KTPs are often launched in collaboration with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – but engagement with larger entities presents universities with the chance to demonstrate wider, potentially global impacts.
Cardiff University enjoys such a relationship with Ford, with whom it has undertaken a number of successful KTPs. One of their latest projects, which aimed to improve waste water and effluent management at the manufacturer’s Bridgend plant, was rated as ‘outstanding’ by the Technology Strategy Board in summer 2013 – a rare accolade.
The venture’s academic leader, Dr Devin Sapsford from the Cardiff School of Engineering, and his colleague Dr Talib Mahdi spoke to University Business to understand how KTPs can enable game-changing research, and transform corporate practice.
What have been the biggest achievements of the project?
The biggest achievement of this project was identifying the cause of a problem in Ford Bridgend Engine Plant wastewater treatment system and providing a method to stop the problem occurring again, with commensurate large potential savings for the Bridgend Engine Plant. However the solution is not just applicable to Bridgend.The knowledge transferred to Ford Motor Company Ltd can be rolled out across multiple Ford sites across the globe leading to potential savings of circa £2 million per year.
What factors motivated you to embark upon this successful KTP?
The first factor is that the subject is very close to our research themes and expertise in waste management and wastewater treatment. The second is the challenge that this project brought with it of finding a solution to a significant problem faced by a flagship industrial organisation, not only in their plant in Wales, but globally. The third is the opportunity of linkage with a giant industrial organisation such as Ford Motor Company Ltd, and all the benefits and recognition associated with it, not only to the University, but also to the region, Wales and UK.
How helpful are KTPs as enablers of research?
The KTP is a big enabler of industrial-related research as most research councils tend to concentrate on fundamental research. The KTP enables researchers to tackle industry-relevant problems, innovate, and directly apply research findings for tangible benefits. This in turn can open up new research directions.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a potential associate trying to assess whether a KTP could further their research interests?
The KTP needs a self-disciplined and motivated individual who is able to make a difference and who is happy to face a challenge in their early career life. The advice is if you are that type of person, do not miss the opportunity. The associate role comes with many benefits including the structured management training, being exposed to both industry and academia, and being supervised by an experienced supervisor in both worlds. It will provide the associate with skills that stay with them for life, no matter which direction they choose to advance.
Are there any particular benefits of conducting research in conjunction with a commercial partner?
Yes, having access to real industrial problems that require research to solve them is a big benefit. It provides a base for good case studies and allows practical student projects to take place within the commercial partner business. It also gives us the opportunity to link with that business and build a long-term relationship with them for our mutual benefit. It helps achieve and measure tangible research impacts which are of recognised importance in the University sector. In this particular case, Cardiff University has signed a strategic agreement with Ford Motor Company Ltd, and this has resulted in the Ford Prestigious Blue Oval scholarship programme on the back of this KTP and other collaborative projects between Cardiff University and Ford.
Could you provide some brief details of the types of research you undertook, and the support offered in this process by Ford?
The research we undertook with Ford Bridgend Engine Plant was related to improving Ford’s environmental compliance and at the same time saving them money and resources. The thrust of the research work was related to an unusual problem in their effluent treatment system related to the use of cutting fluids. The research undertaken was mainly to find the route of the problem, to propose ways of preventing it from happening again and to find a solution for it. Although part of the work was undertaken in the university laboratories, most of the work was undertaken at Ford and most of the trials were undertaken on site. Ford were very supportive to all our requirements and provided the resources required to make it happen.
Do you think that certain aspects of your work could only have been achieved under this framework?
Yes, definitely, as you need a continuous access to the site and all the help and support from the industrial organisation to make the field trials possible.
Have you used your KTP experiences whilst providing tuition to students?
Yes, the KTP has provided excellent case-study material for lectures on effluent treatment. Furthermore, two undergraduate projects were undertaken in collaboration with Ford Bridgend Engine Plant looking at improvements in recycling and environmental performance.
What kind of a relationship did you form with Ford?
Our relationship with Ford started with a visit by the Director of our School of Engineering, (then Prof Holford) and our deputy Head for Innovation and Engagement (then Prof Bowen) to Ford Bridgend Engine Plant in 2009. The visit was organised by our industrial engagement manager. This was followed by another visit by a specialised technology translator who identified some potential collaboration opportunities including the problem with the wastewater treatment plant and other environmental issues. Samples were taken and analysed for initial assessment which indicated the need for a bigger programme of research to get to the root of the problem, and to propose methods of prevention and to suggest potential solutions. The relationship between Cardiff University and Ford has substantially developed since 2009. The KTP Office at Cardiff University has played a lead role in the development of a Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Edwina Hart AM – This paved the way to the inclusion of Cardiff in Ford’s Prestigious Blue Oval Scholarship 2012 and the winning, together with Ford Engine Plant, of the 2013 Business Innovation Prize. Additionally this Strategic Partnership was recognised by Ford at their prestigious Chairman’s Leadership Award Diversity ceremony held in Cologne, to which Paul Thomas of the KTP Office was pleased to be invited to attend with Clive Handley from the senior management team at Ford Engine Plant, Bridgend. Paul and the team recognise the focus now is on sustaining the relationship and developing further innovative, business relevant projects.
Do you think that way in which KTPs are structured could be improved to make them more accessible? If so, what amendments would you suggest?
The way the KTPs are structured is very good, however, this could be improved by shortening the time required for assessing the applications as most industrial organisations are impatient and want their problem, and work, to be sorted quickly.