North East Connected

University research partnership is helping an SME take off

A research partnership with Teesside University has helped a North-East SME develop technology for aerospace.

Newcastle-based Photon Fire Ltd manufactures electronic equipment and sensors for a range of industries, particularly offshore and energy.

However, thanks to its work with the University, the company has been able to develop new intellectual property (IP) which has attracted interest from a major multinational company which works in the aerospace industry.

Photon Fire is working with cable manufacturer Leigh Cables to develop fire detection sensors which could be incorporated in aerospace systems made by Meggitt PLC, a FTSE-250 engineering group with manufacturing facilities across the globe.

The work has also been supported by the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP) which helps SMEs develop innovative new products.

Photon Fire was initially given assistance by Omar Al-Janabi at The Forge, Teesside University’s business hub, to access innovation vouchers which provide up to £5,000 funding to companies to pay for an external expert to help their business grow.

He then helped Photon Fire connect with two of the University’s leading engineering academics, Professor Simon Hodgson and Dr David Hughes, to develop new IP for the company while supporting Photon Fire draw up an application to NATEP helping the partnership develop the crucial IP further.

As a result of this work, Photon Fire is working with Meggitt to look at ways in which the new technology can be used in fire detection equipment onboard aircraft.

Bill Shepherd, the Managing Director of Photon Fire, said: “Working with Teesside University and our other partner, Leigh Cables, we are developing detectors which can measure hotspots at extremely high temperatures.

“Using the different skills and experience of our partners we’ve been able to create a technology which hasn’t been done anywhere else and can hopefully be taken forward to create much safer aircraft.”

Steve Parker, the Director of Engineering at Meggitt, added: “This is a very interesting project and, as a potential end user, we’re very excited about its potential.

“Aircraft fire detection is a significant part of our business and we’re very keen to take this technology forward.”

Professor Hodgson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), added: “From the University’s perspective, this is exactly the kind of application oriented research and innovation we like to focus on.

“It is an extremely innovative project and the technology could make a big difference to the business involved and people’s lives, particularly by improving the safety of air travel”.

Paul Talbot, NATEP Technology Manager, said: “This sort of collaboration is precisely the sort of work which we like to develop.

“It is a fantastic example of an SME working together with a University to develop new technology for a major end user in the aerospace industry.”

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