Nanofactory helping local businesses keep ahead of the competition

Dr Sean Kelly
Dr Sean Kelly

Help is available to businesses striving to keep ahead of the competition in a fast-changing technological world.

Historically, Yorkshire companies have been slow to invest in research and development and regional spend is less than a third of the national average.

In an effort to promote progress and safeguard jobs the Nanofactory is inviting businesses to work alongside expert teams in the region’s universities.

The Nanofactory - which is sponsoring the manufacturing category in the forthcoming Courier’s business awards - is building partnerships between companies and researchers at six universities.

They are the Universities of Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield, York and Sheffield Hallam University.

Halifax man Dr Sean Kelly is the business development manager for Nanofactory and 600 regional companies were already taking advantage of the help that is freely available.

“We focus on helping the regional economy, creating and safeguarding jobs. We provide access to expertise and facilities,” he said.

“Universities spend a lot of money on research and a lot of the equipment is very specialised. You can spend £1 million on a microscope but the expensive bit is the technician who knows how to use it.”

Dr Kelly said research and development can be expensive and risky and the Nanofactory can help access funding to offset those costs.

He said the world was getting more competitive and he cited the example of the textile trade.

Mills became empty while textile production continued overseas.

And, with labour costs abroad being cheaper, if companies are to survive they have to offer something different.

Dr Kelly said textiles are still produced in Yorkshire but tended to be bespoke or needing highly complex expertise.

“The evidence is there. Companies have to move into product development,” said Dr Kelly.

He is based at the University of Leeds and has been involved with a project involving designing “intelligent” buildings to resist earthquakes and potentially save thousands of lives every year.

Backed by a £9.5 million European Union funded project it worked with a number of partners to test ways of building safer houses in earthquake zones.

It resulted in self-healing polymers and wireless, battery-less sensors to provide early warning, incorporated into the walls. A prototype will be built on a Greek mountainside in Amfilochia.

Nanofactory offer companies free access to materials science expertise in six areas: machines and measurement; plastics engineering; coatings and inks; solar matrials and energy storage; sustainable construction materials; and drug discovery and delivery.