Last year, the Herschel machine test instrument developed in a collaboration between Irish company Ceramicx and Trinity College Dublin won Ireland’s Collaborative Research Impact Award under the Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) initiative.
Ceramicx won in a tough field, competing against Intel Ireland, Microsoft Ireland, Croke Park, C&F Group, DCU, and Dublin Institute of Technology. The win was testament to the company’s groundbreaking technology and its practical applications, as Ceramicx uses specialist knowledge to directly benefit customers.
In 2016, Ceramicx founders Frank and Grainne Wilson were finalists in the annual Plastics Industry Awards for their work in a capital equipment upgrade at international giant, Linpac Packaging.
Earlier this year, Ceramicx was one of four winners selected by InterTradeIreland for a Project Exemplar award, only the latest in a series of its productive knowledge transfer liaisons.
Translating knowledge transfer into tangible results
This consistent success demonstrates how seemingly rarefied initiatives like knowledge transfer can translate into the most tangible results. It is no coincidence that in 2016, Ceramicx also signed its fifth Innovation Partnership with Enterprise Ireland, when Trinity College Dublin was selected as its academic partner.
Ceramicx Ltd has been established for over 25 years in West Cork and has been providing Infrared (IR) energy efficient solutions from 1994 – mainly for industrial users but also for consumers in the form of IR heating.
In the last 18 months, Ceramicx has been pursuing similar gains and benefits for the international composites industries, where double digit demand for lightweight materials and structures is helping drive aerospace, automotive, construction and many more sectors.
In short, the Ceramicx view is IR based energy futures are essential and inevitable. Ceramicx is playing its part in IR energy strategies of the future; and also creating a series of popular video presentations that will educate and inform all about the benefits of IR heating.
Knowledge transfer as ‘advanced common sense’
Frank Wilson, Founder and Managing Director of Ceramicx, describes the approach, “For me, knowledge transfer works best when treated as advanced common sense. Organisations like Knowledge Transfer Ireland help SMEs like us to connect with a world of academic expertise and institutions they might otherwise find difficult to access. KTI can help your company to focus clearly on what your specific project needs. You might want to implement a product process that no other company is using yet. The expertise and fresh perspective of academic specialists can be invaluable to helping realize those plans.”
Ceramicx follows several preliminary steps before embarking on innovation work, and before any third party, including academic institutions, is involved.
Do not try to reinvent the wheel
“The first question to answer is extremely practical,” says Wilson, “What is already out there? No one should try to reinvent the wheel. Do your research. Find out if someone is already supplying something, be it machinery or solutions, that already meets the need you identified. Then work from that.”
If no such service or solution exists, “the next best thing is to find the machine or solution that appears closest. Interrogate the technology and determine whether and how it could be adapted, modified, or changed to suit your purpose.”
In the third scenario, one in which Ceramicx regularly engages, “there is no existing machine or solution on the market – just your ideas. The task, then, is to engage with those ideas, plans and visions. It is also the scenario most likely to benefit from the involvement of academia. After all, who better to involve in ideas than ideas people who can argue a number of options from theoretical positions? And who, thanks to their fresh perspective, can think outside the box.”
This third scenario is also very high risk, Frank warns, “Although the rewards can be great, very few want to risk company time, money and energy on completely new, untested projects.
It is, therefore, essential to work and rework ideas to the point of near exhaustion and to attempt several theoretical dry runs on any project before cutting any metal or committing resources.
Collaborative thinking in this way, the Irish Meitheal approach if you will, is particularly good at airing and articulating ideas and avoiding expensive assumptions.”
Invention, innovation, invoice
The cross-functional team, the Meitheal within companies, is also essential for new projects. Any new manufacturing venture needs not only the expertise of engineers and scientist (To answer, “Can it be made?”) but also purchasing and cost mangers (“How much will it cost?”) and sales and marketing (“How and where will it sell?”).
“Ultimately”, Frank advises, “The knowledge transfer process should help sustain and encourage your vision. Always paint your own picture and have a simple end game in mind – invention – innovation – invoice.”
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