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The importance of strengthening the Industry-Academia link

The Automotive sector - as many others - is going through a radical transformation on a global scale. Goals of net zero, connectivity, autonomy and sustainability are strategic priorities to ensure the survival of the UK Automotive sector and the wider UK industry. Today, many organisations are already at risk and many more will be if they do not proactively respond to these unprecedented challenges. A rapid adoption of the Innovation and Knowledge coming from the Universities and research organisations could be a core enabler to master the complexities of current and future businesses, products and services, and accelerate their delivery.

The latest UK Government Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 confirms the strategic relevance of the collaboration, highlighting the priority to grow cutting-edge Research and Development (R&D) in the UK to unleash innovation and foster growth through increased productivity. Funding for the UK’s academia and research institutions is seen as pivotal to enabling “the government’s ambition to increase R&D spending to £22billion by 2026-27, and drive economy-wide R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP in 2027”.

The Digitalisation Roadmap published by IDE in March 2021 supports the UK Government’s commitment through highlighting the importance of a solid Industry-Academia partnerships: understanding the current and future challenges that the industry is facing and will face, helps organisations to identify and prioritise the items in their innovation agenda, providing fertile ground for the creation of UK Centres of Excellence in a longer horizon.

The pressing question is: “How can the transfer of knowledge and innovation be accelerated now?

How can the transfer of knowledge and innovation be accelerated now?

There are several practical ways in which Industry and Academia can effectively and efficiently work together at the different stages of innovation, whether it’s fundamental research, feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development. The ViVID project is a great example of this!

The ViVID project has been selected by the NCUB as a showcase of collaboration between UK universities and international businesses

The ViVID partners are proud to say that the project has been selected by the National Centre for Business and Universities (NCUB) as a showcase of collaboration between UK universities and international businesses that are willing to invest in the UK. This success story was first published in April 2022 on the International Interactions showcasing booklet. In the article, Dr Ashley Fly, Lecturer in vehicle electrification at Loughborough University and Lead of the Battery research in ViVID, highlights how the battery model developed through ViVID allows the industrial partners to reduce development time and improve lifetime.

The Academia-Industry partnership is not only strengthened with formal collaborations. It is also reinforced through the development of those relevant skills that will be needed by the future engineers in the job market. In the ‘Virtual prototypes and simulated testing accelerate Formula Student towards EVs and autonomy’ article published by the Professional Engineering magazine, Elliot Hemes, Managing Director at IPG Automotive UK, draws the parallel between ViVID and the IMechE Formula Student; in both cases, only the use of a digital-first mindset will help tackling the increasing product complexity, and reducing costs and development time. In the article, Elliot focusses on the opportunity that digitalisation offers to identify extreme events in the early stages of the vehicle development and act promptly to solve them, with ViVID as a clear trailblazer to tackle the issue related to the development and validation of the “many hundreds, probably thousands in fact, of derivatives of the Transit”.

Figure 1 The Loughborough University Formula Students (FS) team explaining to the ViVID workshop attendees their approach to vehicle development using MBSE. Their goalm is to build a Digital Twin of the vehicle that will empower them to make effective decisions during the FS events and to create a legacy for the success of future Loughborough University FS teams

The parallel between Formula Student and ViVID seems to be a recurrent one. This topic has also been centric to the recent ViVID workshop organised by IDE at the Loughborough University Campus. During the workshop, three groups of the Formula Student Loughborough team have presented their approach to engineering the vehicle with focus on the use of Model-Based System Engineering and virtual models and simulation to:

optimise vehicle attributes;

perform battery characterisation;

support the development of autonomous features.

(And if you’d like to read more on how they did this, feel free to download the Digital Twin whitepaper and check the Case Study 4 - Digital Twin of the Formula Student Car at Loughborough University.)

Through the workshop, the ViVID project partners had also the opportunity to share their Industrial perspective, which sparked a very interesting conversation between the attendees about the new competences and skills that the engineers should possess to be competitive in the future market, and to make the UK automotive sector successful.

The key takeaway was that to tackle the challenges that we are all facing in the next decades to come and deliver on net zero, connectivity, autonomy, and sustainability, a System Thinking approach, that breaks the silos and gives the ability to identify relationships and interdependencies, as well as the capacity to clearly communicate complex messages will be instrumental.

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