KIRKLEES firms with big ideas could benefit by “small-scale” help from Huddersfield University.
SMEs are being urged to consider how experts in the field of nanotechnology could help them develop new products and improved processes – to generate more jobs and wealth.
Huddersfield University has linked up with the universities of Leeds, Bradford, York, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam to set up a Nanofactory – and wants to forge partnerships with firms interested in making the most of latest advances in nanotechnology.
The three-year project is part-funded by regional development agency Yorkshire Forward.
Nanotechnology is “small-scale science” that enables the unique properties and behaviours of particles and materials to be applied in a diverse range of sectors – from makers of medical devices and chemicals to engineering, food technology and construction.
However, financing research and development to drive nanotechnology innovation forward is often out of reach for SMEs.
As a result, the region’s SME spending on research and development is three times lower than the national average.
Partnerships with Nanofactory universities will allow SMEs to explore this new area of technology and potentially apply for a range of external funding opportunities – for example European Union funding and Technology Strategy Board grants.
Huddersfield University’s speciality is in the field of surface measurement – while other universities in the partnership cover areas such as friction and wear, micro-moulding and electromicroscopy.
Phil Harrison, of Huddersfield University, said its skills in surface measurement – often involving particles invisible to the naked eye – could be used to improve products ranging from marine diesel engines to artificial hips and nail files.
He said: “British manufacturing has to make products more accurately and more cheaply if we are to maintain competitive advantage.
“We can help SMEs which don’t have the R&D skills, but do have the ideas.
“As well as research and development, we can help them find funding or put them in touch with other businesses which could contribute as suppliers or through collaboration.”
Said Mr Harrison: “Between us, the universities have 6,000 to 10,000 contacts – so we can certainly help bring businesses together.”
Mr Harrison, who spent 29 years in manufacturing – including a spell of self-employment – before joining the university, said the Nanofactory was currently working on three specific products. One was market-ready while the others would be in a similar position in six months to a year.
“Every one of the universities are looking to pull in business,” he said. “The aim is to increase the number of jobs in the region – either at existing companies or through inward investment.
“We have already helped set up a new company in Yorkshire – and that business will generate two more companies. If we get to the stage where we are helping to create a couple of companies a year – and they employ even a dozen people each – we will have done a cracking job.”
Prof Richard Williams, Nanofactory director, said: “Nanofactory connects the knowledge and expertise of academic researchers with the needs and challenges of companies in the region.
“This offers a powerful combination and driver for innovation. As a result new fundamental and applied research programmes will be stimulated and leading university researchers will seek out funding and partnerships to deliver these.
“This type of research based activity goes way beyond the usual consultancy support that SMEs can access at universities and it aims to provide much more than short-term problem solving.
“Nanotechnology doesn’t have to be the domain of large companies and multinationals – there are opportunities for all sizes of company.”
Trevor Shaw, executive director of finance at Yorkshire Forward, said: “For the region, this is a unique opportunity to boost spend on R&D and for universities, it will allow them to devise and deliver new research programmes that have real impact.