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NPL welcomes Innovation Strategy

“There has never been a more important time for Public Sector Research Establishments like NPL to drive, support and enable innovation.”

Dr Peter Thompson, FREng, CEO, took up his role in September 2015 and has overseen NPL’s subsequent development and growth. Today, NPL is widely regarded as one of the leading National Metrology Institutes in the world. 

“We welcome the innovation strategy, published today. As the UK’s National Metrology Institute and as a Public Sector Research Establishment (PSRE), we believe that there has never been a more important time for PSRE’s to drive, support and enable innovation. From recovering from the societal and economic impacts of COVID-19 to ensuring our collective future as we tackle climate change, innovation is crucial and we are looking forward to supporting and enabling the actions laid out in the innovation strategy.

At NPL we have a long history of innovation, from the Pilot ACE, one of the first computers built in the UK in the 1950s followed by the invention of packet switching in 1965, which is today the dominant basis for data communications in computer networks. This heritage has enabled us to be at the forefront of major technological developments. In fact, if you look back at NPL roadmaps from 2005*, you will see that we anticipated quantum computers would be of major interest by 2020 and today we are part of a multi-million-pound quantum programme ensuring NPL’s metrology expertise is playing a major role in facilitating bringing products to market.

Today we are enabling innovation through programmes like Measurement for Recovery (M4R), a second phase of which opened this week. The first round, which launched during summer 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saw 500+ businesses across the UK accessing our unique expertise to innovate new products and processes across multiple sectors, from 5G buoys at sea to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and ventilators.

That’s why we’re delighted that the innovation strategy highlights the important role PSREs play in the innovation process.

As the strategy suggests, innovation isn’t a clear-cut process and it requires an ecosystem of PSREs, financial institutions, charities, government bodies and many other players and their interactions, exchanges of skills, knowledge and ideas to enable innovation to thrive.

The strategy also highlights the need to understand our international peers, where they are investing and the balance between research, development and innovation in institutions. This is an important part of the UK’s journey to becoming a science superpower.

NPL is part of a global network of National Metrology Institutes, which have the responsibility to develop and maintain national measurement standards, providing internationally recognised traceability to the SI units and providing metrological expertise and knowledge to national users.

In the UK we combine this capability and associated measurement infrastructure with that of the other laboratories that make up the National Measurement System (NMS) to support UK industry.

The UK Measurement Strategy, to be published this Summer, will outline how the UK can capitalise on the NMS, to provide the measurement infrastructure that is required to innovate and be safer, healthier, greener and more prosperous. It will also highlight how crucial standards are in innovation.

Standards must be developed and reviewed at the same pace as the development of technology to ensure standards support rather than hinder innovation. We’re members of the UK’s National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) bringing our metrology (the science of measurement) expertise, to provide confidence in the data by evaluating uncertainty, providing traceability, and enabling reliable decision-making to support this process. We hope to bring to the fore the potential of standards for innovation and commercialisation in the UK and by working in partnership with fellow internationally recognised institutions we plan to implement actions identified in the Standards for the 4th Industrial Revolution Action Plan.

Innovation isn’t confined by geography and supporting the UK Government’s levelling up agenda with infrastructure and facilities that support UK industry was an important factor in the Advanced Machinery and Productivity Institute (AMPI), which will be based in Rochdale. AMPI is funded via the UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund (SIPF) and brings together academia and industry to drive innovation for the UK’s advanced machinery manufacturers, creating the new machines and engineers needed to manufacture tomorrow’s technologies.

The current SIPF funding, announced today, is for a 5-year innovation initiative and provides the stimulus for AMPI in its journey to become a pivotal UK intervention, centred around existing capabilities and research excellence across the North of England. NPL’s role as lead partner is important, as measurement is vital to all advanced technology and it is particularly important for the accurate and reliable operation of advanced machinery and the quality of its outputs. Measurement is also a critical enabler for business growth, improving efficiency and productivity. The support provided through AMPI and its partner organisations will provide benefit to businesses across the region, positively impacting direct and indirect local employment, as well as UK industry export.

Through innovation we can see not only the economic benefits but also the societal impacts and NPL is committed to ensuring that the next generation are inspired to pursue science, maths and engineering at school and continue on to apprenticeships and higher education and eventually STEM careers as we believe this is key to improving UK prosperity and quality of life.

NPL’s approach, with hubs in Huddersfield and Strathclyde, draws on regional strengths and opportunities to enhance the social and economic impact of our activities and levelling up provides the ability to draw on regional talent pools, expanding access to a wider range of experience, capabilities and enhance the diversity of workforces.

Creating a research environment which supports diversity and inclusion is critical to ensure that we have access to the diversity of perspective to innovate. An example of this is in the field of data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and we value the diversity of perspective, recognising that ethical and trustworthy AI can only be achieved through a diverse and inclusive multidisciplinary research approach. Inclusive innovation and removal of bias from systems are critical in helping us address some of the world’s biggest challenges and for any organisation, scientific or other, fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce creates an environment where innovation thrives.

NPL will continue to ensure the expertise of our scientists and engineers and our facilities across the UK can be utilised by UK Government, industry and academia, working collaboratively to enable innovation.”


22 Jul 2021