An independent review by leading technology entrepreneur Hermann Hauser looking at how the government’s network of elite technology and innovation centers can be fully exploited to benefit the economy in the long term, was commissioned by Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable, and Science and Universities Minister David Willetts in March 2014.
The consultation for this review has now closed but you can read ESCO’s submission to the review in full below:
The first seven Catapult centres are all up and running, what is your view on progress to date, and your experience of working with the centres, please specify if this relates to the network as a whole or any one particular centre?
Electronic Systems companies support the concept of Catapults as a means of enabling UK industry to engage more easily with new UK initiatives, and to form a centre around which greater networking takes place. As Catapults have been operational for a relatively short period of time, ESCO’s response is focused on areas where some initial issues have come to light.
Our major concern is that existing Catapults could be much more effectively aligned with the market potential of the Electronics Systems sector. Some Catapults are well-aligned with sector interests and industry bodies and companies are already engaging with MTC, Printed Electronics, Space Applications and Transport in particular. However, gaps exist within existing Catapults and there are critical areas of industrial concern that are not being addressed:
In 2011, an outline expression of interest was submitted for an Electronic Systems Catapult and subsequently rejected. Industrial and academic input at that time identified the following areas of interest:
- Design and Manufacture of Technology, Component, Sub-System and System
- Reliability, Test, Certification and Life-cycle engineering
- Semiconductor Technologies including CMOS, Compound Semiconductors, MEMS and Smart Microsystems
- Power, Power Management and Power Electronics
- Electro-Optical integration
- Analogue, Digital & Mixed-Signal
- Architecture of Systems, Software and Hardware including re-programmability
- Plastic Electronics
- Algorithms, Cryptography, Modelling and Simulation
- Compilers, Debuggers, Schedulers
- Operating Systems, Middleware
- Embedded Software
- Design Methods and Tools
- Packaging, Reliability, Quality, Environmental modelling and testing
It is not clear from within the current Catapults where there is a focus on these critical “enablers” for future applications. There are current industrial trends and gaps in UK provision that lend themselves to developing further National infrastructure and ESCO would be very happy to provide further details on this area. For example, building on the success of the National Printed Electronics Centre, there is a great deal of scope to develop UK capability in mobile and consumer electronics.
Having said that, there is an overall view that the Catapults are still getting established and many Electronic Systems companies are still developing relationships with those Catapults relevant to the sector such as the Satellite Applications Catapult.
A further issue is that catapult financing appears to be optimised for large scale enterprises and projects, making access more difficult for SMEs especially micro businesses, which is arguably where most innovation takes place. Many smaller scale electronics systems companies often have difficultly accessing facilities at Catapults for short periods. We would like to see catapults providing easier access for companies requiring facilities for short periods and smaller scale projects that demonstrate high levels of potential.
As an organisation representing UK Electronics, we are looking at ways where we can help smaller companies develop consortia for project bids. We are, for example, working with the Transport Systems Catapult on taking forward some of their ideas. We would be happy to work with BIS or individual Catapults to facilitate more productive working with SMEs.
The review led by Hermann Hauser is specifically asked to look at the shape, scale and ambition of the Catapult network. How would you see the future scale of the network?
Existing Catapults appear to have some spare capacity which could be taken up by increasing accessibility to SMEs and micro businesses by adopting different funding models, which we have outlined in our responses to question 9.
Some of the newer Catapults seem to be short of “big ideas” and seem to be concentrating on some relatively low impact first projects. The Future Cities catapult, for example, would be better engaged on ‘big impact’ projects such as smart traffic management and smart parking. We are aware that the Future Cities Catapult has a project measuring sound pollution in London but it seems not to be working with the local authority in Glasgow to develop a compelling Future Cities pilot project.
The Catapult Centres that have been established thus far following extensive consultation have either sought to leverage existing capabilities (e.g. High Value Manufacturing) or set up from scratch (e.g. Cell Therapies and Future Cities). What do you see as the best way to create a pipeline and incubate new ideas for potential Catapults?
New Catapults should focus on some of the key enabling technologies needed to drive many of the UK’s strategically important industries and societal challenges where the UK has an industrial strength and the potential to be a world leader rather than limiting to specific applications, which tend to be relatively narrow in scope. For example, the internet of things, Industry 4.0 and future cities will all rely on the development of low cost networked sensors, so a Catapult that focuses on sensor technology which is a key enabler is more focused on a specific market objective and is therefore more likely to attract the involvement of companies who are already developing their business strategies around those market objectives. There are a number of other possible areas outlined in our response to question 1 that we believe merit further discussion and exploration.
Battery technology is another area of development that would benefit a wide range of applications and would benefit from Catapult activity.
Are there specific technology areas for example cell therapy or challenges areas for example as in the case of future cities that would warrant a Catapult centre in the future?
We see huge potential benefits in a new Digital Health Catapult. This is an area where there appears to be a significant lack of coordination between companies and researchers and customers, in particular the NHS. A Catapult would bring the NHs and companies together to ensure that technological developments are appropriate to address the pressing problems in healthcare. The NHS could help shape the research agendas of companies and universities and a Catapult could help the NHS to realise the huge potential cost savings and potential improvements in patient outcomes that can be achieved from the development and implementation of Electronic Systems technologies, such as the adoption of remote diagnosis, healthcare and assisted living. UK based Electronic Systems companies are already developing advanced systems for overseas clients, which have the potential to generate significant benefits for the NHS.
What do you think are the most important aspects a Catapult centre should include?
Catapults should provide state-of-the-art facilities that can be easily accessed by industry, in particular by SMEs, in ways where they can protect their IP development.
They should enable interaction and innovative collaboration between universities and industry and provide coordinated pool of skills and knowledge and they should also provide client training on new technologies and applications and provide equipment for hire, which would be otherwise unavailable to client companies.
Development of key enabling technologies that are multi-market in nature is critical. For example, the UK has great strengths in the development of compound semiconductor materials that are already a significant global market and forecast to grow rapidly as material costs reduce and the economic benefits of CMOS scaling (Moore’s Law) are reducing. There are several other examples which could be considered for further analysis.
A gap-analysis across existing Catapults with an applications focus against key-enabling technologies would highlight areas of potential development for subsequent demand assessment.
Should Catapult centres also have a role in delivering skills, training and apprenticeships? If so what should this role be?
It is important that skills provision provided by Catapults should not add complexity to, but instead should be complementary to the existing skills landscape. Electronic Systems companies see an important potential role for Catapults in providing vocational training and arranging work experience for shared apprenticeships. Shared apprenticeships make training and obtaining apprentices more achievable for SMEs and micro businesses by being part of a consortium of companies, which contribute to a fund and share a pool of apprentices to which they offer placements.
The Catapults could play a key part by providing the training centres and facilities on their existing sites, which will be needed to make shared apprenticeships work.
As they become established are there any other roles Catapult centres should play for business other than technology development. The review would be interested in any views around international engagement, business incubation, supply chain development, access to finance?
There is an important potential role for Catapults to provide some services previously provided by Business Link such as guidance on grant applications and signposting to external organisations including Government organisations providing support such as UKTI.
In order to increase their profile, industrial out-reach and engagement, it is clear that Catapults will need to develop networking and events activities. ESCO strongly suggests that trade associations are engaged in this process and that Catapults and the KTN should be directed to recognise and work with existing industry associations.
There is also an opportunity for Catapults to play a role in addressing policy challenges, for example the development of standards and addressing regulatory challenges in their areas. What do you see as the role for Catapults in response to policy challenges?
Within the Electronic Systems community, the development of standards is undertaken by trade associations who already work closely and effectively with the major international standards bodies such as BSI and the IEC.
Similarly, the Electronic Systems community works closely with BIS and other relevant Government departments in addressing regulatory issues via the Electronics Regulatory Group.
ESCO does not therefore see a potential role for Catapults in these areas.
The 1/3 revenue Catapults generate from business is at the heart of ensuring they remain business led. Are there alternative financial models that should be considered that would enable either more dynamic growth or improved exploitation of technologies?
There is a perception amongst UK electronics companies that the various funding models currently used by the different Catapults are driving behaviour and it appears ‘easier’ to engage with large contracts with industry than with many smaller ones, even though those smaller projects may have significant potential.
This has led to a situation where large companies can obtain significant value from working with Catapults, but barrier to entry for smaller companies is high. This means that the majority of Electronic Systems companies and, we would contend, in much of manufacturing industry in the UK, are not being well served by the Catapults and there is a danger that these companies increasingly view the Catapults as irrelevant to them.
Existing Catapults appear not to be fully utilised and this shortfall in capacity could be addressed by increasing accessibility to SMEs and micro businesses by adopting funding models that enables better engagement with those companies. A sliding scale of Government funding, for example 1:1 for companies employing less than 50 staff and 3:2 for companies employing between 50 and 200 staff, would improve accessibility for smaller companies.
Our members are also concerned that a significant proportion of R & D activity undertaken within the Catapults would have been performed by client companies anyway. Instead, priority should be given to accelerated and/or additional activity. Some measure of the degree to which potential R&D activity is genuinely new might be gathered from the data already held by HMRC from companies’ R&D Tax Credit submissions.