"The Future is Already Here – It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet"

Published on: 
Thursday, 9 November, 2017

A quotation from the American-Canadian author and essayist William Gibson was the playful finale to keynote speaker Andy Jones of AstraZeneca’s presentation at ‘Britest Day 2017’ the annual assembly of the industrial and research members and collaborators who form the innovation ecosystem of SPRING project co-ordinator Britest Limited.

Held on 2nd November in Cheshire, UK, Britest day’s theme of Innovation and Impact is central to the remit of Project SPRING, and Andy Jones’ closing thought – offered in the context of Emerging Technologies for Pharmaceutical and Bio-processing – carried great resonance in encapsulating the challenge for SPRING and the SPIRE industries more broadly:

- Lots of innovative technologies are being developed through H2020:SPIRE projects.

- Lots of new applications are continually being found for existing technologies.

- After SPIRE projects finish, there will be inevitable uneven distributions of the outputs being implemented.

Consequently, we need to find better ways to enhance the distribution of the outputs from SPIRE projects and better ways to get more industrial operations to adopt SPIRE innovations.

Representatives from Project SPRING partners, CRIT and the University of Leeds Business School, were present to help in the afternoon workshops at Britest Day, which delved further into the reasons for industry taking interest in project outputs (which metrics and factors get you in the door of the budget holders) and what are the problems of getting project findings adopted by industry.

Industry attendees were particularly keen to share stories of why projects outputs fail to get implemented, with common examples including:

- The timing of projects doesn’t necessary correlate with business timelines; if you miss the 5-year plant upgrade window, you may have to wait another 5-years to get new technology implemented.

- Most businesses have lots of potential projects and improvements all competing for the same funds and personnel. Just because it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean it’s the only good idea.

- An innovation may work in isolation, but it needs to fit into very specific ‘industrial ecosystems’ for each implementation, which may vary from site to site, e.g. integrated heating systems

The detailed outputs from this workshop will be used in the preparation of SPRING’s own outputs (guidelines and information sharing frameworks), but we welcome further input from stakeholders within, and external to, the EU process industries on examples and ideas for enhancing project impacts in industry.


Finally, a further thought from Britest Day - the future may already be here, but we can also learn from the past. Ultimately impactful innovation arises when multiple enabling factors coincide and when the “fit” with ways of working is right. As thought leader in process understanding Professor Paul Sharratt reflected, the transition from batch to continuous processing in the chemicals industry is only now “coming of age”, having followed a twenty-year change-readiness curve, whilst (as industry grapples with how to harness the Industry 4.0 revolution) Britest CEO Gareth Jenkins pointed out the fifty-year disparity between the availability of electricity and its adoption into manufacturing during the transition from the 1st (steam) to 2nd (mechanised) industrial revolution. This change only came about when industry figured out it needed to move its process designs away from the centralised drive based model that worked for water and steam engines in order to take advantage of the flexibility of electric motors. Turning current day innovations in impact will undoubtedly call for similarly flexible thinking on the part of Europe’s innovators in the process industries*.

If you would like to be added to the SPRING stakeholder list, please contact Amy Peace (SPRING coordinator) - amy.peace@britest.co.uk


*Further reading on why electricity didn't immediately change manufacturing can be found in this excellent article by Tim Harford: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40673694