Businesses with rising costs can benefit from the knowledge base in our universities - Lorraine Thomson

This is a challenging time for organisations all over Scotland affected by the cost crisis and steep hikes in the many areas of running a business. Business owners are needing to identify creative ways to address these challenges of growth and survival. Interface can support business by catalysing connections between business and the knowledge base in universities.

Expertise and insights from individuals within the Scottish academic ecosystem can support current business operations by helping to validate cost saving ideas, reduce waste and streamline processes. Interface is a free, well established and impartial service that facilitates business accessing academic expertise, research, technologies, specialist facilities and funding. Here, I look at how reviewing energy costs can strengthen commitment to sustainability, how by-products can be turned into profits, and how university facilities can make cost savings.

83 per cent of businesses which Interface have worked with record reduced operating costs, increased productivity, profits, export, turnover and new or safeguarded employment.

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Looking at how energy is used is a good starting point for many businesses, third sector and public sector organisations. In 2011, luxury knitwear manufacturer Johnstons of Elgin wanted to analyse its energy use across the main business units of dyes, weaving, logistics, finishing and yarns, as it was difficult to differentiate across the company the exact energy costs associated with each of these utilities.

Lorraine Thomson, Business Engagement Manager for the Highlands and Islands, Interface.Lorraine Thomson, Business Engagement Manager for the Highlands and Islands, Interface.
Lorraine Thomson, Business Engagement Manager for the Highlands and Islands, Interface.

A partnership between the company and The Energy Academy at Heriot Watt University was established, resulting in a PhD student reviewing strategies that would enable the company to reduce energy costs and market the carbon footprint in each area of the business, as well as each product.

Since then, the company’s commitment to sustainability has been recognised with a Queen’s Award for its 360-degree approach to sustainability and leading the way in ethical manufacturing.

Using by-products as an additional income stream is another way of helping balance the books.

Ayrshire-based W&J Knox Ltd is the largest UK manufacturer of nets, mainly for the salmon farming industry.

When the nets are cleaned, a nutrient-rich solid cake is produced which goes into landfill. The company was looking for expertise to analyse the waste product to establish if a new product could be created.

Interface connected them to a researcher from Abertay University, who investigated how the useful materials could be extracted from the waste and now, instead of being sent to landfill, tonnes of salvaged protein and oil is turned into fish, pig and chicken feed.

Dr Boon-Seang Chu, Lecturer in Food Science at Abertay University, said: “Abertay has a strong track record in research focusing on the reuse of food waste products and this is an area that is going to become increasingly important on both a national and international level in the coming years.”

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Accessing university facilities is another way that businesses can curb costs, rather than buying equipment themselves.

Cycling performance innovators Flaér contacted Interface when they were in the last stage of testing a new chain system as they were looking to engage with an academic department with full wind tunnel facilities and associated expertise. Interface was able to find the support required in a cost-effective way, with on-going support.

The project led to improved processes and new products, with an increase in overall productivity and turnover.

Interface were able to support business growth through collaboration with academia in the agricultural sector. Crover Ltd’s robotic device, which “swims” through grain, is revolutionizing the agri-food sector, helping identify early onset of spoilage from infestation by insects and moulds to reduce food waste, improve grain management, and save money.

Funding projects with academics can be an important consideration, and Interface is well-placed to advise on currently available grants and funding programmes open to businesses or academic partners.

Lorraine Thomson, Business Engagement Manager for the Highlands and Islands, Interface.

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