Published on 18/11/2021
Thames Laboratories and Aston University on a journey to create a greener, more efficient asbestos sector


•     Aston University and Thames Laboratories unite through Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)

•     Experts from Aston's School of Informatics and Digital Engineering are developing state-of-the-art techniques to improve the company's existing engineer scheduling processes

•     Benefits of the partnership include shorter turnaround times, improved customer satisfaction, reduced CO2 emissions and improved profit margins


Aston University and Thames Laboratories have entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to create Artificial Intelligence (AI) software expected to reduce turnaround times, improve customer satisfaction and reduce CO2 emissions by 20% while improving profit margins.

Thames Labs, based in Fenstanton, just outside Cambridge, provides asbestos consultancy, project management and training to businesses, local authorities, social housing and education facilities, using a fleet of mobile engineers across the UK.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified graduate, called a KTP Associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. Aston University is the leading KTP provider within the Midlands.

John Richards, Thames Laboratories managing director, said: “The partnership with Aston University will enable us to deliver excellent service to our customers with greater efficiency and will reduce impact on the environment.”

Providing academic expertise is Dr Alina Patelli, academic supervisor of the project and director of Aston University’s pioneering Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Dr Patelli brings experience of software development in the commercial sector as well as expertise in applying optimisation techniques in practical applications, particularly modelling and optimising complex industrial and urban systems.

Dr Patelli said: “This is a great opportunity to enhance state-of-the-art optimisation and machine learning in order to fit the needs of the commercial sector and deliver meaningful impact to Thames Labs.”

Joining Dr Patelli as the academic lead for the project is Dr Aniko Ekart, reader in Computer Science at Aston University. Dr Ekart has taken over from Dr Peter Lewis, who is now Canada Research Chair in Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence at Ontario Tech University. She brings extensive experience in translating the benefits of university research into practice and is contributing expertise in computational intelligence techniques to this complex commercial and data-driven problem.

Dr Ekart said: “I am delighted to join the team on this very interesting and challenging project. It is particularly interesting to combine computational intelligence techniques with multi-objective optimisation to find practical solutions to scheduling that save time, energy and cost and allow for better productivity overall. Seeing how our theoretically known and proven methods bring such tangible benefits to the business, its employees and customers is very rewarding.”

Other benefits of the partnership include positive environmental impact and direct contribution to clean air and carbon reduction agendas through reducing vehicle time on the road; greater efficiency, timeliness and overall quality of service for clients; and enabling further diversification of the company’s service offer, with the potential to launch a dynamic scheduling.


Notes to editors

Expected project finish date: 2022


This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.


Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 45 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base.


Watch our short film for a simple explanation and see more examples of KTP at work.


To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email or call 0121 204 4242


About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.


Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.


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