What attracted you to the role of KTP Associate?
KTP seemed like a good transition from a purely academic background into real-world design and manufacturing environment. The role involved development of a novel, high-value product under direct supervision of an experienced designer, therefore practicality and market viability were of key importance - with valuable inputs from academia as required.
To what extent has your understanding of the role been realised?
Fully, the goal of creating a working prototype of the novel wheelchair frame was clear from the start, and the bridge between business and academia was exactly as expected. The main responsibilities and day-to-day activities were company-oriented, with the full availability of the experienced academic team to inform the development.
Had you heard of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships before applying?
Yes then I seen this role on LinkedIn, the advertisement matched all my keywords and immediately caught my interest.
What have been the most positive aspects of your role?
Working directly with the company’s CEO and a lot of practical knowledge and experience gained. The small size of the company meant that my input had a relatively big impact on the project as a whole, as opposed to potentially being a small cog in a big machine of a large business. Not only was I able to utilise the hard engineering skills I gained previously and use them to solve real-world problems, but I also learned a lot about rapid prototyping using 3D printing and product design.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The pacing of the project was fast compared to my previous experience, resulting in some (not many!) stressful or long days that were required to meet the deadlines. The technical aspects of the project proved quite challenging at times, as often the team ventured into uncharted territory with regards to the unorthodox manufacturing approach that was pursued. In the end, we managed to overcome and that certainly contributed to my personal growth. My technical skills have certainly improved, but I’m also more resilient to things not going as planned and realistic about expectations.
Describe a typical day as a KTP Associate:
I wouldn’t say there was a typical day in my KTP position. Problems were tackled as required, and that meant I would be wearing my structural engineer hat one week (designing the carbon fibre layup and using Finite Element Analysis software), performing testing and characterisation the other week (adjusting ratios of chemicals in a material and checking the resulting mechanical properties) and prototyping auxiliary components the following week (CAD modelling, 3D printing, fitting and assembly). The diversity of tasks and skillsets needed to accomplish them is endless when developing a new product - I certainly enjoyed it and learned a lot!
Have there been any unexpected experiences or outcomes of your role?
The format of Mobility Unlimited Challenge required a series of video submissions for the competition final. I had a chance to get behind the camera, but also assist in directing and writing of the videos. It was a great and fun opportunity, especially considering that Andrew Slorance (CEO of the company) had over 20 years of experience in TV and several documentaries under his belt.
What training and development have you benefited from as a result of working as a KTP Associate?
From my perspective, Ashorne Hill residential modules were a broad introduction to project, people and cashflow management. I had a chance of taking part in KTN Innovation Canvas course which provides a good framework for delivering innovation. Seeing how we’ll be setting up manufacturing of the new wheelchairs within Phoenix Instinct in the immediate future, it made sense for me to use my development budget on Lean Six Sigma courses. These provide tools and methodologies of streamlining production, eliminating waste and improving manufacturing flow - something that the business will definitely benefit from.
How would you describe the unique experience of working as a KTP Associate?
Working as a KTP associate allowed for an innovative project to be delivered with great impact on the host company. The involvement of the university meant there was a good knowledge base to support the development, and that the thinking was not dominated by purely practical considerations and standard means. Instead, the team was able to go back to first principles, consider the options carefully and develop something unique - which in turn created a competitive advantage for the business. This would not have been possible in a purely industrial environment where standard practice and cost consciousness would likely have dominated the conversation.
As for my personal experience, the KTP role provided some detachment from the day-to-day operations of the business and allowed me to focus on the project, as well as easing me into the world of industry where things work differently to academia. I was able to gradually transition into the faster pacing that was required, but also pick up some knowledge and soft skills in the process. Throughout the entire project, I had to apply my academic training to real-world problems and made decisions that had real impact - something that was both challenging and delightful.
Would you recommend a KTP Associate role to other graduates?
I would certainly recommend a KTP Associate role to anyone seeking a transition from academia into industry. The projects have real value to the businesses that host them, so with the right focus and cooperation between the supporting academics and company supervisors, the KTP Associate has a chance of delivering innovation within a short timescale, effectively reaching high TRL values in a matter of years. This promotes all-round development of the Associate, teaching them valuable soft skills that their academic training didn’t necessarily provide.
Which three words best describe your experience of being a KTP?