When battery developing and manufacturing company Accutronics Limited was bought by a Chinese conglomerate and the business began to lose money, Managing Director Rob Phillips was determined to bring the business back to Britain and see it succeed.
Five years later and with the support of Aston University, the business is now thriving. Accutronics are recognised as one of the world’s leading specialist suppliers of batteries and chargers in highly competitive national and international markets, exporting to 30 countries and winning national awards. About the company Based in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Accutronics Ltd are developers and manufacturers of rechargeable batteries for professional applications, supplying OEMs worldwide in the medical, military and industrial sectors. They have particular expertise and a high profile in the development of ‘smart’ battery systems, with features such as charge control, fuel gauging and device communication.
Some of these batteries are used in medical devices (such as ventilators) and diagnostic equipment, allowing the equipment to be portable and backed up if there is a power outage. Others are used in IT equipment and portable military devices such as a night vision goggles.
We got fresh ideas and expertise without distracting us from the everyday work of the business.
Rob saw that new concept development was the key to Accutronics’ growth, so he applied for a grant of £3,000 from Aston University's Innovation Voucher Scheme. The scheme, which has now been launched nationally by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), provides start up, small or medium-sized enterprises with the opportunity to apply for up to £3,000 worth of vouchers so that they can collaborate with external experts to gain new knowledge to help their business innovate, develop and grow.
Rob commented: “When you’re a small business, £3000 really makes a difference. We got fresh ideas and expertise without distracting us from the everyday work of the business."
Accutronics used their voucher to design new ways of encasing rechargeable batteries to meet demanding environmental conditions, using detailed market analysis undertaken by Aston University academics. Accutronics Ltd continued their work with Aston University by entering into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership to embed an operations strategy process into their business to maintain commercial advantage.
Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)
We got a well-qualified, enthusiastic individual who worked in the business pretty much every day on a project we scoped with the University.
In March 2010, Accutronics successfully applied for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Aston University.
Under the scheme, postgraduate engineer Prabhjit Singh Chugh spent two years reviewing operations and production methods in detail whilst gaining an understanding of customer needs, before looking at how to implement all of this into best business practice.
Rob said of the KTP: “We got a well-qualified, enthusiastic individual who worked in the business pretty much every day on a project we scoped with the University.”
“Prab was not only well-qualified but enthusiastic about his work; he was so good we appointed him to a full time post. As a result, we modernised our production and operation practices and we gained a good method for prioritising the changes were needed on the operational side based on customer requirements.”
Accutronics were supported throughout the KTP by Dr Ming Lim from Aston’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Dr Doug Love from Aston Business School. Working across two Schools gave Accutronics access to a range of expertise in operational strategy, responsive and reconfigurable manufacturing, enterprise simulation and logistics and supply chain management.
Rob said: “The support and academic rigour of the senior university staff was invaluable to us. Without the KTP I don’t think we would ever be able to access this kind of knowledge and support.”
The support and academic rigour of the senior university staff was invaluable to us.
During the KTP, Accutronics won the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Lombard Award for Innovations in Products and Processes, a prestigious award for manufacturing excellence. The company was described by the judges as ‘an exemplar of how an agile small company (can) thrive against global competitors’.
Rob said at the time of the award: “Understanding and responding to our customer needs has been a key element to our success. Working with Aston University we have implemented strong customer-focus alongside innovation at the very heart of our business. Our long-term strategy is to keep improving our customer services, lead times, our flexibility, our costs, our price control and quality of service.”
What is next for Accutronics?
We are keen to maintain our links and to draw in the Aston University team again.
Accutronics has recently applied for and secured further funding from the TSB to support the development of their latest range of innovative products for the medical device market. The TSB supported funding, under their SMART programme, provides £250,000 of matched funding to enable the development of prototypes.
The firm is also very busy commercialising new products and introducing them to target market audiences.
Rob said of the future: “Having worked together successfully with Aston University previously, we are keen to maintain our links and to draw in the Aston University team again in future to support our R&D, innovation and market exploitation activity.”
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Notes to Editors
The Innovation Vouchers project is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007 to 2013. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit www.communities.gov.uk/erdf Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - http://www.ktponline.org.uk is Europe's leading programme helping businesses to improve their competitiveness by enabling companies to work with higher education or research and technology organisations to obtain knowledge, technology or skills which they consider to be of strategic competitive importance. The UK-wide programme is overseen by the Technology Strategy Board (www.innovateuk.org), the UK’s innovation agency, and supported by 16 other public sector funding organisations.