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7 productivity-boosting technologies from the U.K. that you need to know

A collaboration between Innovate UK and MaRS is bringing a host of new ways to improve manufacturing efficiency to Canada

A productivity revolution is coming to Canada, thanks to another partnership between MaRS and Innovate UK, the United Kingdom’s economic development agency. The partnership will support seven U.K.-based companies making gains in advanced manufacturing — a field where robots, sensors, lasers and even vending machines are making a difference in boosting outputs, cutting costs and reducing carbon footprints.

The companies are aiming to grow by tapping into a range of North American industries: everything from aerospace to equipment maintenance and bio-manufacturing.

Natalie Kerres, founder of a London-based company specializing in a material for athlete injury prevention, says having support from a local organization like MaRS, with ties to investors and industry partners, is a key factor in helping companies scale in North America. “It’s a big opportunity for us.”

The startups will take part in a five-month program where they’ll network, learn about advanced manufacturing on this side of the Atlantic, and hone their pitches to potential customers, investors and partners.

Here are the U.K. innovators poised to make landfall in Canada.

AMS is revolutionizing manufacturing with 3D printing

Additive manufacturing is the process of building a component layer-by-layer, as opposed to chiseling it out of a block. It’s been used to build prototypes before mass production for decades, but as 3D printing technology advances, so additive manufacturing is entering the production process itself. AMS is one company hoping to make advancements in the field. It specializes in sourcing materials for 3D printing. Its most recent Innovate UK-funded project saw them recycling scrap airplane parts into powder for 3D printers.

Carbogenics has found a use for your organic waste

What happens to the disposable coffee cup that you throw away? It might end up in a landfill or an incinerator, but Carbogenics is working to change that. The company specializes in biochar, which is the ashy, carbon-rich material left after organic matter undergoes oxygen-free burning. Biochar has numerous uses, including enhancing  wastewater treatment and other waste management applications such as anaerobic digestion — a method of introducing bacteria to help deal with tough-to-breakdown organic waste. The Edinburgh-based company has raised more than £1 million ($1.6 million) to build its first production and R&D facility in Scotland, and is seeking further bio-manufacturing opportunities in Canada.

Inventor-e is taking inventory tracking to a whole new level

Vending machines can make a difference in manufacturing — but not  by dispensing chips and chocolate bars. Inventor-e has developed a cloud-based asset management and inventory tracking system for shop floors. Among its offerings are modular vending machines with weight sensors and wireless connectivity. They’re set up so that a worker can scan their ID, unlock the door and take the equipment they need. Inventory information gets updated in real-time via cloud-based software, which helps automate ordering. It’s part of a whole suite of efficiency solutions from the company that use IoT to help track workplace assets — whether they’re on shelves, in vans, or in the hands of workers.

Invisu makes software to cure warehouse woes

Invisu has developed software to help companies catalogue their equipment, schedule preventative maintenance and reduce downtime. It creates interactive digital twins of its clients’ machines that provide users with interactive 3D models of parts as well as 360-degree scans of their facilities. Its platform also includes guidance on maintenance procedures and digitized equipment documentation. This means factory operators can quickly look up and order a replacement for a failed part, or even “walk around” the facility and view equipment schematics from the comfort of their home. Invisu has been in talks with Amazon UK and U.S.-based engine-maker Cummins.

Loop Technology has a robot for everything

Loop Technology offers robots that do everything from labelling fruit to laser-cleaning rusted metal. It is a growing player in the aerospace, automotive and renewable energy industries. Its technologies include machines with over 700 axes of motion and robots with vision that can detect flaws in materials, such as the carbon fibre used in airplanes. Loop has inked partnerships with aerospace giants Boeing and BAE Systems and is hoping to build on that success to land deals with more companies in North America.

SCALED is helping athletes stay in the game

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s the philosophy behind SCALED, which is developing a wearable material to prevent common sports injuries like joint hyperextensions. SCALED’s  flexible yet robust material is inspired by fish scales, and is formed using a 3D scan of the athlete’s joint. The image is fed into an algorithm that, with the aid of the athlete’s medical staff, generates a design that can be 3D printed and attached to the joint. The company hopes to capitalize on the growing accessibility of 3D printing to take its product beyond elite athletes and to regular consumers. “If we can make it work for them, then we can scale it to a broader audience easily,” says Kerres.

Scintam Engineering is making seized bolts a problem of the past

If you’ve ever encountered a stuck bolt while fixing something on your car, then you know how time-consuming it can be to remove. Industrial technicians have the same problem. Luckily for them, Scintam Engineering has found a solution. The Nottingham-based company has built a device that works at a microscopic scale and uses electrical pulses to loosen up fasteners by breaking down the material in them. The device is significantly smaller than other solutions on the market, which provides technicians more flexibility around where they can use it. The company sees opportunities for its technologies in numerous sectors, including aerospace, nuclear power and remanufacturing.

Illustration: Monica Guan; images: SCALED (hand), Rafael Drück/Unsplash (aircraft), Grahame Jenkins/Unsplash (car).

MaRS Discovery District
MaRS is the world's largest urban innovation hub in Toronto that supports startups in the health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise sectors. When MaRS opened in 2005 this concept of urban innovation was an untested theory. Today, it’s reshaping cities around the world. MaRS has been at the forefront of a wave of change that extends from Melbourne to Amsterdam and runs through San Francisco, London, Medellín, Los Angeles, Paris and New York. These global cities are now striving to create what we have in Toronto: a dense innovation district that co-locates universities, startups, corporates and investors. In this increasingly competitive landscape, scale matters more than ever – the best talent is attracted to the brightest innovation hotspots.

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