R&D Processes for Graduates

R&D Processes for Graduates

What are the questions that drive business success? For many, innovation will the way that they can differentiate themselves and gain a competitive edge. To do this, they must be able to harness the potential of effective research and development, or R&D.

Increasingly, businesses are forging meaningful, and mutually beneficial, partnerships with universities, including various placement programmes.

The business gains a fresh perspective and a dedicated R&D resource, while the student or graduate gains insight and experience working in a real-world environment where the practical application of intelligence carries huge value.

For these relative newcomers into the world of work, what are the R&D processes which will help them help others, and which will enable businesses to grow and thrive on the back of innovation?

Commercialising Know-how

Companies do not need to rely entirely on their own resources to access R&D and to use it to boost their commercial success. Similarly, centres of learning can discover routes into the workplace for talented graduates.

According to NCUB, the National Centre for Universities and Business, the UK accounts for over 10% of global citations and 15% of the most highly rated articles in the world when it comes to research.

The UK Government has put innovation, and the research that helps it happen, at the centre of its Innovation Strategy, with a commitment of £7bn in additional funding by 2021/22. The aim is to increase total R&D expenditure to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

One way of how to make this kind of investment demonstrably effective is through knowledge exchange, where students and graduates get to see the real world impact of their research, teaching and knowledge; and where business benefits from the increased innovation and efficiency this brings.

Asking the Right Questions

R&D begins with a question, or a problem requiring a solution.

For example, in the foundry and steel industry, the question might be: how can we improve our processes while minimising or reducing downtime?

The focus is might then be on developing or applying materials, such as mica, to extend the lining lifespan of furnaces. Further research into microporous technology then provides additional solutions to do with thermal management, and the development of furnace safety systems.

The important thing is to ask the right questions at the start, which will initiate the R&D process.

This aptitude for curiosity is vital when it comes to R&D, as is a willingness to doggedly pursue the answers. When it comes to applied research, these questions will be connected to specific and directed objectives.

Creating an R&D Pipeline

Successful R&D projects require diligent, detailed project management. With the understanding that research and development should dovetail with business objectives, and be integral to them, it follows that the aim is to channel R&D towards some form of commercial end-result.

What stages or phases should this pipeline include?

Firstly, there is foresight and context. This is about assessing developments in a particular field and understanding what trends there are and what their implications are likely to be.

In other words, successful R&D cannot operate in isolation, but must maintain a wider perspective, especially if business developments in key areas such as digital technology are evolving and mutating rapidly.

Secondly, R&D is about discovery. Exploring new ideas and technologies should point R&D teams in the direction of practical solutions, once they can establish that ideas are technically feasible through the use of emerging technologies.

Thirdly, there is the testing stage. This might typically involve both alpha and beta testing, depending on how ideas and concepts evolve into real-world product applications and service solutions.

A critical element here is prototyping.

How Prototyping Works for R&D

SMEs especially can benefit from prototyping. It takes research from the thinking stage towards proper functionality, but without the commitment to full-scale production.

Functional prototypes help expose glitches or hidden strengths, and can demonstrate both constraints and opportunities. Where testing processes have been iterative – ie involving repetitive processes to achieve a result – prototyping can give more clarity about what will happen when testing goes live and fully operational.

Where businesses are looking to combine solid research with keeping firm control of their spending, prototyping offers cost effective solutions because it means they can see in advance, how a real-world version of their developed product might actually work.

This performance testing is a critical aspect of R&D.

Innovation Adds Value

Whether exploiting a new market opportunity or introducing an innovative new product to an existing market, innovation is a critical driver of business success. Innovation can free a company from the constraints of solely price-driven competitiveness and help differentiate it.

How can SMEs access R&D?

Not every business has the in-house resources to readily take on the challenges of innovation. Outsourcing is one solution. Another is to work collaboratively in partnership with other organisations and institutions.

Increasingly, the worlds of academia and business are coming together, with more students and fresh graduates adapting the focus and rigour of research to the considerable demands of commerce.

Get in Touch

Elmelin specialises in innovative manufacturing and product solutions, with a focus on industrial insulation, thermal management and fire protection. We have an expert and adaptable prototyping capability too.

For more information, please phone us on +44 20 8520 2248, email sales@elmelin.com, or complete our online enquiry form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.