Biomimetics and Biomimicry in Engineering

Archive for the ‘Knowledge Transfer’ Category

Baking with Sound

In Knowledge Transfer on 2011/10/11 at 2:52 pm

A collaborative project between Macphie of Glenverbie, food ingredients suppliers and manufacturers, and my research group has been highlighted by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation.
This research project has a remarkable character of knowledge transfer and is the founding stone for a larger implementation project in which the bakery industry will benefit thanks to our novel strategy to control and tailor structures.

This project was also showcased in their last Parliamentary reception (Scottish Parliament, Sept 2011). Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, underlined in his keynote speech the importance of innovation and the benefits of partnerships in academia and industry. More on this day can be seen here, page 8.

Heriot-Watt and Macphie have a record of successful collaboration in different projects at both Undergraduate and Postgraduate level.

Ashley Baker, Head of R&D at Macphie with Carmen Torres-Sánchez, from Heriot Watt University


‘Our Global Future’

In Comment, Knowledge Transfer on 2011/03/05 at 5:46 pm

Just back from the Engineers without Borders UK Research Conference. It was held in the Royal Academy of Engineering, in London. Beautiful venue. Easy to reach and you can check the time on the Big Ben itself.

Iain Downie came along, as was presenting the work we are doing on a biomimetic cool box.

The Conference was really interesting in both research (i.e. interesting concepts of fridges in the Sahara, waste management in Malawi and wind turbines comparison in Netherlands, among others) and education (i.e. embedding the global dimension and sustainability in the Engineering curriculum) arenas.

Eve Walkden (Uni of Southampton) gave a really inspiring presentation comparing the mechanical features and forces/reactions of an I-beam and a tree trunk (and branches), and on the alignment of fibres. A tree is a massive cantilever, did you know that?

Rebecca Drake and Daniel Miles were with me when we presented the ‘bamboo hut‘ project, the implementation in India, the capacity building ingredient of this project, and the optimisation of the design we are currently working on.

It was important for me that both Rebecca and Daniel were there, because the point i was trying to make is that design and planning is all very well. Optimisations and improvements. You can go on forever and never build anything. However, they went to India with our designs in their backpacks and built it. I am very proud of them.

Now that we are working on the next generation of bamboo hut (using their feedback), i hope this can also be tested in India, with the locals, in the near future. I will come back to these lines to report all about it.


Heriot-Watt & Moredun Research Institute Exchange

In Comment, Knowledge Transfer on 2011/02/27 at 6:17 pm

Just back from Peebles. Idyllic place south of Edinburgh and before the Borders. A great place to think, talk and meet delightful people. Some of them from my own organisation.

We spoke about these common issues:

(c) A. Miller & Wordle


Well into the afternoons and evenings:


(c) A. Miller

It is always important to keep in mind that there is a thin line that separated technology transfer (or providing a service) from true multidisciplinary research. This is always worth exploring, as one thing might take you to the other.


Company-led UG Engineering Design Projects

In Comment, Knowledge Transfer on 2010/09/18 at 5:06 pm

The official start of the 2010 company-led UG engineering design projects for mechanical engineering students at Heriot-Watt University was officially launched yesterday at the Postgradute Centre. A superb business breakfast was organised by my very lovely PA, Ms Rebecca Crawford (she is a star!)

The 14 companies partnering for this initiative gathered in the morning and met the students who will work in the R&D projects allocated to them.

The companies taking part in this initiative are: Aboleo, TouchBionics, Macphie, E&H Building Contractors, Panton MacLeod, Turnbull&Scott, TomAllan, LandLab, Chocolala, Seeking Simplicity, Pyemont Design, Readman Lighting and Sabic Innovative Plastics. I want to sincerely thank them for their support and enthusiasm for this brand new inittiative.

The organisation would not have been possible without the generous help of Dumfries College (via Ms Eva Milroy), Borders College (Mr George Foster), UHI (Dr Fiona Grant), RenewNet (Mr Steven Earl), EDTC (Mr Stephen Burns), and last but most importantly, TRS in Heriot-Watt (Dr Iain McEwan)

I have been proudly reading the references in the news and these are some links:

South of Scotland Innovation Project:

The Scotsman:

South of Scotland Business Solutions:

I wish the best of luck to the students. I hope they will have as much fun with these projects as i had setting this up this programme.

New academic year and the opportunities ahead

In Comment, Knowledge Transfer on 2010/09/05 at 7:32 pm

Even when recession is still in full swing for the Scottish industry, we are already starting to envision what tomorrow will bring. The current shortage of technical placements, apprenticeships and engineering graduate jobs will start showing its impact in only a couple of years down the line. Companies are not only having to make skilled engineers and technical staff redundant, sending their know-how to waste; they are also losing the opportunity to hire bright, energetic, highly motivated newly graduates who have to apply to jobs in a different industry or sector (e.g. banking). I have nothing against bankers (sarcasm) but they are really enticing our brightest, best of the best students and taking them to the City.

Universities have to work hard to attract good students. In the present climate of budget cuts and limited places up for grabs, we face the painful task of cherry-picking those who we think will take full advantage of their academic degree training, and offer them a place in our courses and programmes. Going back to the banking simile, it is the closest thing to buying shares, and trying to invest with a low degree of risk. But, how to be sure? We are certainly missing out some brilliant individuals. And once those ‘stars of tomorrow’ join us, we have to make sure their academic experience is really worth-while and enriching, and they become fully equipped for the best graduate jobs in engineering and technology.

The enhancement of employability skills is a two-way road. On one hand, Universities need to make sure that the students are exposed to relevant experiences, real-life situations that encourage creative thinking, original problem-solving, and teamwork. In that way, we are not only teaching them the first principles of Thermodynamics or the governing rules of Fluid Mechanics; we are inviting them to develop lifelong learning skills, teaching them how to learn, as we don’t know what we are training them for. Technology moves so fast that what is cutting-edge now will be obsolete even before their graduation ceremony. Heriot-Watt University, with her ethos for ‘applied knowledge’, has always been pioneer in this academic style of teaching. In particular, the new initiative for company-led engineering design projects for Mechanical Engineering students epitomises Heriot-Watt’s character as ‘useful knowledge’ entity. In these projects, students work get to put into practice their theoretical knowledge by assisting R&D activities carried out by Scottish SMEs, experiencing real-life situations and having to behave like professional engineers before they complete their degrees.
Simultaneously, those companies benefit from this program by interacting with the students and coming closer to the skills and knowledge available in academia. In the larger scheme of things, the Scottish economy benefits from this ‘win-win’ situation: our students improve their skills, and the companies obtain a piece of useful research, tailor-made to their business, that can assist to their competitiveness in the market.

However, this is not possible if our students (current or prospective candidates) are not up to the challenge. I said that employability skills are a ‘meal for two’. Universities carefully prepare their curriculum, in consultation with the employers and learned bodies (e.g. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Chemical Engineers, or Civil Engineers, etc).  No matter how delicious that meal might be, if the students are not hungry, not even the best roast dinner will turn them on. We need proactive, enthusiastic, open-minded students who are ready to take on those challenges, who are willing to learn and be taught. It is our job, as academics and lecturers, to make sure they have a broad variety of experiences that will help them become rounded, highly-skilled engineer. And it is their job as a student to make use of all those opportunities. I always say that University is like a gym: you pay a flat-rate membership fee so you can use all the services available. You end up paying the same money whether you go 3 days a week to exercise, or you only go once a month. University, like the gym, has so much to offer, but it is up to the student to make the most of it.

The academic year is about to start and we are so looking forward to welcoming back our returning students and see the faces of our freshers. Because they are the engineers of tomorrow and the world is in their hands. It is a great honour to us to be part of that exciting journey. I can’t wait to get it started.

(An article based on these thoughts was published on 26th August 2010 in the Scotsman. It can be found here: Scotsman Platform CTS 260810.)

Are KTPs the only answer to meaningful industry-academic partnerships?

In Knowledge Transfer on 2010/04/15 at 10:50 am

The upcoming KTP Conference in Scotland (23rd April 2010) will be held at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. After two successful editions in University of St Andrews, this year brings us another opportunity to go and listen to policy makers, industry representatives, entrepreneurial academic members and practitioners about the current tools and support in place for Knowledge Transfer activities and partnerships.

I have recently started to think whether we are romanticising too much on KTPs. Those who have experience in this activity or have heard of it will agree with me that one of the standard recipes for success is the KTP associate. Good examples of KTPs happen because the associate does a remarkable job.  The researcher/entrepreneur who works at the university|company interface, deals with both, stretches boundaries to content both in a remarkable exercise where so many interests have to be juggled. A good associate is the key. Once again, good timing, appropriate networking and a stroke of luck at recruitment stage are crucial in this case if you want to hire the right person. And once again, it is down to personality, characters and team work/management.

If we want to continue bridging the gap between Academia and Industry, we have to ensure that these KTP associates are the best we can find, with full support from both sides and good levels of stamina and grace. How can we make sure this happens? as in many other jobs, we know so many other people who are not pulling their weight, are depressed, manage to perform at their very minimum. They might get away with that. Or not. We cannot afford poorly performing KTP associates because they are our ambassadors to Industry.

Since the perfect recruitment case cannot be guaranteed, we might well start thinking on other ways of making sure the knowledge transfer activities run smoothly, without solely depending on a major factor, the KTP associate.  There is a lot of work to do.