Thinking of a KTP?

Jeremy Coupland - Professor of Applied Optics in MEME - has been involved in three consecutive KTPs with the UK arm of Campbell Scientific, a Shepshed-based company specialising in the manufacture of weather stations and environmental sensors.

Here, he talks about his experience of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

What were the aims of the initial KTP project?

Campbell Scientific were looking to develop a Present Weather Sensor, an optical instrument designed to measure and classify rain and visibility. This would be targeted at a range of markets including roadside weather stations, airports, wind tunnel facilities and environmental monitoring stations. They were aiming at the top end of the market, creating a sensor with greater capability than existing products.

How did you first get involved?

I think the original contact with Campbell was through a colleague and the company already had links with the University. It was suggested that we meet and, as soon as we talked, it was obvious there was synergy between their aims and our research expertise.

Why did working with an external partner appeal to you?

I think that there’s a desire to feel that you have made a contribution. In some ways, it feels like I have made a weather station. In reality, the company has put in 90% of the effort but I feel my expertise has made an important contribution.

There are other advantages too, we have patented the method and published the theory of operation. This publication was an important contribution to the recent Research Assessment Framework since it provides clear evidence of industrial impact.

Then there are other, smaller spin-offs – we made a droplet generator as part of the project and that piece of equipment is still used for undergraduate projects.

The work also generated some income into the department. The KTP scheme factors in payment for the academic’s time, usually a half a day a week.

Did you consider other ways of working with Campbell?

We had a KTP in mind right from the start. There are particular benefits to the KTP scheme – it has been around a long time so it has evolved and honed into a very efficient and effective way to engage with companies.

What are the particular advantages of a KTP to you as an academic?

KTPs are very focused, so they really work. The work is kept on track by an independent consultant, who is very influential in guiding the project. The KTP adviser makes sure that the project really delivers on all the aims set out at the start.

As well as being regularly monitored, KTPs are a very cost effective way to engage with business. There is an exact amount of time - half a day a week - that needs to be given over to the project so you are able to manage it around other University commitments. KTPs are also returnable as research output and a good way of demonstrating impact.

Is there a lot of work involved in preparing for a KTP?

In this respect, the scheme actually compares very favourably with the process of applying for a research grant, for example. You do have to write a programme of work in consultation with the company and with the Knowledge Transfer Team based here at the University, which came to about five pages in our case, but most of the other paperwork was taken care of by by the Knowledge Transfer Team.

The other advantage in this area is that the basic premise behind a KTP can be discussed with the Knowledge Transfer Team at the earliest stage. From this dialogue, you will get a good idea of whether the project is eligible for the KTP scheme. So a successful application is almost guaranteed by the time you start putting the work in.

Where are you now with these projects?

We are currently taking part in our third KTP with Campbell Scientific. Each project has looked at different areas of optical engineering. Following the successful manufacture and marketing of the Present Weather System, we developed two other sensors in partnership with Campbell: the Ceilometer – a cloud base recorder to measure the height of cloud layers - and the Cloud Classifier System, which exploits the latest developments in infrared technology and image processing.