West Midlands Building Technology Cluster – Cluster Linkages

Topics Covered

Background

Support Infrastructure/ Cluster Linkages

Research and Technical Services

Patent Applications

Product and Process Development

Results

Background

This article is an extract from a report by West Midlands Building Technology Cluster Research, published May 2002, which details the results of a study commissioned by Advantage West Midlands to outline strategic options to facilitate the future development of the building technologies cluster in the West Midlands region.

Support Infrastructure/ Cluster Linkages

Interdependency between main trading companies in the supply chain and regional support institutions (e.g universities, business support organisations, training organisations etc) is a key factor in the development of a strong cluster. The existence of a support infrastructure and mechanisms that facilitate research, innovation, knowledge transfer to companies or groups of companies is an indication of the relative strength of the cluster. One measure of the relative strengths is the number of patents registered by companies, which is an indication if the cluster is developing or stagnant.  A review of the existing support infrastructure, level of innovation and linkages with the companies within the building technologies cluster is summarised in the following section.  Top

Research and Technical Services

The West Midlands has around 13 universities and colleges providing a range of research, innovation, technical services, consultancy, training and specialist facilities relevant to the building technologies cluster. Two research and technology organisations i.e CERAM and RAPRA in the region offer a range of testing, consultancy, product development, consultancy and R&D services for the built environment, materials and product manufacturing industries. Key areas of expert support and activities provided by universities, HEIs and research organisations in the West Midlands include:

•        University/HEI                                    RTO

 

•        Aston                                                 CERAM Research

•        Birmingham                                       RAPRA

•        Coventry

•        Harper Adams

•        Herefordshire

•        Keele

•        Newman

•        Staffordshire

•        Stourbridge

•        UCE

•        Warwick

•        Wolverhampton

•        Worcester

 

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Patent Applications

A review of patent applications was undertaken for patents registered in the UK for 13 categories of building products in order to compare innovation in the West Midlands building technologies cluster with the UK. From a total of 358 patents registered in 2001, 119 were registered from addresses outside the UK. Of the remainder, 36 were registered from West Midlands based applicants and the balance from other regions of the UK. The West Midlands therefore, accounted for 10% of patents registered by UK applicants.

Building Technologies

UK Total

West Midlands

Non UK

sanitaryware

72

8

13

metals goods, fastenings & fittings

72

12

29

architectural metalwork

3

1

0

concrete products

18

0

12

tiles

3

0

1

bricks & blocks

6

2

1

wall cladding

6

1

3

lighting

84

3

24

structural timber products

9

1

1

floor coverings

6

1

3

elevators & lifting

7

0

4

glazing systems

21

1

13

heating, ventilation & air conditioning

51

6

15

Total

358

36

119

Figure 9.  UK Patents Registrations – Building Technologies

The results suggest higher levels of innovation in the West Midlands, above the UK average for a number of building technologies e.g metal goods, brick & blocks, architectural metalwork etc. Overall however, the level of innovation was similar to the UK average. Companies and individuals, rather than universities or research organisations, registered the majority of patent applications. It should noted however, that product innovation in the building technologies sector tends to be evolutionary based on existing technology, rather than fundamental new research.  Top

Product and Process Development

Interviews with a cross section of companies, including SMEs, suggests significant product/process development activity within the building technologies sector. Most product development tended to be carried out in-house either due to commercial sensitivity or internal expertise, often in collaboration with customers and clients. New building projects often have an element of innovation, although some companies are working with universities and research centres inside and outside where they have relevant expertise. Universities cited where links exist include Keele, Wolverhampton, Stafford, Salford, Strathclyde, Hull, CERAM, TRADA, BPF and BRE. Patent registration may therefore not be an appropriate measure of innovation in the cluster. However, a high level of dedicated research staff and research activity would be expected in building technologies by leading universities.  Top

The 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) of 173 UK universities provides a quality rating of research activity, which is judged to reach national and international levels of excellence.  Ratings range from 1 to 5* where 1 is low, 3 average and 5* high. A review of RAE ratings for universities in the West Midlands region in six areas related to building technologies is summarised below.

University

Built
Environment

Electrical &
Electronic Eng

Metallurgy &
Materials

General Eng

Mechanical &
Manufacturing Eng

Art & Design

Aston

 

 

 

5

 

 

Birmingham

2

5

5*

3

4

 

UCE

2

 

 

 

 

4

Coventry

3

3

4

 

3

4

Keele

 

 

 

3

 

 

Staffordshire

 

 

 

 

3

4

Warwick

 

 

 

5

 

 

Wolverhampton

3

 

 

3

 

 

Worcester

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herefordshire

 

 

 

 

 

3

Figure 10. RAE Rating of West Midlands Universities

Considerable research activity exists within West Midlands’ universities, a number of which have international levels of excellence. The overall ratings suggest that there is depth and breadth of expertise in the region, especially in engineering and manufacturing disciplines relevant to building technologies, where three local universities demonstrated an international level of excellence. Research in the built environment within the West Midlands achieved, at best an average RAE rating which suggests that there is a need to develop the research infrastructure. The top rated UK universities for the built environment were Loughborough and Salford.  Top

A number of trade bodies such as ALFED, METCOM, Chambers of Commerce etc are based in the West Midlands and provide economic, trade, technology and regulatory support to companies both locally and on a national basis. A network of six Business Links is established in the West Midlands region providing a range of support initiatives e.g product development, marketing, skills development etc for small businesses in the region. In addition, a number of colleges and training organisations offer specialist and general training courses covering a range of subjects.  Top

Results

Results from the study indicate that significant research, innovation and product development is taking place within the West Midlands building technologies cluster, both at a research sector and company level. All companies surveyed thought that innovation was important to their future business sustainability. Although some businesses have established links with local and UK universities, most product development is funded by the companies themselves and carried out in-house. Awareness of funding schemes to support product development is low and they are not widely used. Options to develop the support infrastructure and cluster linkages in the West Midlands include:

•        Development of the research expertise and capability of the research sector in the built environment

•        Promotion of local research facilities to companies in the building technologies sector

•        Development of collaborative linkages between universities, HEIs and RTOs and industry

•        Promote awareness of available product/process innovation support schemes industry wide

Top

Source: West Midlands Building Technologies Cluster Research

             A Summary of the Results and Recommendations, May 2002

For more information on this source please email [email protected]

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