Business updates

Business updates

Knowledge Transfer Partnership to drive Metal Assemblies' success

Date: September 2020

  • Metal Assemblies to embed Aston Business School academic to improve the gathering and use of data
  • KTP will result in machines ‘talking’ to each other to instantly create smart production schedules
  • Project will speed up what was a manual process leading to greater efficiencies and higher profit margins

The KTP scheme helps businesses in the UK to innovate and grow, by bringing in new skills and the latest academic thinking to deliver a specific, strategic innovation project.

Iain Collis, managing director at Metal Assemblies, talked about the KTP in the latest episode of a podcast series called ‘Aston means business: SMEs adapting to COVID-19 challenges’, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.

Mr Collis said: “We came across KTP a little bit by accident, but within half an hour of that first meeting with Aston we were sold, simply because they have such a breadth of experience in terms of dealing with business and manufacturing.

“The ideas they had were in tandem with exactly what we were thinking. What impressed us was that basically they were going to embed themselves into the business and make sure that the knowledge gained was transferred to us.”

Mr Collis said Metal Assemblies, founded nearly 70 years ago, was a traditional manufacturing business that was now equipped with modern robots and data systems.

But he explained: “What none of those things do very well is talk to each other, so we still rely an awful lot on manual data mining. Somebody literally has to go through things and work out patterns and trends, and that is very labour intensive.

“And it means the business is slow to react sometimes or it goes off in the wrong direction because we don’t interpret the data properly.”

Mr Collis spoke about how the Metal Assemblies initially cut its 150-strong workforce to around 90 due to COVID-19, but since emerging from the lockdown it had already restored capacity to about 80 per cent.

He said the company had won a lot of new business over the last 12 months with new production starting next year. The KTP, set to start on the 1 January 2021, will cost an initial £200,000 over two years, with two-thirds covered by Innovate UK and the rest funded by Metal Assemblies.

Mr Collis said they wanted Aston’s assistance on introducing “fourth generation industry” to the business “to create an environment where the machines talk to each other and let us know what is going on without an awful lot of human intervention.

“It will be hardware solutions and software solutions, but also the systems that we use and the training of the staff until they understand how the systems work, so it really is a business-wide change, a step change.”

He added: “If we don’t go down this route, the alternative would be for us to have to put more machines in place, (which) is very capital intensive. We need to improve the effectiveness of our equipment (with) technology to make us more efficient and make better decisions.” 

Prof Ben Clegg, head of Aston Business School’s Operations and Information Management Department, was also interviewed for the podcast. He explained that Aston would bring new ideas, new tools and data management methods to the KTP project.

He said: “We thrive on the challenge of bringing wider academic knowledge and practice into companies and organisations to create impact. More broadly, we will act as a change catalyst and bring objectivity into the company … to make them work more efficiently, more productively.”

Prof Clegg added that the benefits were two-way, with academics involved in the project learning about practical experiences, in this case from the automotive industry, which they use to teach students.

 ▪ Episode 10 of ‘Aston means business: SMEs adapting to COVID-19 challenges’ can be found at https://www2.aston.ac.uk/aston-business-school/podcast.

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email  rke@aston.ac.uk  or call 0121 204 4242


Cognition to work with Aston to become the first UK marketing agency to use EEG technology of this type

Date: May 2020

Marketing agency Cognition  has  announced a new partnership with Aston’s Health and Life Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences. This partnership will trial electroencephalography (EEG) technology to measure the effectiveness of future marketing campaigns. Behavioral  science  experts  at Aston University will work alongside Cognition to produce a Neuro Marketing Toolkit (NMT).

Volunteers will  be  asked  to  review  marketing  campaigns  while  scientists  use  EEG  to  measure  how  their  brains respond,  allowing  Cognition to  rapidly  produce  effective  marketing  campaigns  that  help  grow businesses. This innovation will be supported by Aston University’s expertise in technology, psychology and decision science.  

Leading  this  project at Aston University is Dr Carl Senior, a behavioural scientist with 20 years’ experience  working  at  the  interface  between  social  psychology  and  organisational  behaviour.  The project will further benefit from two academic supervisors. Professor Adrian Burgess, is a world leader in electroencephalography, a specialised technique which records brain activity by measuring the very small electric signals that are produced by the brain. Dr Sylvia Wongis the second academic supervisor of  the  project,  and  is  an  expert  in  complex  database  design,  software  modelling,  structuring  and development which are all vital in transforming data into actionable information.

“Aston's expertise is core to the creation of Cognition’s Neuro Marketing Toolkit and we can test and use EEG data with Aston’s dedicated lab facilities.” says John Berry, chairman at Cognition.

“The experience of Aston University’s academics is one that cannot be reproduced by another organisation and they have the exact knowledge we need to develop our services.” says Dr Peter Hughes, Psychologist and Cognition co-founder.

“The use of EEG in neuromarketing endeavours is a fairly new application and its unique ability to detect very small signals in the brain should enable us to identify the point at which clients start to initiate a purchase decision. We are delighted to be working with Cognition on this ambitious project.” says Dr Carl Senior.

Additional benefits of the KTP include:

  • Cognition will be the first UK marketing agency to use EEG technology of this type to measure the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns.
  • Commercialising the NMT into a  Software as a Service panel and offering to other agencies.    
  • Enable Cognition to establish and achieve a substantial market share by year five post-KTP.

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email  rke@aston.ac.uk  or call 0121 204 4242


Aurrigo, a division of the RDM Group, partners with Aston to ensure their autonomous vehicles can avoid obstacles, improving operational safety and performance

Date: August 2019

Project Announcement

Aurrigo, a division of the Richmond Design and Marketing Group Ltd. (RDM), announced a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Aston University's College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Lead by academics from Aston University’s Computer Science department, the partnership will develop and implement a sophisticated machine vision solution for autonomous vehicles in the Low-Speed Autonomous Transport Systems (L-SATS) sector, which will ensure that driverless cars can avoid unexpected obstacles, making their use safer. 

The RDM Group, are leaders in the UK L-SATS sector and introduced the first-ever driverless vehicle in 2017. Self-driving cars is a topic increasingly gathering attention from both the research community and industry, due to its potential to radically change transport and mobility. This KTP Project Visual Perception and Decision Making for Low Speed Autonomous Transport Systems puts forward the development of intelligent systems with perception and autonomous decision capabilities in order to navigate in the presence of static and dynamic obstacles (e.g. road signs, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) with a comprehensive understanding of the immediate environment, while following higher-level directions. The objective is to use deep-learning techniques to enable safe interaction in mixed environments to achieve full autonomous (Level 5) vehicle capability. This will require the development of an "Avoidance Dynamic Path Planning" capability, a critical innovation to achieve growth for RDM.

Controlling an agent from high-dimensional sensory inputs is a major challenge in any adaptive application. This project will exploit, for the academics, previous successes in deep reinforcement learning for traffic settings and apply it in an iterative manner between: exploration of the action space; optimisation for model update, and evaluation to verify the model’s performance.

This KTP project will adopt a staged approach with the first stage utilising a simulated environment for training and testing. This will enhance the team's understanding, enable the design of suitable model architectures and hyperparameter selection. Once the navigation task using topological maps to represent the 3D world in the simulated environment is achieved, the project will proceed to the second stage, involving on-the-fly visual detection and tracking of obstacles using deep learning and transferring learning from the simulated task to the real-world application.

The Academic team for this KTP includes Dr George Vogiatzis and Dr Diego Faria. Dr George Vogiatzis has extensive research in the subjects of Machine Vision, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence; while working at Toshiba, he evaluated obstacle avoidance strategies and developed algorithms to improve upon them. Dr Diego Faria has collaborated on multiple EU and international projects within the fields of Artificial Perception, Cognitive Robotics including Human-Robot Interaction and Autonomous Systems. Both academics have extensive experience of working collaboratively with business to transfer knowledge and create practical solutions.

Nick Ridler, engineering manager at RDM Group, says:

“The expertise of Aston’s academics and their specialist labs at Aston University are key, allowing us to run detection and recognition of obstacle scenarios. This data will be used in our decision-making algorithms which will choose the optimal solution based on the environment. This project will allow us to run accurate detection and obstacle recognition scenarios without having to 'field test' our driverless vehicles.”

Further benefits of the KTP include:

  • Higher levels of safety in operating autonomous vehicles

  • Replacement of high-cost detection Systems, e.g. LIDAR, by low-cost alternatives, improving RDM Group’s competitiveness

  • Delivery of new Low-Speed Autonomous Transport Systems (L-SATS) into mixed environments.

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email rke@aston.ac.uk or call 0121 204 4242

 ___________________________________

Date: November 2020

James Heaton takes on the role as KTP associate

JamesHeaton 

"I am relishing the technical challenges of this application..."

After a thorough recruitment process to ensure the right person was hired to drive this Knowledge Transfer Partnership to its full potential, in September James Heaton was recruited as the KTP associate. The objective of this collaboration is to enable Aurrigo vehicles to run at Level 5 autonomy, which means they will run outside confined vehicle free spaces, e.g. airports and closed campuses. This will require the development of an "Avoidance Dynamic Path Planning" capability, a critical innovation to achieve growth for RDM.

We caught up with James to discuss this exciting, innovative project.

1. What attracted you to the role and how did you feel about being recruited onto the project?

I went for this role as I felt that it was a great position to apply my skill set and education; I did my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a final year specialisation in robotics, and I recently completed my master’s in Artificial Intelligence. Naturally, working with autonomous vehicles was a perfect fit. I am very pleased about being recruited onto the project. I got on with everyone on the team instantly and settled into my role very quickly.

2. What have you been working on in your first two months?

In my first couple of months I have been working with a Far East Airport and Regulators to create a simulation environment for their airport. 3D laser scans were taken of the runway and surrounding buildings which I have turned into a rendered world using our processing pipeline linked to a game development platform. Using CAD models of the vehicles, we can place them in the world and have them drive around using a sophisticated physics engine. This allows us to test the running of these autonomous vehicles in the simulation without the need to be physically present at the airside. This same process can be used for any location where we can either record or be provided with a laser scan. We are also working on a projects at other European airports.

3. What are you looking forward to the most, as you progress through this project?

Aurrigo has a number of interesting applications for their autonomous vehicles ranging from small pods to high-capacity shuttles used for public transport. However, what I am most excited to work on is the autonomous baggage handling in airports. Whilst autonomous vehicles are constantly reported on in today’s media, these are almost always self-driving cars on public roads, and not much is known to the public about how we can use artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles to improve the efficiency of baggage handling (even I had not considered this as a potential application until my interview!). I am relishing the technical challenges of this application; most research into autonomous vehicles has been constrained to public roads, but the nature of the environment changes drastically in an airport where there are unique vehicles you would not see on the road (such as aircraft steps, baggage trailers etc.), as well as the aircraft themselves.        

We look forward to following James' work as the project progresses over the next couple of years.

 


Aston University supports Sarissa to develop develop a robotic production line, increasing their smart chip production by 900%

Date: July 2019

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Optimec Limited launches second Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Aston University academics 

Date: September 2018

Optimec Ltd, a company that provides measurement and inspection technology for the world's best contact and intraocular lens manufacturers, have been awarded a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Aston University.

This exciting partnership follows the successful completion of its first collaboration with Aston University which resulted in Optimec launching its unique-to-market ‘is830’ instrument for measuring contact lenses and curved objects, which put them as industry leaders, and generated over £1,000,000 of sales turnover worldwide.

Further collaborative work with Aston University will ensure that Optimec Ltd will improve its already revolutionary technology, by exploiting image process techniques to deliver an innovative range of devices for use in both ophthalmic and non-ophthalmic manufacturing sectors.

“In the last Optimec/Aston collaboration we revolutionised the machinery used to perform quality checks on contact lenses. This project will allow the technology to be built into the production line process allowing us to measure as we go, thereby enhancing our reputation in ophthalmic metrology and placing us as a ‘centre for excellence’ in Optical Coherence Tomography technology.” says Dr Benjamin Coldrick, Head of Technical Development at Optimec Ltd.

“This collaboration will allow us to begin to understand the effects of optical design and light source on distortions and noise”, commented Dr Antonio Fratini, Senior Lead Academic and Academic Supervisor at Aston University. The academic team composed also of Dr Patrick Geoghegan as Academic support further commented “This project will also provide resources for both post-doc and students projects, while developing our students’ skill for transferring academic research into product-based research.”

The benefits of this new partnership include:

  • Continuous real-world learning for Aston’s academics using cutting-edge science and technology research.
  • Development of a new Calibration standard for use by Optimec and for distribution to its customers.
  • New product developments to enable diversification into non-ophthalmic markets where contact free, precision measurement is critical.

All of these will aid Optimec’s current business. Improving the knowledge around de-warping and calibration will also allow establishment of Optimec as market leaders and open potential expansion into other industries where Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) could be used for Non-destructive testing (NDT).

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email  rke@aston.ac.uk  or call 0121 204 4242


Aston academics employ design automation techniques to reduce Mechatherm International Limited design engineering time by 70% 

Date: August 2018

Aston University is pleased to announce a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Mechatherm International Ltd (MIL). Together the team will develop and implement a Knowledge-Based Engineering approach to the design and specification of furnaces and ancillary equipment for Aluminium processing. 

MIL is a leading industrial engineering provider specialising in the design and supply of furnaces and other equipment for the global Aluminium industry.  The partnership will see Aston university academics using complex design automation techniques and algorithms to create a more intelligent design process, allowing MIL to reduce their manual activities and lower production costs.

Leading the project on from the academic side is Dr Gareth Thomson, reader of the mechanical engineering undergraduate programmes at Aston and a co-director for the Aston STEM education centre. Dr Thomson’s main academic interests are in design and smart systems technology with a research interest related to both pedagogy of engineering education and biomedical engineering. 

Dr Michal Konecny will supervise the project progress and facilitate the discovery of innovation. Dr Konecny specialises in programming theory, CAD systems and will integrate his knowledge into MIL’s internal system to formulate an optimal software design.  

Andrew Riley, Chairman of Mechatherm International Ltd. said "The breadth of specialist knowledge that is required would make it impossible for a solution to be developed through consultancy.

"Aston's academics can also embed the capabilities that Mechatherm International need to roll out other design disciplines post-project which ties into our strategic ambition to move MIL forward in the market."      

Suyesh Bhattarai, KTP associate and project manager for the partnerships, said “Expert knowledge is intricate and dispersed in a veteran firm like MIL who have built their prestige by providing bespoke solutions to the global customer base. Every product is essentially different, and hence optimisation and automation of designs require a robust approach. By the close of this KTP, we hope that we will have reduced the overall design engineering time by 70%.”

Further benefits of the KTP include:  

  • Introducing new design concepts such as Matrix Design to build MIL’s Mechanical Engineering Design capabilities

  • Increasing internal resource capability to allow MIL to focus on to future developments into electrical and pneumatic systems

  • Support from Aston Business School to create a service offer to the market

  • Introducing AI automatic design optimisation.  

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. 

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email  rke@aston.ac.uk  or call 0121 204 4242


Aston University teams up with Invibio Limited for exciting research project on innovative material for medical devices 

Date: March 2018

The Future of Fracture Fixation

Aston University is pleased to announce a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with polymer implant specialists Invibio Ltd. This exciting partnership will enable Invibio to develop robust and effective evaluation procedures to identify and characterise particulate debris that may be generated from fracture fixation devices.

Invibio is a world leader in the provision of biomaterial solutions and a proven partner to medical device manufacturers with its implantable poly(etheretherketone) (PEEK)-based materials and composites, which are used in diverse medical procedures including keyhole surgery, spine, trauma and joint reconstruction.

Since the early 20th century, metals such as stainless steel and titanium, have mainly been used for fracture fixation. Though strong, the combination of metal plates and screws can, through the lifecycle of a device, result in metal debris, which may increase the chances of osteolysis, causing the implant to loosen. Invibio’s metal-free carbon fibre reinforced PEEK composite has the potential to provide artefact free imaging, reduce revision rates, and enable faster healing in patients. This KTP project will add to the compelling case for the use of Invibio’s composite technology in orthopaedic trauma procedures.

“The development of the test methods under this KTP project is integral to our fundamental understanding and capabilities in identifying and evaluating debris generation created during an implant’s lifetime in the body,” says Andy Anderson, Head of Medical R&D at Invibio. “Implant-derived debris is a concern for patients, surgeons and device manufactures alike, so demonstrating how our composite technologies can address this issue is an important step in regulatory clearance and adoption of the technology by medical device manufacturers.”

This partnership creates the opportunity to translate the learning to other orthopaedic device applications and PEEK-based polymers and composites where similar questions arise.

The Academic lead of the KTP is Dr Laura Leslie, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering & Design and Deputy Director of the Aston Institute of Materials from Aston’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Her research focuses on Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on fracture fixation in Orthopaedics. Dr Leslie is joined by Dr Greg Swadener and Dr Sarah Junaid, both of whom are Lecturers in Mechanical Engineering & Design. Dr Greg Swadener specialises in adhesion, composites, biomaterials and biomedical engineering applications.

Dr Sarah Junaid has expertise in fracture fixation, especially musculoskeletal lower limb damage on joint mechanics. The academic team from Aston University forms a solid ground for academic discovery and application of the expertise in development and validation of novel test methods.

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. 

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email  rke@aston.ac.uk  or call 0121 204 4242