Innovation is crucial for companies to grow their business and maintain competitiveness. An increasing number of SMEs in Ireland must undertake research and development projects to develop innovative products and services.
Identifying need and opportunity by talking to customers is at the heart of all good R&D. However, many companies are discovering that undertaking the process also allows them to identify further opportunities for growth and innovation.
Two strong approaches to launching an agile project
Aerospace company TEAM Accessories specialises in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of commercial jet engines at their purpose-built facility in Ballyboughal, Co. Dublin. At the start of 2018, the company decided to target expansion into new sectors.
Speaking at an Enterprise Ireland Agile Innovation Support event in Dublin, Co-owner and Director Pat McEvoy talked about the opportunity they identified: “There was a fairly buoyant market in aviation, so the core business was okay, but we needed to do something new or different. We looked at where a commercial engine is used in different industrial applications – such as in the oil and gas sector, in the use of power generation, on ferries and ships all over the world.
“We set about developing capability in sectors that would give us substantial growth. That was a big challenge because, although it’s the same technology, it’s completely different systems and components. We would have to figure out how to design and manufacture new parts, how to train people, how to develop our capability as a project.”
Basil Cooney, Managing Director of Dublin-based electronics engineering manufacturer LaserTec, spoke at the event about his company’s plan to add 3D capability to their automated testing and validation solutions for the medical devices sector.
He said: “Using 2D vision technology to inspect and measure products was very cumbersome to use and very expensive. The limitations of 2D means that the solutions were application specific – if you want to look at a different product or solve a different problem, you’re almost starting from scratch nearly every time.
“We decided that we needed to come up with something really different; something that was easy to use, easy to communicate with, which could integrate into existing systems, and was affordable. Our idea was to develop a 3D sensor vision system that could scan a product and be able to read depth as well as length and width. You don’t get that with 2D.”
How Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund supports agile projects
Both LaserTec and TEAM Accessories applied for support from the Agile Innovation Fund. Designed to make undertaking R&D as easy as possible, it provides up to 50% funding for agile projects with a value of up to €300,000. The main feature of the Agile Innovation Fund is its fast turnaround time, and the applications for both LaserTec and TEAM Accessories were processed in weeks rather than months.
Pat McEvoy said: “At first, we thought that agile wasn’t a good fit for us because we were thinking about design and manufacturing, but we talked to our DA (Development Advisor at Enterprise Ireland) and she reassured us that our project was innovation and would qualify.
“I was so impressed by how quick the whole approval process was. It was very efficient, and we had really good input from our DA all the way through.” Pat McEvoy, Co-owner & Director, TEAM Accessories
Basil Cooney: “Our experience was also very positive. I think engaging as early as possible with our DA was important, and not just a one-off thing but engaging on a continuous basis initially until we were up and running.
“Initially we had a particular set of ideas for the project, but they changed as the project developed. With the Agile Fund that’s okay – it allows that flexibility to really go after what is required to make the project achieve its goals. Without it, we wouldn’t have achieved what we did.”
Perhaps the most enduring impact the agile project will have on TEAM Accessories and LaserTec is the culture of innovation it has helped nurture.
Pat said: “We have a couple of other things we’re looking at now that happened kind of by accident as a result of this project. We set out to develop capabilities in different sectors, now we’re also moving into an area – and this has come from customers and their feedback – which involves improving some of the existing designs of the engines. So agile has opened up different avenues for us.”
Basil Cooney: “We’ve identified a number of products that we can develop from the core technology of a 3D sensor and software platform. The idea is to customise them for a bigger range of applications that use the same technology, such as scanning and checking boxes on an assembly line or verifying a manufacturing assembly as it’s happening.”
Get more information about the Agile Innovation Fund.