Technology and Innovation Centres - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Professor Marc Desmulliez (TIC 08)


Please note that this document reflects only my personal view and does not necessarily reflect the views of my University. I have been involved for over two years in the preparation of a "Fraunhofer-UK Centre in Agile Micro-Manufacturing" in collaboration with the following Fraunhofer Institutes: ILT (Aachen), IPK (Berlin), IPA (Stuttgart) and IMS (Druisburg). I am to be the future Director of the James Watt Institute for High Value Manufacturing, the only EPSRC funded Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre in Scotland and North of England.


1.  What is the Fraunhofer model and would it be applicable to the UK?

1.  The Fraunhofer model can be summarised by the simple funding formula:"1/3, 1/3, 1/3". In its steady state of funding, the Institute receives 1/3 of its turnover in terms of funding devoted to core research funding. This funding comes from institutional funding, which is, in this model, the Headquarters of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Muenich. This funding ensures that the various Fraunhofer Institutes stay at the cutting edge of the technology and provide novelty to industry with an horizon of five years before productisation. The second third comes from European grants or other national grants obtained competitively to allow research with an horizon of two to three years before translation into products. The last third comes directly from industry, especially SMEs, for rapid (less than one year) translation of knowledge into industry with foreground Intellectual Property (IP) belonging in general to the industry for the particular applications paid by the SMES. Institutional funding obeys a non linear relation with respect to the income received from industrial funding: too much or too little funding from industry will see a decrease of the amount of institutional fundin to force stakeholders to re-adjust their strategy. Surplus generated by the Institute goes back to the Headquarters.

2.  There is close collaboration between Universities and Fraunhofer institutes with academic staff members of a University. These members of staff are contracted in and out the Institutes in a seamless fashion depending on the research to be translated. No wall exists therefore between research and commercialisation of knowledge. Note that members of Fraunhofer Institutes are not obliged to publish and are not subject to research assessment exercise.

3.  The fact that discussions are underway to establish Fraunhofer-type Institutes between some Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany and chosen Universities in the UK bode well to the applicability of the model that could satisfy Universities priorities whilst fulfilling the ethos of the Fraunhofer vision.

2.  Are there existing Fraunhofer-type research centres within the UK, and if so, are they effective?

4.  There are no Fraunhofer-type Research Centres in the UK. Carnot Institutes have been created in France to work on a project basis with some dedicated Fraunhofer Institutes such that these French organisations can learn from their German counterparts without having to necessarily embrace the full philosophy of the Fraunhofer Institutes.

5.  Various Research Institutes or Research & Trade Organisations in the UK (NPL, TWI, AFRC, MTC, etc.) would like to claim such status but their business model is radically different from the Fraunhofer one. The various Research Institutes in the UK have proved to be wasteful, defective and inefficient: they have little interaction with Universities, have a greater than wise reliance on state type funding (EPSRC, TSB) and do not interact effectively with SMEs for short term projects. Overheads associated with projects from these institutes are also far too high for the technical work actually achieved. These institutes also do not translate research outputs originated from universities.

3.  What other models are there for research centres oriented toward applications and results?

6.  I cannot think of any other model which has proven so efficient and effective than the Fraunhofer Institute. By blurring the boundaries between Universities and Research Centres, these Institutes have managed to create over the last decades an effective pipeline of knowledge exchange which has put German academe and Deutschland Gesellschaft at the forefront of European manufacturing and applied research. The feedback control loop in terms of institutional funding has also ensured that these Institutes do not become too dependent on state funding or dedicated laboratories of specific companies.

4.  Whose role should it be to coordinate research in a UK-wide network of innovation centres?

7.  It should be the role of TSB but its remit is far too broad. An independent legal entity similar to Fraunhofer GmBH would be the best vehicle.

5.  What effect would the introduction of Fraunhofer-type institutes have on the work of Public Sector Research Establishments and other existing research centres that undertake Government sponsored research?

8.  The impact would be of immense with applied research finding a clear path into industry and industry rallying around such institutes that can satisfy their demands on a short time scale. The other Research Centres would have to adjust their business model to justify their state funding, provide real value for money and serve SMEs efficiently.

Prof Marc Desmulliez CEng, MInstP, CPhys, MIET, MIEEE
EECE Research Co-ordinator
Head of MIcrosystems Engineering Centre (MISEC)
Heriot-Watt University MIcroSystems Engineering Centre

29 November 2010

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 February 2011