KEEP-ing cool brings business benefits

Launched in January 2017, to facilitate innovation opportunities for businesses, academics and graduates, KEEP+ has gone from strength-to-strength and earlier this year secured a further £2.5m European Regional Development Fund support from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to extend its programme for another three years.

Support offered is focused on helping companies on their innovation journey towards developing new products or services. Stephen Gosling from UK manufacturer PSL Holdings explains how the scheme helped his business innovate and solve a crucial problem.

When the Essex-based SME found themselves in hot water trying to come up with a highly accurate temperature control system, they called in experts from ARU to help.

PSL are experts in measuring viscosity - the thickness of liquids and how they flow. To get an accurate viscosity measurement, very sensitive controls are required to hold the liquid at a specific temperature.

Through ARU’s KEEP+ programme, PSL developed a knowledge exchange and embed partnership (KEEP) with the university, working with academics to develop a bespoke liquid cooling technology which has now been deployed by the business.

“In order to get an accurate viscosity measurement, we need to hold temperature very, very tightly because the tighter we hold our temperature the more precise the viscosity measurement will be,” explains Stephen, PSL’s CEO.

“We do this in a liquid bath, constantly heating, stirring and cooling. Over the years we have come up with a system which will do the heating and the stirring side of things. But we were having to buy in the technology to do the cooling, and none of it did exactly what we wanted.

“The aim of the partnership with ARU was to bring that technology in-house, get the system right, then build it. Their team was able to look at what we had already developed and help us understand a bit more about thermal dynamics. We were then able to develop a cooling module which now works very well.”

The KEEPs are just one element of the programme, and see universities signed up to the programme working with businesses to solve specific problems. The process involves appointing an associate, who is employed by the university but is based in the business to help it address its challenge.

“A KEEP is a three-way partnership between the company, the university and the graduate employee ,” says Head of Post Award and Commercialisation Carole Randall, who originally designed the programme’s concept and managed it during its first incarnation.

“The graduate, also known as an associate is embedded in the company, is there listening to developments day-to-day and is able to add value right the way across the board. They are there to fully understand the project, how it is progressing, and are able to adapt if a new opportunity comes into play or the situation changes.

“This is where a KEEP can have advantages over a traditional consultancy-type relationship, who will only ever answer the specific question they’ve been asked.”

So far KEEP+ has supported 177 different organisations across the full range of its offer which includes capital and consultancy grants as well as funding to support knowledge exchange.

“When a business needs expertise, their first thought isn’t usually to contact the local university to see if they can help,” Carole says.

“But when you do get a company that is bold enough to think that working with academia might be quite useful, we’re able to offer a different level of experience and provide them with an associate who might have a completely different set of skills to anyone in their team, backed up by the knowledge available within the university.”

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