Transferring technology from the lab to industry

© iStock

© iStock

Much of the pioneering technology developed in research labs struggles to reach the market. To help scientists and engineers turn their ideas into viable business plans, 22 Swiss companies and research institutes – including EPFL – have teamed up to create a network of Advanced Manufacturing Technology Transfer Centers across the country.

Swiss universities and research institutes regularly appear at the top of international rankings when it comes to innovation. But only a handful of the technologies they develop find their way to industrial applications. That’s because many labs are not equipped to help inventors overcome the challenges of taking their devices to market – such as by ensuring their systems can be manufactured on a large scale both profitably and reliably.

That’s where Switzerland’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Transfer Centers (AM-TTCs) come in. They will provide scientists and engineers with facilities for testing whether their inventions work not only in a lab, but also on an industrial scale. This initiative forms part of the Swiss government’s Digitalization program, which aims to strengthen the country’s position as a hub for state-of-the-art, superior-quality manufacturing.

Twelve R&D centers targeting a number of applications

Twelve AM-TTCs are currently in the works to study a range of topics: 3D printing for medical implants; next-generation battery cells; digital manufacturing systems; and robots for construction sites, to name just a few. At the centers, researchers will be able to run tests on pilot manufacturing facilities and see whether their laboratory-developed processes can be scaled up for industrial production. 

Pooling the efforts of universities and businesses

The AM-TTCs will be run as public-private partnerships and coordinated by an umbrella organization called the AM-TTC Alliance. Alliance members include EPFL, CSEM, numerous other universities and research institutes, and companies such as ABB, BASF, Bühler, Georg Fischer, Hilti, Oerlikon, Rolex, Richemont and Siemens. The first centers should be up and running in the second half of 2019.

A joint EPFL-CSEM R&D center

In French-speaking Switzerland, EPFL – through the Microengineering Institute at its School of Engineering – and CSEM, a research and technology center, will join forces for one of the AM-TTCs, to be called the Micro-Manufacturing Center (M2C). In addition to EPFL and CSEM, this center will bring together three other universities (HE-Arc, HE-FR and UniNe) and two industry-leading multinationals: one in watchmaking and the other in high-end manufacturing equipment. Talks are also under way with companies in the instrumentation, life sciences and medical devices industries. Research carried out at the center will be cross-disciplinary in nature and will focus on developing new methods for making high-precision microsystems and components involving a wide range of materials and technologies.

Author: EMPA / STI