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Case Study

Peratech A case study of best practice in the integration of materials technology and design to improve innovation


Peratech Limited is an award winning company established in the north of England to develop and exploit QTC™ – an innovative electrically conductive material that has pressure switching and sensing capabilities for use in products from sportswear to power tools. Peratech has taken a highly entrepreneurial approach to product development, and is an active collaborator with university physicists, product and textile designers, government agencies and European Union research programmes, as this InnoMatNet case study demonstrates.

Consortium 1


Best practice in materials and design

Best practice in materials and design

DAVID LUSSEY David Lussey is the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Peratech. He previously spent 30 years in the Royal Air Force, where he developed an aptitude for invention, learnt about science and electronics, and eventually became a “If I was starting now, the first thing I’d do is find out (via the internet) who can help in the region? Having a local Regional Technology Centre in Sunderland was a big thing for Peratech.” David Lussey

specialist instructor. David attributes his curiosity and willingness to talk to anyone who might

Newcastle upon Tyne

  Sunderland

help – a key feature of Peratech’s success 

– to his Air Force experience of tackling

Hartlepool

Durham

continual challenges – from running fire

stations to organising air defences. His philosophy is that “the answers are there,

Darlington

all you’ve got to do is find them!”

Richmond   Northallerton

A1 (M)

Harrogate 

Bradford 

2

York 

Leeds 

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Best practice in materials and design

EARLY EXPERIMENTATION After the Air Force, David started a security business and in 1995/6 a commission from Teesside University to improve computer security led to a chance discovery and eventually the founding of Peratech. In experimenting with home-made adhesives for ‘sticky’ conductive pads

A

PRESS/PUSH/COMPRESS

B

BEND

used in an electronic tagging alarm system, he discovered that one mixture had a very curious and counter-intuitive behaviour – it only became conductive and dropped resistance when pulled or stretched. Ironically, it wasn’t suitable for a security tag since it worked in exactly the opposite way to the design specification!

A

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PRESS/PUSH/COMPRESS

B

BEND

C

PULL/STRETCH or TWIST

D

GESTURE & PRESS

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Best practice in materials and design

SEEKING HELP David was intrigued and with his

The electrical graph he drew led to

electronic engineer son Chris Lussey (now

the first of more than100 patents, 4

Peratech’s CEO) could see the commercial

government funded SMART Awards and

potential of this strange new material

a continuing programme of student and

which seemed capable of changing from

PhD research at Durham.

being a true insulator to a true conductor. They realised that they needed scientific verification as to how novel it really was. They approached the Regional Technology Centre (RTC) in Sunderland, UK, which was promoted by the government as an important local source of knowledge for business start-ups. RTC staff were supportive and made crucial introductions to the university research sector. Professor David Bloor of the Condensed

As David Lussey says, “I love it when a Professor’s eyes light up, because that always tells you you‘ve got something that’s different!” He adds “all these little steps and verifications, and people who believed in it were so necessary to give birth to the company and make it flourish. Without this underpinning research Peratech would not be where it is today.” Durham University

Matter Physics department at Durham University was immediately fascinated by the material’s dramatic conductivity variation. Unusually at the time, he was willing to help on a zero fee basis as the University was promoting support for local industry. He could also see the research publishing potential for the University.

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Best practice in materials and design

VALUE OF AWARD SCHEMES Professor Bloor’s scientific verification

the way David mixed the materials in a

Building on their SMART awards, they

was certainly key to Peratech’s

polythene mortar and pestle, whereby

were successful in winning several EPSRC

successful first application to the ‘Small

all the shear forces were dramatically

funded Collaborative Awards in Science

firms’ Merit Award for Research and

reduced and the shape of the particle

and Engineering (CASE). This meant that

Technology’ (SMART) scheme run by

was maintained at the sub-micron level

if Peratech contributed 1/3rd of the cost

the then UK Department of Trade and

that was crucial.

of a University PhD student, Government

Industry to encourage commercial exploitation of innovation.

With Durham University’s support, Peratech embarked on a lengthy

A government scientist checking the

programme of R&D to make the

application had initially expressed

material’s unique properties repeatable

doubts over the claimed properties of

at an industrial scale. Various forms

Quantum Tunnel Composite (QTC) as it

of the material were discovered in this

was by then known.

period, including a powder version with

However, the research had established that it wasn’t just the substance’s chemical formulation, it was to do with

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would fund the balance of 2/3rds to enable research and development of the technology. Since its start, Peratech has had 4 CASE students at Durham University. Presently, there is a Peratech CASE student at Durham University, Leeds University and London College of Fashion.

radio frequency properties which would eventually lead to coatings and ink applications.

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Best practice in materials and design

Best practice in materials and design

VALUE OF AWARD SCHEMES During this experimental phase, the

Design demonstrators

realisation dawned among the Peratech

Peratech decided to put effort into

founders that design input was needed to create real world products utilising QTC-enhanced materials which would interest potential business partners and consumers, not just technologists and scientists As David Lussey says, “I was talking to people at Durham University and the Regional Technology Centre who appreciated that design and technology were inseparable, and that design Bluetooth/USB QWERTY fabric keyboard Allows easier data entry in handhelds, smartphones, umpcs, control PC or entertainment console based applications (e.g. internet, music, movies). Can be folded or rolled up when not in use – compact and portable. For low cost, non mechanical buttons. Gesture controls can easily be added for hot keys or shortcuts, e.g. volume, playback controls, screen scroll.

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often should lead the technology.” David also became involved with the Design Council which saw Peratech as champions for design, and won several Design Council awards which lent the company a valuable publicity platform.

using design as method of creating new applications for QTC, and became adept at making eye-catching demonstrators. For example, by coating a textile it was possible to generate a pressuresensitive signal, and this was used to create a textile piano keyboard that could be rolled up around a loudspeaker and electronics. This caught the public imagination and, despite the still small scale of the company, they joined Rolls Royce and other major brands in winning a Millennium Products Prize. Furthermore, the $100,000 Saatchi Global Communications Prize was awarded to Peratech at a ceremony in New York, also in 2000.

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Best practice in materials and design

Wearable applications for military, industrial, sports or consumer products

Design-led entrepreneurship

QTC™ Material sensor provides a flexible control interface for hi-vis garment, allowing the wearer to select which part of the garment to illuminate for optimum safety. Playback buttons on sleeve to control music/mobile device without any contact

Eco Data Tools

with device.

Clothing was an early design application

Clothing to order 1000 jackets for the

for ‘clever’ use of QTC, and after

new Apple i-pods.

making a space suit and a glove which won the MOMA Award (2000), another opportunity for Peratech’s entrepreneurship arose in 2002.

Peratech started a new company ‘SoftSwitch’ on the back of the order, the addition of QTC component strips considerably boosting the market value

Apple founder Steve Jobs had spotted

of the jackets, and inspiring other

a ski jacket incorporating smart buttons

manufacturers. Their partners were the

to control a Sony Minidisc player in

Wool Research Organisation of New

the pocket. Impressed, Jobs advised a

Zealand who had been looking for new

friend who made Burton Snowboard

applications of textiles.

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Best practice in materials and design

The company employed two experienced

Regional Technology Centre played an

clothing designers who created the

important role by introducing a very

finished product but had to learn how

creative and technically aware product

to coat QTC onto textiles, and initially

design consultancy to the company.

HOW GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES HAVE HELPED

had difficulty understanding some of

They collaborated on a range of

the electronic technicalities. However,

squeeze-controlled power tools, which

Peratech attribute a lot of their early

because the designers, technologists

attracted another SMART award.

and marketeers had the common aim of creating unique, successful products, working together became easy and made the partnership work. Peratech next thought of using QTC

and continuing success to active engagement with regional, national and

The company now employs two

European support agencies.

designers in-house, whose primary role

Local

is to improve the integration of product/ user experience design and technical engineering design.

in household goods. Once again, the

Regional Technology Centre provided key early introductions to universities and designers, and was regularly consulted for technical and commercial advice.

National For Peratech, participation in UK Government-backed Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs) – covering everything from Textiles to Nanotechnology, Electronics and Sensors – enables them to “acutely listen” to what everybody else in the connectivity and plastic electronics sector is doing – e.g the latest touch screens or transparent conductors – as part of a deliberate QTC™ Material sensor uses hand pressure as switch and variable speed control of drill QTC™ Material ‘dead-man’ safety switch used as safety feature on chainsaw. Saw

and continual process of absorbing knowledge in order to move forward.

activates when both hands are griping the handle areas ambedded with QTC™ Material.

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Best practice in materials and design

Best practice in materials and design

Perarech staff have served on a British Standards Committee, and have been researching how to make QTC materials printable using facilities and conductive inks at The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) – Part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. They see this odies ory B s i v Ad

as part of an imperative to “update

Early Tec hnolo gy P rov ide rs

and progress” existing industries all over the EU. They also see a marketing value in

Trade & Professional Bodies

Niche Technology Providers

telling everybody else what they’re doing – “drum banging” as David put it – and responding to KTN research calls. This gets Peratech closer to the large companies who also interact with KTNs,

Skills Bodies

European & International Due to its innovative profile, Peratech is regularly approached to take part in EU research projects, and recently participated in a Framework 6 project on combining carbon nanotube with textiles to create sensor mechanisms. The company’s specialist technical knowledge enabled them to take a lead role and benefit from the PR opportunity. Peratech frequently attend and speak at plastic/electronics industry exhibitions and events in Europe and the USA, including some which are linked to UK government funding calls.

and who routinely read the academic General Capability Providers

research papers when they take interest in a new development. Hence Peratech’s active involvement with university publishing helps build their credibility.

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Best practice in materials and design

Best practice in materials and design

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION

SOFTWARE/ELECTRONICS

UPPER

QTC PRESSURE SENSOR

INSERT

David Lussey’s Royal Air Force

MIDSOLE

experience had made him very aware

OUTERSOLE

of the importance of building trust with people, but also securing Intellectual Property protection (IPR) very early on. He found a retired ex ICI patent agent who established the basis for all the company’s patents, and recognises that without this Peratech could have been very vulnerable due to its small size. The company now employs an in-house lawyer to protect IPR on behalf of the shareholders, and invests £120,000 annually on worldwide patents renewals. Negotiating appropriate IP arrangements has been particularly important to the success of Peratech’s work with universities, which is focused on original, fundamental science rather than immediate commercial application.

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Blood pressure cuff with QTC™ Material tension sensor Helps reduce inaccurate readings from improper cuff attachment. When the cuff is being applied to the patient or self applied, the device automatically indicates when the proper amount of tension in the cuff has been reached.

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Best practice in materials and design

OPEN INNOVATION & EDUCATIONAL COLLABORATIONS David Lussey is a big fan of ”getting people fired up” about technology and potential applications. ”We can’t think of everything” he says, “let’s get it into the hands of designers and engineers”. As a result of this philosophy samples of QTC have been made widely available via consumer electronics stores and local education authorities in the UK, while The relationship with Durham is long-

been able to retain ownership of IP in

staff regularly give talks in UK schools

standing and with clear mutual benefits,

recognition of the access they provided

promoting a practical, hands-on interest

though projects are carefully selected to

to novel materials and of their funding

in understanding how science can be

avoid IP complications. It has featured

of PhD students. So far, however, it has

applied in the real world.

over 150 3rd year physics students

proved more difficult to engage with

conducting materials research in groups

design faculties where IP rights may

These are often illustrated by smart ski

of 3-5, with privileged access to Peratech’s

automatically accrue to the inventor.

facilities and expertise, including feedback on the results of their experiments. Collaborations with other institutions have taken place against a background of increased need for universities to generate income from research, often via IP. Peratech have, however,

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jackets and other ‘name brand’ products which spark enthusiasm and curiosity among the pupils. Their longstanding relationship with academia appears to have served Peratech extremely well and for the future David Lussey feels there’s a “great reason to make sure we promote this side of things for all parties involved”.

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Best practice in materials and design

Best practice in materials and design

diSclaimer

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This report forms part of the

We are grateful to the following individuals and organisations for their contribution to the InnoMatNet case studies: David Lussey, Peratech

deliverables from the InnoMatNet project which has received funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement n° 290583. The report reflects only the authors’ views and the European Commission is not liable for any use that might be made of the content of this publication. The project runs from the 1 April 2012 to 30 September 2014. It involves eleven partners and is coordinated by Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação (SPI). More information on the project can be found at www.innomatnet.eu The lead contractor for the case studies was InnoMatNet consortium partner the Institute of Materials, Minerals

Case study suggestions taken from the InnoMatNet survey. Reviewed by: Claire Claessen and John Conti-Ramsden, Chemistry Innovation KTN John Bound, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining (MaDE, Materials KTN) Research & editing: John Bound, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining (MaDE, Materials KTN) Graphic design: Lara Collins, The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining

and Mining, with delivery through the Materials and Design Exchange (MaDE), a group within the UK Materials Knowledge Transfer Network. www.iom3.org.uk www.materialsktn.net/made © InnoMatNet 2013

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Images pp. 2, 5, 8, 10, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 21 © Peratech

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Best practice in materials and design

Contact Peratech Limited Old Repeater Station 851 Gatherley Road Brompton on Swale Richmond North Yorkshire, DL10 7JH T +44 (0) 1748 813670 www.peratech.com

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Peratech