Blackman & White transforms business with “Outstanding” partnership with Essex

Blackman & White transforms business with “Outstanding” partnership with Essex

An “Outstanding” partnership between the University of Essex and Essex-based engineering firm Blackman & White has delivered more than £1m in revenue and revolutionised its products and services.

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Essex and Blackman & White, the UK’s only manufacturer of industry-leading cutting machine, is so successful it’s been rated as “outstanding” by Innovate UK’s national KTP grading panel – the highest grade possible.

Holly Leonard, KTP Manager at the University of Essex, said: “This project was an exemplar KTP and the Outstanding grade we received from Innovate UK reflects this. Like many of the companies we work with, Blackman & White has been able to revolutionise their offering and are seeing considerable commercial benefits through additional sales generated by the KTP work.”

Academics from Essex first partnered with Blackman & White on the 30-month KTP project in March 2019 to help the manufacturer of CNC knife, router and laser cutting equipment explore new routes to future-proof their technology.

The family-owned firm, based in Maldon in Essex, turned to the University when they identified the urgent need to revolutionise the motion control software used across the portfolio of Blackman & White machines.

Developed in collaboration, the KTP sought to reshape how the market perceived cutting machinery, from a standalone piece of equipment to a fully collaborative ‘smart’ production tool. This led to the project winning funding from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency – part of UK Research and Innovation – to deliver the partnership.

Initially, the KTP focused on overhauling and optimising the existing complex firmware underpinning Blackman & White’s product range. As it progressed, data visualisation and machine learning for predictive maintenance became more prominent in the research agenda.

With over 50 years’ trading experience, and as the only UK manufacturer of CNC knife, router and laser cutting equipment, Blackman & White was uniquely placed to innovate and capitalise on the technical enhancements developed through the application of Essex expertise.

Alex White, Managing Director for Blackman & White comments: “The KTP with Essex has had a huge impact on our business. We knew we needed to future proof our unique offering and being able to tap into the University knowledge base and gain financial support through the funding from Innovate UK, has meant we’ve been able to do just that. I would recommend any business looking to innovate to get in touch with the team at Essex.”

Essex academics Dr John Woods and Dr Vishwanathan Mohan, from the School of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, teamed up with KTP Associate Dr David Birch to tackle the multi-faceted project that required expertise across topics including kinematics, firmware design for robotic control, data visualisation and software engineering.

Dr John Woods from Essex’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering said: “Essex students have seen huge benefits from the partnership through the work placements and employment opportunities it has generated. And as academics, we have had the opportunity to see our ideas making a difference in the real world – demonstrating that university research can be truly transformative when applied to industrial challenges. Dr David Birch, our KTP Associate for the project, has been a pleasure to work with and we look forward to continuing this fruitful partnership with him in his new permanent role at Blackman & White.”

The completed project has now seen the revolutionary new firmware rolled out to Blackman & White’s existing machinery deployed all over the world – helping to improve machinery efficiency and cut speed, delivering increased accuracy for clients, and extending runtime and reliability for operators.

To date, over £1m in revenue has been generated in sales of the new generation cutting machine enhanced by the novel software and firmware delivered by the KTP project. Additionally, a variety of other innovations, including an Industry 4.0-equipped dashboard and remote machine monitoring functionality, have been delivered as part of the project.

Essex’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering has also seen huge benefits from the KTP with seven undergraduate students delivering final year projects as part of the partnership, and two becoming full-time employees at Blackman & White.

Holly Leonard continues: “Working with a university can help any company – from start-ups to traditional manufacturing SMEs to large corporates – to become market-leading innovators and leapfrog competitors by embedding cutting-edge technical capabilities into their business.”

For more information on Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, or any other kind of funded collaboration with Essex contact the Business Engagement team today via business@essex.ac.uk or visit www.essex.ac.uk/business.