Scottish SMEs stand to benefit from free research and development

Scottish companies too small to have their own research and development (R&D) departments can now get free help from engineering design students at Heriot-Watt University.

The programme opened on 18 April for submissions from companies seeking a commercial solution to a real-life engineering problem.

Now in its fourth year, the Company-Led Engineering Design challenge allows companies to benefit from energetic and enthusiastic, final-year students who can often bring a fresh perspective to a problem, while engineering students get direct, hands-on experience.  

In effect, companies that are too small to have their own in-house R&D team, get intensive, free of charge expertise from a team of students, each one of who spends around 150 hours on the project.

Last year's programme saw 95 students working on 19 separate projects for 17 different companies. The projects come in all shapes and sizes, from designing a prototype for an underwater electricity generating turbine, to a new saddle for a horse trekking company.

The programme is led by Theodore Lim, Lecturer in Mechanical, Process & Energy Engineering at Heriot-Watt's School of Engineering and Physical Sciences. He said "The programme is going from strength to strength as word spreads among companies that have taken part.

"It's a great opportunity for students to roll up their sleeves, get stuck into a real-life problem, develop their skills and make a real difference to a business.

"Both sides benefit, particularly where companies have a special project with a clear remit and a defined outcome they're looking to achieve."

The programme closes to applications from companies on 15 August 2013, when the student teams will be selected and matched with suitable projects.