Beginning a new innovative project with plans for business expansion is an exciting task for a company, although it's not without its challenges, especially for a Small & Medium Enterprise (SME) with limited resources. Dr Neil Thomson chats about his experience with Rumbol Products and how they were able to overcome these challenges to succeed.
Rumbol have been manufacturing ruminant boluses in Clydebank since 1988. Their trace element and vitamin boluses are sold around the world, improving the health of grazing and forage fed livestock. The key step in their bespoke manufacturing process is the coating of pelleted active material, which facilitates a release rate of between four and eight months once administered.
Rumbol relied on a commercial off-the-shelf product for their coating which limited the sale of boluses in certain foreign markets, and so they wanted to develop a new coating in-house from sustainably sourced materials. However, with no in-house expertise in coating materials, Rumbol lacked the know-how to start the innovation process.
Looking for assistance, Rumbol sought out a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry here at University of Strathclyde. It was through this partnership that I joined Rumbol Products as a KTP Associate.
Knowledge Transfer Partnership
A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a three-way partnership between a University or other academic institution, a commercial or social company, and an Associate.
Partnering with a university provides companies with academic support throughout their project. This gives the company access to leading-edge knowledge and research facilities. The partnering university gains the opportunity to work with a commercial company, broadening knowledge and experience, as well as providing more opportunities for research projects. Importantly, for an SME like Rumbol, two-thirds of the costs are covered by an Innovate UK grant. The main facilitator of the knowledge transfer between company and university is the Associate.
Before I became a KTP associate my career focused on applied academic research.
I saw a KTP project as the ideal vehicle to gain experience of working in a commercial setting, and I have not been disappointed.
As the KTP Associate for Rumbol, not only was I the main research scientist, but also the project team leader. KTP projects put a great deal of emphasis on the professional development of the Associate, and early in the project, I took part in residential training modules alongside other Associates. I was also provided with a generous training budget, which I used to attend courses on management and leadership skills as well as training courses on chemical engineering principals, alongside applying for Chartered Chemist (CChem) status.
During the project, I was primarily based at the company premises, with regular visits from my University Supervisors, John Liggat and Christine Davidson. We explored a range of options for a new coating, with experiments taking place both within Rumbol's R&D facilities as well as the laboratories at the University.
By the end of the project, we had developed our new sustainably-sourced coating for Rumbol's boluses, with the bonus of a dramatically reduced coating time, allowing Rumbol to increase production.
The KTP project has been of tremendous benefit to Rumbol and to the University.
Rumbol is now in the process of designing new manufacturing facilities for this new coating technology, and, to support this, have recruited me as an Industrial Chemist, providing me with employment beyond the end of the KTP project. We have continued to engage with the University through undergraduate research projects.
High success rate
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships have been operating for over 40 years, with a high success rate of helping businesses from all sectors grow though supporting innovation. Businesses often find Associates to be indispensable by the end of the project, resulting in long-term employment, while some associates even go on to form their own companies.
For me personally, I have broadened my professional skillset, gained experience of working in industry, and secured employment as well as professional recognition with my CChem status.