IRL is putting science to work in Canterbury, in support of the country’s second largest manufacturing sector, where high-value firms are re-inventing themselves and looking to increase innovation.
IRL is expanding its services and capability across a number of fronts in Canterbury, providing a springboard for growth in the region’s high-value manufacturing sector.
On the back of increased government funding, IRL has formed a Manufacturing Innovation Group (MIG) that will ultimately support manufacturers throughout New Zealand, but will focus firstly on Canterbury.
“It’s the logical place to begin,” says Dr Richard Templer, IRL’s General Manager of Advanced Manufacturing Technology.
“Canterbury has New Zealand’s second largest manufacturing sector (behind Auckland) and it’s the right time to provide support as many firms are re-inventing themselves and looking to increase innovation.”
An IRL team with expertise across mechanical, process and electrical engineering will help with short-term research and development (R&D) projects, lasting from a few days to a few months.
“We’re there to tackle immediate problems that need a bit of creativity to solve,” says Dr Templer.
“Good outcomes will build trust and confidence in R&D and lead to those companies doing more of it and undertaking more ambitious projects.”
Andrew Lamb, who runs the Product Innovation Centre at the University of Canterbury and also chairs the Canterbury branch of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) will head the MIG, which will initially have six staff, expanding to 12 as demand increases.
An additional injection of support for Canterbury business will come from another initiative that more closely connects research and applied science with businesses seeking R&D and innovation expertise.
IRL is establishing a protein science and engineering team that will develop technologies needed by biotechnology businesses, particularly in the Canterbury region.
Headed by Dr Andrew Muscroft-Taylor, the fivemember team will be based in the Biomolecular Interaction Centre, a world-class research facility within the University of Canterbury. Its capability will be further expanded by six postgraduate students – five PhD and one Masters - who will be jointly supervised by IRL staff and university academics.
“Being located at the University of Canterbury delivers huge advantages,” says Dr Muscroft-Taylor.
“They have some of the best, purpose-built facilities in New Zealand and cutting-edge equipment. It also means we are alongside university expertise in all the areas we will be working in, including the biological sciences, chemistry and engineering.”
The goal, says Dr Muscroft-Taylor, is to help companies improve their processes in areas ranging from medicine to food and develop new ones.
“Lots of small and medium-sized companies have research agendas but lack the mechanisms to follow them through. Our science know-how can improve their competitiveness.”
The team is already in discussions with ten organisations about specific projects and objectives. One of those is Canterbury Scientific, a specialist in the development of clinical bio-markers. CEO Dr Neil Pattinson says having access to a Christchurch-based IRL protein science team “quite dramatically enhances our capability to grow our business”.
“It’s really good to be able to work through the tough questions face-to-face. Bringing those researchers into a commercial environment benefits everyone.”
IRL is also working with Anagenix to develop new products from plant-based materials that are processed at Genesis Biolabs in Christchurch.
Anagenix Chief Technical Officer Jennifer Anderson says it means new product concepts can be developed faster.
“It essentially extends our team to include the capabilities of IRL in our product development planning - on an as-required basis - thus limiting fixed overheads and offering unique skills and facilities to our projects.”
The third strand of IRL’s support package for Christchurch comes from the work of top biochemist Professor Juliet Gerrard, co-director of the Biomolecular Interaction Centre at the University of Canterbury and an IRL Industry and Outreach Fellow.
Professor Gerrard will be leading high-end research projects for IRL that will deliver knowledge important to business further down the track, while also helping resolve industry problems and building links between IRL and business.
“Having the IRL team based at the Biomolecular Interaction Centre means we can present a united front and work together to capture opportunities for innovation in the commercial sector in Canterbury.”