11 Aug 2022

University collaborations help female engineers transform into eco-innovators

Female eco innovators

Women-led engineering businesses are benefiting from a programme which enables academia-industry collaboration to create innovative low carbon goods, processes and services, and help female engineers transform into eco-innovators.

Autentica Parts, based in Liverpool, is a platform which allows engineers to share designs for parts and components which can be 3D printed by customers anywhere in the world.

It is the brainchild of Irma Gilbert who developed the concept through the Low Carbon Eco-Innovatory (LCEI), a business support programme co-delivered by Lancaster University which gives small companies free access to world-leading academic expertise and cutting-edge resources through funded research and development projects, ranging from one month to 12-months.

Gilbert’s research and development was accelerated using a fully-funded intern who helped create a prototype for the platform which now boasts customers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America in a variety of sectors including automotive, electronics, consumer goods, medical services, heavy machinery and energy.

The innovative platform is decarbonising the manufacturing supply chain, reducing customer transportation and logistics costs by 70%, delivery times from three months to 24 hours, and  CO2 emissions by up to 40%.

Irma attributes the success of the business to the collaboration with Lancaster University. She now has a team of four and is forecasting a turnover of £6m by 2025.

“As a woman at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution I needed someone to believe in my ambition,” she said. “I saw a transformational opportunity to create a marketplace where engineers could share their designs for parts and components, which could then be uploaded to a platform, licenced and downloaded by customers anywhere in the world for additive manufacture.

“We really are indebted to the support offered by LCEI and the expertise of Lancaster University which supercharged my ideas to create a platform transforming supply chains, reducing carbon emissions and building a sustainable future.”

Lisa Furlong, Managing Director of construction-based civil engineers, Mole Group Utilities, based on the Wirral, has also benefited from LCEI.

Having already pioneered its unique horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technologies to excavate underground pathways for cables, pipes and network links, Lisa used a funded internship to develop a marketing and communications plan which demonstrated its environmental credentials and unique methods.

LCEi is delivered by Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation which is led by Jess Davies, Professor in Sustainability.

Davies, an engineer and environmental scientist, said: “Engineers bring problem-solving skill sets to the table, which are really important to developing sustainable practices, products or services across many areas including traditional areas like energy, transport and wastewater, but also they have much to offer other challenges such as supporting biodiversity.

“One of the main challenges for women starting out in engineering is seeing it as a profession for them – having great female role models is incredibly important.

“Irma and Lisa are great examples to show what women can achieve in engineering and we are thrilled to hear that the kind of access to opportunities, resources and support we have offered through our programme has helped with their development as eco-innovation leaders.

“As a programme, we want to champion SMEs to play a leading role in addressing climate and environmental emergencies. But it is also important that we champion the diversity of these innovators to help overcome barriers and change the traditional culture and norms. We can help drive change by diversifying networks. We need diverse perspectives and lived experiences to form a better understanding of the many dimensions of the problem and we are going to need all the creativity that comes with diversity to help us find good solutions to the major environmental problems of our times.”

LCEI is a business R&D consortium, backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and led by Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) alongside partners Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool.

Since its launch in 2015, the Low Carbon Eco-Innovatory has supported 350 businesses in the Liverpool City Region on projects which have saved 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.