November 21, 2012

Connecting Physical Products to the Internet

Writing about web page

Say hello to Derek! Using some low-cost electronics and some simple programming, we have re-created some historic relics of Walsall's past - The Bayard's Colts and brought them into the year 2012.

Bayard Bayard Colts

Derek is a re-creation of a Demon head, one of a number of the Bayard's Colts that date back to the 16th century. Derek responds to a variety of different keywords on Twitter, making him an interactive demonstration of how functionality can be added to products by connecting them to the internet. This project brings together aspects of all three of the new International Institute for Product and Service Innovation’s technology theme areas - Polymer, Experience Led and Digital Innovation.

The project was part of a wider Visitor Experience project that Walsall Museum and local business Digital Native Academy were working on alongside Walsall Council and other stakeholders.

Through our expertise in IIPSI we first of all looked at how the Bayard's Colts could be made more accessible to younger audiences and identified that the use of technology could be really exciting and uncover new opportunities.

Firstly, the 3D model of the original Bayard’s Colt was created, then Computer Aided Design software was used to make the part hollow to take all of the necessary electronics. Once completed, the head was manufactured using one of the IIPSI’s Rapid Prototyping machines, which are available for use by West Midlands SMEs in the Technology Hall.

The next stage was to make Derek digitally enabled. This was achieved by using a low cost electronic prototyping board called an Arduino. A software programme was written to scan Twitter for mentions of the @IIPSIdemos username, and then respond to any commands which followed. Derek’s main party piece is to change the colour of his LED eyes on demand, but he will be developed over time to include sound, movement and to send his own Tweets.

Although this demonstrator is quite a fun idea and has been designed with the culture and heritage sectors in mind, it highlights other opportunities that exist for companies to develop new, more connected products. The inputs that Derek responds to come from Social Media, but exactly the same concept could be used to monitor the number of visitors to a trade stand or the temperature in different parts of an office building.

If you’d like to interact with Derek, then try sending some tweets to @IIPSIdemos and see if you can figure out the commands! Alternatively contact us to find out more or attend a rapid manufacture workshop for West Midlands small and medium sized businesses to find out how you can start using this technology now!

October 29, 2012

Innovation Programme – 25th October 2012

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We were delighted to welcome 35 West Midlands SMEs to the new International Institute for Product and Service Innovation last week.

We ran sessions about the importance of people, materials and digital in regards to creating innovative products and services. We also had the support of Withers & Rogers to talk to SMEs about IP and some tax relief available for innovation activity.

IIPSI Networking Next Stop - IIPSIIIPSI Autumnal View

We informed businesses about the funded support we can offer. We will be running a number of workshop days in the next two months for SMEs to come in and learn more about how people, materials and digital can be used to help them grow and develop. The first is on 15th November. Visit our EventBrite page to find out more.

We also offer customised company projects for those SMEs that might have an in depth project they need to take forward and support SMEs who might want to undertake research and development activity with us.

We can also help SMEs get access to graduates and students if they are looking to recruit or get extra resource to work on projects.

The team here enjoyed meeting lots of new faces and are excited by the prospect of new projects. Do get in touch with us if you would like to talk any ideas through.

June 12, 2012

Social Media Tips

Writing about Social Media insights for SMEs from Think Digital

My colleague Dr Xiao Ma from WMG's SME team has just posted on his blog with some valuable insight from the Social Media Forum he attended in March 2012.

He has tailored content specifically for our smaller business audience, so SMEs here are some of the top tips:

  • Don't push content through social media platforms, create content that others will want to share
  • Google+ is a must have for generating content for search engine optimsation purposes for the time being as Google is not indexing Facebook.
  • A lesson to learn - KLM and Nokia have social media customer service teams separated from their existing customer service team to offer specialised support.
  • "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" - Culture and education are key barriers for businesses to take up social media.
  • Get the right contacts from the right platforms. LinkedIn to get professionals, but Twitter to get CEOs.

For Dr Xiao Ma's full blog visit:

To register an interest in the support we offer SMEs around social media email:

April 27, 2012

IIPSI Construction Update

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The team had its first visit to the IIPSI building last Friday and finally we were able to see the internal elements of the building taking shape. The three floors all have characteristics that are unique and it was great to get the view from the top floor across University Square and the lake. A few of the best pictures can be viewed here. Very soon the scaffolding will be removed and the building will be unveiled as the final developments take place. Official opening will be in late September. Updates will continue to be posted here and on various websites. For a more in-depth look at what IIPSI will feature and the context to what the building is about come along to our summer networking evening on the 14th June:

WMG SME Team IIPSI 2nd Floor

IIPSI View Engineering Hall

March 30, 2012

Measuring ROI from Social Media Activity

My colleagues Dr Xiao Ma and Dr Mark Swift delivered a session to a number of businesses at a recent workshop we hosted with the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) on the benefits of social media. They talked about tools and techniques to better manage the resource commitment needed for undertaking social media activity, such as Hootsuite and Buffer and shared some interesting case studies including the work we did with Gravograph.

However, businesses in the session did raise the question about how to measure Return on Investment (ROI) of this activity. We get comments about ROI quite frequently and like other marketing activities, being able to determine the impact of this actvity can sometimes appear elusive. If you look at social media activity in the same way as engagement with press through PR activity or attending an event and speaking to a number of people it is not always clear if the effort has had an impact or could lead to business as a result.

Like all other marketing activity, social media is a channel to engagement and reaching target audiences. The more targeted effort made, the more liklihood that potential clients get to hear about your work and learn about your business. Social Media offers you the opportunity to not only become an advocate for your business on particular issues/subjects but also allows you to monitor other conversations, individuals and businesses, manage customer service and ultimately generate leads and sales. Here are a few ways you can monitor your activity on social media:

  • Set up Google Alerts and discover if your social media activity is being circulated online
  • On-going benchmarking through your Twitter account - followers, mentions. Tools such as Twitter Falls, Tweepskey, Social Mention and Klout are also good to monitor conversations and Twitter impact.
  • You can track visitors from Social Media through your Web Analytics and identify if increased traffic, conversions occur as a result
  • You can ensure that Social Media is monitored through your CRM system - find out where people have heard about you.
  • Certain issues or topics you talk about may lead to more interest in your business. If you establish this then tailor your content to these things.

Regardless of how this technology develops, business priorities and the things you want to do will remain the same. You must tie any social metrics to your business objectives.

Another question that is often asked is which social media platform should a business focus on. This is largely dependent on the type of business you are and your business priorities in terms of what you want to acheive. In terms of market reach, the leaders are Facebook and Twitter and would be a good place to start - particularly if you are a B2C type business. Using social media for B2B markets requires more focus and a more targeted approach as smaller numbers (results) can often be effective enough to make a difference.

February 16, 2012

Funding Opportunities – TSB and European Schemes

There are a number of funding opportunities available to smaller businesses who are interested in developing new technologies and collaborating with other businesses/academic institutions.

See below some of the latest opportunities from the TSB and the Seventh Framework Programme:

1. Technology-inspired innovation - £2m Competition For Feasibility Funding

The TSB aims to stimulate innovation across a range of core technology areas to help ensure that small and micro businesses in the UK are well-equipped to respond to society’s current and future challenges.
Up to £2m will be invested in feasibility studies through grants of up to £25,000.
The SME can work collaboratively with one partner.

The funding competition will focus on feasibility studies in four technology areas:
Advanced Materials and Nanoscale Technologies
Electronics, Photonics and Electrical Systems
Information and Communications Technology
Open Date: 12th March 2012
Deadline: 11th April

2. Boosting Innovation in Manufacturing Competencies

This competition focuses on production technologies that, within a global marketplace, can create high value through novel processes, advanced product manufacture, resource efficiency and production techniques and thereby enable greater product customisation. It also encourages technologies that will facilitate greater environmental sustainability through efficient disposal, recycling or remanufacture of assets at the end of their useful life.
Proposal Deadline: 29th February 2012

3. FP7 Research and Innovation

ICT-PSP-2012 : Innovation Programme - Deadline: 15th May 2012


Future Emerging Technologies (FET) - Final Deadline: 12th March 2013

FP7-2012-ICT-FI: Future Internet: Pervasive and Trusted Network & Service Infrastructures - Open Date: 18th May 2012 Expected Deadline: 24th Oct 2012

Intelligent Energy Programme: CIP-IEE-2012: Bioenergy/ Energy-efficient transport/ Clean and energy-efficient vehicles - Deadline: 8th May 2012

4. EUREKA’s Eurostar’s programme
The Eurostar’s Programme is a European Joint Programme dedicated to R&D SME’s, which aims to SMEs to lead international collaborative research and innovation projects by easing access to support and funding. It is fine-tuned to focus on the needs of SMEs, and projects can address any technology but must have a civilian purpose and be aimed at the development of a new product, process or service.
Type of participants can include; R&D SME’s, SMEs, Large companies, Universities, Research institutes.
Deadline: 1st March 2012

February 10, 2012

Polymer Innovation – What Does it Mean to You and Your Business?

The Polymer Innovation part of the IIPSI project is tasked with helping West Midlands based SMEs to grow by assisting them to develop and introduce innovative polymer products. This is a huge research area with new materials and processes appearing all the time, so the potential range of projects we can carry out with companies is very broad. Current research that we are working on includes:

  • Additive Manufacturing – building plastic parts a layer at a time using printing techniques
  • Plastic electronics – embedding functionality such as lighting into plastic parts
  • Micromoulding – making tiny parts using specialist injection moulding equipment
  • Sustainable polymers and composites – ‘green’ materials with lower environmental impact

…but now is your chance to have your say and ensure that the IIPSI provides the assistance that you need!

We’d love to hear any comments and suggestions on the innovative uses of polymers you’d like to develop within your business. Please feel free to comment below or to contact one of the SME team by email or on Twitter @WMGSME.

February 08, 2012

IIPSI Images

The IIPSI (International Institute for Product and Service Innovation) is continuing to grow in size and stature. I came across a beautiful image on Flickr recently thanks to Mistdog ( If anyone else has any images that they want to share, then please get in touch with us via the blog.

IIPSI in winter sunshine

January 31, 2012

What is Experience Led Innovation?

Writing about What is Experience Led Innovation? from Experience Led Innovation at WMG

My colleague Carolyn Parkinson has written a good post to break down and explain what we mean by Experience Led Innovation. This is a big area of expertise for WMG, and will feature in our new funded project for SMEs running out of the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation. See below Carolyn's post.

"What is Experience Led Innovation?

Is this something new? Or a new way of saying something old? Why do we need to know about it?

Let’s start by talking about what we mean by this. Experience Led Innovation (ELI) is an approach to innovating which seeks to put the user’s experience at the centre of the process for all types of product and service innovation. Experience Led Innovation pulls together a number of approaches to innovating, including human factors engineering, participatory design, and experiential engineering.

Previous terminology which has been used includes User-Focussed Design, but personally I find this term somewhat limiting. Very often there is not one individual who represents the target of the innovation - but picturing this individual is a technique often encouraged in design and marketing contexts. A more rich and informative source of input for the innovation process is to better understand the experience of the users.

Why is this distinction important? People behave in unpredictable ways, and often do not interact with a product, service or environment in a logical or expected way. They have emotional responses to using products and environments. Look, sound, and feel all influence the way users experience and interact with an innovation. Very often their interaction with a product or service takes place at a subconscious level, so asking a user to articulate or predict their needs is less valuable than observing real experiences, emotions, and behaviours as a product is developed.

I am fortunate to work with an excellent team of researchers and knowledge transfer specialists in this area. From our perspective, the key features of Experience Led Innovation include:

  • Taking a cross-discipline approach to understanding user aspect of innovation – at WMG our team includes psychologists, engineers, computer scientists, marketers, ergonomists, and designers.
  • Accepting that technology innovation cannot occur in isolation from understanding real world user behaviour.
  • Participation and engagement with users early and often in the innovation cycle, closing the gap between post market data and early stage design requirements.

There are an enormous number of applications for this approach… but more of that later. In the mean-time find out more about Experience Led Innovation at the following links:

Experience Led Innovation at WMG, University of Warwick:"

January 09, 2012

Funding and Support Opportunities in the West Midlands

The new look MAS launched last week with funding available for small and medium manufacturing businesses. The delivery team consists of Grant Thornton, Pera, WM Manufacturing Consortium Ltd and SWMAS Ltd. Some of the tools and support will be delivered through expertise provided from WMG. MAS is already a well-established business support programme in the region and highly respected for all areas of manufacturing advice and new product development.

The initiative is aimed at improving the global competitiveness of UK advanced manufacturing supply chains and it is estimated that it will help to generate £1.5bn in economic growth, 23,000 jobs and safeguard 50,000 jobs.

Launching the MAS programme, Business Minister, Mark Prisk said: "Manufacturing contributes half of Britain’s exports and has much higher productivity than the rest of the economy so it is essential to our plans for growth. That is why we are taking steps to ensure our industrial base is thriving as part of a strong and balanced UK economy.”

For more information visit:

Other current Government funded opportunities available for SMEs in the West Midlands include:

Smart Research Grants

Creative KTN Games Competition

Sustainable Manufacturing for the Process Industry

Manufacturing Processes

Building Performance Evaluation

WMG is keen to collaborate on projects with SMEs so do get in touch if you have an idea you want to partner on. Additionally there are locally/European funded initiatives from university departments like WMG to support SMEs. Please contact for more information.


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