

Williams Advanced Engineering, Aerofoil Energy & Sainsburys
Williams Advanced Engineering collaborated with UK start-up Aerofoil Energy to develop a new aerodynamic device that can significantly reduce the energy consumed by refrigerators in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Developing a new retro-fit aerofoil system that keeps more of the cool air inside the refrigerator cabinet, this technology will result in significant energy savings.

Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, has been testing the product at a number of its stores, with corresponding benefits for their carbon footprint.

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Greater Manchester Neonatal Transport Team at Saint Mary’s Hospital Manchester and Race Technology
The Neonatal Transport Team conducted a project into the effects of transporting critically ill new born babies between hospitals using a ‘race bred’ piece of equipment from Race Technology which was secured to a transport incubator. The data logger uses an accelerometer combined with GPS technology to provide an electronic movement profile of the whole transfer.

The study compared how the speed of the ambulance, G forces and vibration experienced by the baby related to the stability of the vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure. Premature and critically ill babies needing intensive care transfer are at increased risk of brain injury.

A better understanding of the physiological effects of movement and vibration, at a critical stage in their lives, will enable technological improvements in ambulance and incubator design and real time driver feedback, to improve the long term health outcomes, when these journeys are unavoidable.

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KW Special Projects & Industrial Inkjet Printers
KWSP were able to significantly reduce the labour that went into manufacturing a particular part resulting in reduced manufacturing time for the printer. They also reduced the printer’s weight and size and improved its thermodynamic properties, thermal management and serviceability - ultimately showcasing their technology transfer capabilities.

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Forward Composites and Hybrid Air Vehicles
The helium filled Airlander is the creation of Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), a company that itself was born out of decades of British innovation and research in Lighter Than Air (LTA) craft.

Forward Composites were able to apply their race bred composites expertise to the British SME led development of the revolutionary Airlander, with HAV making the step from initial prototype to manufacture, with the aim to create a super-sized transportation and surveillance aircraft that has the capability of spending weeks in the air on a single mission.

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Ricardo and General Dynamics Land Systems
The Foxhound remains a powerful example of how innovative motorsport expertise can deliver cutting edge solutions into parallel sectors.

Ricardo’s Chief Engineer came directly from a World Rally Championships (WRC) programme, whilst General Dynamics’ was the McLaren F1 Chief Engineer, both employing many of the same design philosophies, especially when it came to integrated structures, modularity for ease and speed of maintenance.

Working together to introduce entirely new technologies within the MOD vehicle, the whole philosophy and approach to a clean sheet vehicle design that was taken from motorsport and applied to a defensive vehicle is showcased here.

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Prodrive and Land Rover BAR
Prodrive exploited its cross sector knowledge and technology to win a bid to develop electrical, electronic and hydraulic control systems for Land Rover BAR, Britain’s entry for the 35th America’s Cup.

Prodrive has a team of over a dozen engineers allocated to the project, and having already developed the hydraulic control system for the foils on the first prototype boat, they are now working on other areas of the final design, as well as manufacturing unique components for the team’s yacht.

The Prodrive engineers were able to work across sectors, to produce the most competitive package for Land Rover BAR.

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