University of Exeter KTP plays key role in the new Covid-19 vaccine

Manufacturing Ltd is playing a direct and key role in the production process of the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Experts from the University have been working with the Devon-based manufacturing company to optimise the production of some of the equipment used to create the new Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The new vaccine was approved for use last week, with more than half a million doses of the vaccine ready for use from the beginning of January.

Smart Manufacturing is a small manufacturing company specialised in industrial equipment especially for pharmaceutical and food industries aiming to increase the efficiency and productivity of the customers’ processes.

One of the company’s customers, a Fortune 500 Company with operations in North Devon, produces highly specialised filters used in various pharmaceutical applications – including the new vaccine.

Via the KTP project, part-funded by Innovate UK, KTP Associate, Sam Abraham, has been working on developing and improving the equipment performances full-time since March.

Prior to this, he has applied his expertise to improve the production flow of ATEX certified products, and created a set of procedures to ensure their compliance with ATEX regulations which guide the design and operation of equipment in explosive environments.

The project has meant that the equipment needed to create the new vaccine can be produced more efficiently and effectively.

The KTP academic lead is Ion Sucala, Associate Professor in Engineering Management at the University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

”The right blend of academic and practical capabilities developed during the KTP helped in the design of a much more efficient process and that has been instrumental in the success of this project,” said Martin Murch, the Managing Director of Smart Manufacturing, “It has also put us in pole position in winning and executing similar projects in the future.”

Prof Ion Sucala said: “The KTP is a part of the wide-ranging collaboration between Smart Manufacturing and the University of Exeter which has been ongoing for more than 5 years. Not only has Smart Manufacturing benefitted from this partnership but also many of our students who undertake projects with the company and had first-hand experiences in a British manufacturing company. This has enriched their understanding of an SME manufacturing environment.”

Professor Zhongdong Wang, the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean at the University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, said: “I am delighted that the University, and colleagues in the College have played such a pivotal role in helping to deliver this COVID-19 vaccine.

“KTPs such as this not only provide crucial support for businesses across the South -West region and beyond, but also enable researchers to share their expertise where it is most needed.

The work carried out by Professor Sucala and his team has made a fundamental difference to this project, and also highlights the value of long-term relationships with the University’s business partners.“

The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme – which links forward thinking businesses with specialist academic teams to drive a strategic innovation project – has been running for 45 years and helped more than 14,000 UK businesses innovate for growth.

KTN plays a key part in the delivery of the KTP programme via a network of 31 specialist Knowledge Transfer Advisers who support each project.

The Adviser on this KTP is Dr Andy Treen who commented: “The knowledge and skills embedded by the KTP project will provide a firm foundation for future innovation by Smart Manufacturing in a number of industry sectors requiring ATEX compliance.

“It is fantastic that Sam and the team at Smart have been able to apply the KTP knowledge to support the critical scale-up of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine manufacturing programme.”