Business: Sharpened at the cutting edge

Setting up a small business can seem like a daunting and lonely prospect. There are many areas where a business manager has to have expertise – or know where to source it. At the University of Wolverhampton, a team of experts are providing the key to unlocking a host of specialist resources and, most importantly, enabling businesses to increase sales and safeguard jobs.
 
Based at Telford Campus, the Department of Engineering and Technology is providing support to small and medium sized enterprises, or SMEs. As part of three projects – RAPID PD (Product Development), the Polymer Cluster and the West Midlands Technology Network (WMTN) – the team of more than 20 staff help small companies to access specialist skills, technology, knowledge and facilities in the University. This can include market research, bespoke product design and engineering, prototype development, marketing and electronic design.
 
The results of receiving such support are measurable in real terms. Of the monitored results for WMTN, 90 new jobs have been created and 240 jobs safeguarded, while £6.9 million of new sales have been generated and £9.3 million of sales have been safeguarded.
 
Tony Steinert, Senior R&D Associate in New Product Development, is part of the team which is helping to transform the futures of businesses.
 
He says: “Our main objective is to help people get new products to market. For instance, we can look at the design of a product and help the client make appropriate improvements.
 
“We work with lots of different industries, from fine goods and tableware to mechanical structures, medical devices, household and construction products.
 
“Because of the University’s high standard of knowledge transfer, we can give companies a better understanding of new product introduction and demonstrate the tools and technologies available to do that. For example, if a company does not have Computer Aided Design (CAD) capability, we can provide a range of CAD solutions for evaluation.”
 
Tony adds: “It shows how universities are supporting the economy and sometimes it is about redesigning products to help improve costs, performance or quality, but the focus is always about safeguarding and creating jobs in the region.”
 
In addition to this, the Department of Engineering and Technology offers support to businesses through short courses, best practice events and education programmes for manufacturing at Wolverhampton Science Park. The Science Park is also home to the Manufacturing Club, providing a network of engineering and manufacturing companies in the Black Country and surrounding areas who can share useful information. Another arm of the University is the successful Caparo Innovation Centre, a collaboration with Caparo Plc, which provides specialist new product development services to inventors and businesses.
 
As well as assisting existing and new businesses, the Department also supports the development of future engineers. Part of the School of Engineering and the Built Environment, the Department offers a range of degrees for those taking the first steps into engineering and those already in employment who wish to upskill. Head of the Department, Diane Mynors, says there is still a shortage of engineers, and therefore employment opportunities for graduates are tremendous. In addition to traditional undergraduate courses, the University offers courses with a focus on industry demanded skills. This includes a Foundation Degree, FD (Science) Engineering, which combines work-based learning with academic study.
 
Diane adds: “All our undergraduate courses include an optional sandwich year, so there is great potential for industry to have a student on board for a year, and have a look at what they can do – it is, in effect, a one year job interview.
 
“The potential areas of employment our graduates can enter is considerable, including design engineering, quality management, global procurement, aerospace, food processing companies and the pharmaceutical industry. The spectrum is extremely wide for engineers.”
 
For more information, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/eat. For details of all the work of the West Midlands Technology Network, visit: www.wm-technet.co.uk
 
For further information about the School of Engineering and the Built Engineering courses, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/sebe