Business Minister Lord Prior launched the latest wave of Science and Innovation Audits (SIA) at Venturefest East on 21 September, including one developed for the East of England. These audits are designed to examine innovation in industry and the public sector to better inform central Government of regional strengths in order to assist with the channelling of future funding streams.
Science and Innovation Audit shows TWI as integral to local, national, and global innovation
Speaking on the audits, Lord Prior said, ‘The Science and Innovation Audits we are publishing today highlight the innovative strengths in regions across the UK and the significant growth and investment opportunities they present. Together with our record investment of an additional £4.7 billion for research and development to 2020/21, we are working closely with regional businesses and partners to ensure the ambitions set out in these reports are delivered to maintain our status as a science powerhouse.’
The East of England audit honed in on four specific themes; Life Sciences, Agri-Tech, Advanced Manufacturing and Materials, and ICT. Having been highlighted a number of times across different industries linked to Advanced Manufacturing and Materials, TWI led this particular theme.
TWI Associate Director, Peter Oakley noted, ‘TWI was very happy to lead the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing theme of the East of England Science and Innovation Audit. The analysis demonstrated the existing strengths of the region in the theme area, and moreover the opportunities for development by co-ordination of the widespread resources and skills. These science and innovation assets are important for the growth of the region, and also key to its continued strength as an innovation hub for industry in the rest of the UK and worldwide.’
Materials and Manufacturing Markets
The materials and manufacturing theme was broken down into three areas – Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing, and Structural Integrity – all of which TWI are instrumental in as one of the region’s most influential Research and Technology Organisations. The audit noted how these three areas are all aligned to four important industrial sectors; offshore renewable energy, building and construction, automotive, and aerospace and defence. The intersection of these areas of interest with the industrial sectors shows how important TWI is in the area of innovation. This is further underlined by the fact that TWI is one of the largest project participants (by grant value) in the East of England’s Innovate UK projects related to Advanced Materials and Manufacturing.
TWI’s work in joining techniques and technologies, structural integrity and material properties has supported innovation and research in aerospace and defence, automotive, offshore renewable energy and building and construction. From the development, characterisation, and use of new materials to improving the use of existing materials and on to advanced fabrication, corrosion protection, environmental impact, and failure investigation and structural integrity, TWI has plenty to offer this multi-billion pound area of innovation.
Supporting the Future of Innovation and Research
However, TWI cannot afford to rest on its laurels and is instead helping to progress the future of innovation and research. This can, for example, be seen when it comes to the important area of structural integrity and fitness-for-purpose. Whether it is transport, energy, communications, or consumer products and healthcare, structural integrity and the life-cycle of products is important. While headlines tend to focus on large-scale failures such as that of the Banqiao Reservoir Dam in China in 1975 which killed some 230,000 people, destroyed nearly 6 million homes and rendered 11 million homeless, this area of research and innovation is important on a smaller scale too. For example, the fatigue of a fillet weld in artificial heart valves led to over 350 deaths and millions of pounds in compensation being paid out.
Traditionally, expertise in structural integrity has been acquired through years of practical experience but, with the retirement of many skilled practitioners, this talent pool has been shrinking considerably. However, TWI is working to reverse the trend via the Structural Integrity Research Foundation (SIRF) and National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC) which aims to produce postgraduates with a high level of skill in this area.
TWI is also pushing the future of innovation and research through multiple working arrangements with Member companies and through Innovation Centres that provide connections with a number of universities and the Transport Systems Catapult.
Industrial and Academic Links
The Science and Innovation Audit also sought to highlight challenges for the future of innovation and research in the area of Advanced Manufacturing and Materials. One of the largest challenges was seen to be technology transfer and linking expertise across organisations, businesses, and academic centres both on a regional and a wider level.
Again, this is an area in which TWI already shines, with strong links to Member companies and the already-mentioned Innovation Centres and links to academia, it appears that TWI is well-placed to help drive research and development on a regional, national, and global level.
TWI is a world leading research and technology organisation with a focus on materials, engineering and manufacturing.