Case study on the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between JDD Furniture and Aston University, funded by Innovate UK.

About JDD Furniture

JDD Furniture is a Birmingham-based company that specialises in bespoke office furniture. Their banquettes, easy chairs and roofed ‘sofa dens’ enable businesses to bring workers together to collaborate, or alternatively find privacy, in open-plan offices. They design, hand make and install their products, which come in a wide range of fabrics and finishes.

The challenge that the KTP was set up to address

JDD Furniture is expanding rapidly as employers seek ways to make offices more welcoming and entice workers back, post-pandemic. But it presently relies on a paper-based production system, so it’s almost impossible to work out how long each individual piece of furniture is taking to produce or where inefficiencies might lie. The owners want a production data capture system that will enable anyone in the company to see what item is being produced and at what stage it is, as well as identifying production times per item, or other issues that can be subsequently addressed.

Why a KTP was the ideal route

James Mercy of JDD Furniture was himself involved in a KTP after leaving university, and was keen to revisit the capabilities of the scheme as a business owner. He says:

“Taking this route will lead to two outcomes; firstly, a purely business-focused way of tracking production and reducing inefficiencies, developed just for us: and secondly, genuinely new and creative innovations.

Aston University’s Business School is well known for its support of regional businesses. Its Centre for Growth works intensively with high-potential entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises. Professor Ben Clegg, a Professor of Operations Management, and a specialist in systems thinking and the development, adoption and implementation of digital technology, is supervising this project.

He’ll therefore be working closely with the KTP Associate – Balint Turcsanyi – who has the right blend of skills, knowledge and experience to take on this project. With degrees in electronics and artificial intelligence, as well a background in industrial manufacturing, he describes the role as ‘as if it was made for me!’

What has changed as a result of the KTP and next steps?

Whilst it is still very early days for this particular KTP, work is progressing on the data capture system after research into possible technologies, including a barcode-led or Radio Frequency Identification (similar to contactless payment technology) system. Mapping the journey of each component will build up a good picture of how the process is happening, and that will be the gateway to make decisions about production and pieces that will help steer the company into the future.

Broad benefits and impacts for all partners

For Aston University:

The addition of a KTP Associate with a background in electronics, AI and operations management has given this project the dedicated expertise to research, devise and develop an effective system. Collaborating on the design and development of commercial products will provide Aston University’s academics with industry insights and forge closer connections with this local business.

For KTP Associate:

Balint Turcsanyi will gain experience in leading a project, working with industry, and devising and delivering a production data capture system from scratch. He hopes to involve his AI knowledge in subsequent work with the company.

For JDD:

JDD Furniture originally envisaged a design-related KTP, but then changed the focus, realising production data was needed to build the business. It sees itself as a customer of the university, which is providing access to the expertise JDD Furniture doesn’t have.

What the partners say:

James Mercy, Director, JDD Furniture:

“This production-focused KTP is giving us access to a very qualified and very capable individual that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to a company of our size. We’re expecting real impact will come from this work, which is essential for us as we continue our growth plans.”

Professor Ben Clegg, Operations and Information Management, Aston University:

“In addition to technical skills it is important to bring general systems thinking skills into the analysis, design and implementation of any socio-technical system such as a production system. Aston University has developed a unique approach, known as PrOH modelling, to address such a challenge. I am confident that JDD will be another successful application of PrOH modelling giving practical benefits and useful research insights into the application of new technologies.”

Balint Turcsanyi, KTP Associate:

“I’m enjoying being the bridge between the company and the university and coming up with ideas that we can develop. This is the ideal role for me; a job in automation research uses my experience and skills, as well as my manufacturing experience. I’m hoping that once we have all the data systemised, machine learning will be the next step in AI decision-making for this project.”