Force that binds innovation together

In this article, Electronics Sourcing’s editor, Jon Barrett, explores the concept of innovation and discovers a new UK-based service designed to underpin the process.

As a product designer I have had the great fortune of playing a role in many engineering projects which could be described as innovative. For example, I once worked for a robotics company which specialised in solving tough automation problems that other suppliers had walked away from. Innovation, as a value added service, was part of the organisation’s DNA. Without going into too much detail, one fascinating project which ‘sticks’ in my mind, involved temporarily assembling products using ice rather than traditional adhesive. That was fun.

What that role taught me was that engineering innovation is a process, where one specialist team passes the baton to another team as the project proceeds.

Over recent years, almost every step along that process from initial problem identification to manufacturing of the finished project has seen significant progress. As examples: ideas can be virtually explored in software; prototypes can be 3D printed; circuits can be tested in the cloud; finances can be raised through crowd sourcing; and manufacturing can be outsourced via online marketplaces.

Yet, regardless of this progress, one thing has remained missing: some form of ‘glue’ to bind this whole process together. Over the years I have pressed hard for different sectors of this industry to take the lead role in underpinning the innovation process. I’ve asked component manufacturers, distributors, contract manufacturers, institutions, government and academic organisations. They all have the gravitas to achieve this but, when interviewed, they also have legitimate reasons for not accepting the role.

So, against this background, I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Anglia Component’s about Anglia Unicorn, a dedicated division designed to help technology start-ups get off the drawing board and into the market faster.

Anglia Unicorn was conceived to provide start-ups with the innovative technology ideas they need and offers engineering resources, evaluation hardware and software tools along with samples from Anglia’s world class technology partners, all free of charge.

Anglia Components’ chief technology officer, John Bowman, said: “The support offered by Anglia Unicorn has been carefully curated to help technology start-ups and university spin-outs all the way through to venture capitalists, investors and equity funds who are working with technology companies that need help getting to the next level. We want customers to think of the Anglia Unicorn team as their technology adviser alongside their legal and financial advisers. This service isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We listen to what companies need and provide a bespoke programme to meet those specific requirements.”

Although the partnership between Anglia Unicorn and the start-up ideally begins with a concept, in practice, the customer may already have a proof-of-concept based around an off-the-shelf solution such as a credit card sized single board computer or Arduino-type platform. Anglia Unicorn is able to offer help regardless of what stage the project is at, they offer start-ups a free confidential consultation where they can discuss the concept, the key project milestones and the ultimate vision for the product. This meeting will yield key technology recommendations to help deliver this vision as quickly, reliably and cost-effectively as possible. This proposal is backed up with support from Anglia’s engineering resource, which includes a skilled and experienced field application engineering team, along with access to other specialisations from the Anglia eco-system if needed.

Unicorn is being introduced at a time during which this industry is reforming around two significant goals: the electrification of the world; and the repositioning of supply chain resilience over cost alone. The former should drive an explosion of engineering innovations and startups, while the latter should encourage more ‘homegrown’ businesses to buy into UK-based supply chains and manufacturing facilities. Only time will tell.