From taking the hassle out of pool maintenance to automating a speedy 3D printer for the metal manufacturing industry, IoT devices and apps, UTS’s new rapid prototyping unit is helping industry, government and not-for-profit partners translate their innovative ideas and complex problems into viable products and solutions.
“Everyone talks about the Internet of Things,” says Hervé Harvard, “but beyond the notion that it involves connecting objects to the internet and labelling them ‘smart’, there is still a lot to explore regarding what it might mean for our everyday lives and various industries.”
As the Director of Rapido, UTS’s new rapid prototyping unit in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, Harvard is excited about two of his team’s current projects which cut through the vagaries surrounding the IoT.
There can be a gap between university research and industry needs, and Rapido bridges this gap.
The first project is a collaboration with swimming pool equipment manufacturer Waterco, which aims to dramatically reduce the time and cost associated with maintaining backyard pools. By equipping salt water chlorinators to connect to the IoT and developing cloud-based software to support it, the project will allow remote monitoring and diagnosis.
For example, instead of wrangling with problems like cloudy water or algae after they appear, the technology will keep home pool owners and service professionals informed of what is required to keep the pool in balance.
“It’s a great IoT project,” says Harvard. “We started with a specific vision brought by our industry partner where IoT is a key enabler for a new business model. It’s a concrete application of IoT with a concrete business opportunity, and that’s where innovation will come from.”
Waterco’s Group Marketing Director Bryan Goh says that while such products already exist for commercial swimming pools, Waterco wanted to make the technology affordable for the domestic market by building it onto pre-existing products.
However, their expertise in manufacturing pool products didn’t extend to the IoT know-how needed to execute the project.
“Being a novice in this area, it's been good to deal with one team,” says Goh. “Previously we were dealing with a software developer as well as a hardware developer for that internet connectivity, whereas dealing with Rapido, it's basically one team that has brought five experts into the arena.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Sydney-based start-up Thinxtra are experts in IoT. In fact, they’re building an Australia-wide IoT network utilising French company Sigfox’s low-powered, wide area network (LPWAN) technology.
Vice-President of Ecosystems and Marketing Renald Gallis describes this aspect of Thinxtra’s business as “pretty much like a telco, but a telco dedicated to things”.
“The second part of our business is bringing complete IoT solutions to the market using that network: from the device to the platform integration, customisation for the customer, and working with partners to achieve this.”
Along with these industry partners, Thinxtra will collaborate with Rapido to develop specific devices, as well as platforms and apps that may come with the device. And, it’s in tackling the complexities of these projects that Gallis believes Rapido will come to the fore.
The technology to 3D print metal is not new, but ... it's costly and time-consuming. This project aims to make it faster, cheaper and viable for large-scale manufacturing
“There are a lot of advanced researchers within UTS, so Rapido has the capacity of bringing on board the right researchers depending on the project, to work on the specific complexities of those industrial IoT solutions.”
Harvard says it is this capacity to assemble multi-skilled teams and address complex problems, leveraging the expertise available in UTS, which differentiates Rapido.
“We've got very smart engineers, with extensive experience in commercial research and development (R&D), and we work alongside academics, so we have a unique capability in terms of both breadth and depth of expertise.”
Harvard, who has spent most of his career in leadership and management roles in large multinationals including Canon and Philips, brings technical, business development, R&D and commercialisation expertise to his role. He also has some keen insights into how universities and industry can collaborate more effectively to deliver research impact.
“Industry is focused on value through innovation. They are focused on the end result, not the complexity of the particular piece of research that enables that result. But in universities I think it’s typically more independent work, going deep in a particular topic.
“So there can be a gap between university research and industry needs, and Rapido bridges this gap.”
The team are about to embark on a project with Australian start-up SPEE3D, which could transform metal manufacturing. While production of metal parts has traditionally been done by carving specific components from different sized blocks of metal, SPEE3D has developed a high-speed, fully-automated 3D metal printer that would instead build up parts using metal powder.
“The technology to 3D print metal is not new, but it currently involves a manual step, which makes it costly and time-consuming,” says SPEE3D co-founder and CEO Byron Kennedy. “So it is typically used only for prototypes.
“This project aims to make it faster, cheaper and viable for large-scale manufacturing – particularly in the automotive industry.”
Currently 3D printing and traditional metal casting create an approximate version of the final part, necessitating an additional step of machining to perfect the end product.
SPEE3D aims to automate this step, and to this end they have enlisted Rapido.
“SPEE3D is working with Rapido to implement a machine vision process to the printer using 3D scanning with expertise that exists within the university. The SPEE3D technology is already 100 to 1000 times faster than conventional metal 3D printing and this additional element will further speed up post processing.”
Such is the potential of the project, the SPEE3D-Rapido collaboration has been granted Federal Government funding from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre.
Rapido are already discussing a number of exciting new projects for 2017, particularly around IoT, data science and 3D data processing.
Says Harvard, “I have no doubt that Rapido will continue to create unique opportunities for our industry partners and really impactful research results for UTS. It’s quite amazing, and exciting!”
If you have a complex technical need or problem you’d like to explore with Rapido, contact Director of Rapido Herve Harvard, firstname.lastname@example.org or 9514 2429.