CEED program participant, UWA student Chris Soares works in the Sila Australia lab to develop a more effective super reinforced ceramic product for their global market.

CEED program participant, UWA student Chris Soares works in the Sila Australia lab to develop a more effective super reinforced ceramic product for their global market.

Universities have much to offer small and medium enterprises (SMEs). A successful collaboration can help SMEs unlock their global potential by matching groundbreaking research with innovative solutions.

The Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda is pushing to harness new sources of economic growth. Industry-research collaboration is one of its four key pillars, sending a clear call to Australian universities and businesses to come together to innovate, to create jobs and to spur growth.

In this environment, a vigorous start-up community culture is sweeping across the country, including the development of co-working space and accelerators that are also cooperating with the business sector.

Encouraging SMEs to seek to collaborate with the research community – and vice versa – is still a work in progress, as it requires an understanding of mutual benefits, how good partnerships can be identified and more engagement.

Perth-based company Sila Australia partners with UWA

One Perth SME has taken the leap to connect with UWA, making use of shared expertise to improve its product for the world market. In fact the relationship between a UWA alumnus, a current student and industry has already paid dividends.

Sila Australia is a small company that leads the Australian market in producing super reinforced ceramics (SRCs) for the metals and minerals processing industries.

A key moment for Sila Australia was partnering with UWA to test a modified SRC that the company hoped would be more effective and reliable, and that would help to establish a more efficient manufacturing process.

Sila Australia development engineer and UWA engineering graduate Michael Stott said that extending the usable life of SRC products helped to address client priorities to reduce maintenance costs and plant shutdowns.

He said the reason Sila wanted to work with UWA was to help build the company's credibility and to engage external expertise around new product development.

Sila believed working with a dedicated researcher from UWA’s Cooperative Education for Enterprise Development (CEED) program helped to focus the project over a defined period, rather than a stop-start approach that would take longer to reach the company's goals.

Another benefit was the chance to access UWA facilities, like the microscope lab, that gave them more detailed insights into developing a better SRC.

The CEED program

Innovation Quarter’s Rob Shannon connected Sila Australia with the right people at CEED, and after initial consultative meetings, Sila teamed with CEED to sponsor a research project for postgraduate student Chris Soares.

The CEED program offers research projects for students sponsored by business, government and not-for-profit enterprises. The projects link industry with prospective graduates who are working on cutting-edge research for Western Australia’s leading program.

As we know, the best partnerships are those with mutual benefit, and the relationship between UWA and Sila Australia has plenty of merit.

Chris had worked at the cutting edge of his Master of Professional Engineering to find valuable solutions and to innovate for the company.

He spent nine months at Sila Australia working on testing SRCs. This project helped him gain academic credit, thereby creating a win/win situation for all involved.

While Chris’s research helped Sila Australia, it’s also helped him acquire new skills for the real world.

The CEED program, he said, provided an opportunity for students to dive deeper into a problem than they would normally go with a typical thesis.

As part of the program, Chris’s research was monitored by UWA academic supervisor Professor Xiao Zhi Hu and Sila Australia mentor Michael Stott.

Michael is taking his Sila Australia experience and building his entrepreneurial skills by working on other innovative engineering projects.

Breeding ground for next generation inventors

Universities are the breeding ground for the next generation of inventors who can work with researchers and contribute to global innovations.

At UWA, through IQ, we are working to empower UWA researchers, staff and students to forge links between the University, industry and community.

UWA attracts high-calibre undergraduate students from around the world, eager to create change during their studies by applying skills and knowledge beyond the classroom. Our honours, master's and PHD students are highly skilled problem-solvers who can work on developing innovative solutions for you.

To connect you to the right people at UWA, contact either Rob Shannon or Jo Hawkins at the IQ team.