Ennio Tito Capria
26 Nov 2020

How can Research Infrastructures engage better with industry? NFFA-Europe's experience and recommendations

Recently NFFA-Europe published a position paper on the crucial topic of pinning down the best practices that can enable Research Infrastructures (RIs) and industry to engage better one another.

Recently NFFA-Europe published a position paper on the crucial topic of pinning down the best practices that can enable Research Infrastructures (RIs) and industry to engage better one another. This paper is specifically intended for both localised and distributed Research Infrastructures (RIs) in physical science and engineering with a representative volume of activity on nanoscience and nanotechnology.

A set of original recommendations is provided. The conclusions take into consideration the past literature on the topic and the advice matured from relevant public stakeholders, policymakers and similar initiatives. In particular, this paper presents the return of experience and the lessons learned from the NFFA-Europe consortium and synthesise some of the main conclusions emerged in the context of relevant selected workshops organised with partner institutions focused on this topic.

The paper summarises the conclusions arising from previous literature and lists the main barriers and challenges already reported:

  • the translational challenge;
  • the trust factor and the value of the quality of the personal relationships between industrial users and service providers;
  • the need for specific resources to work with industry;
  • the necessity of building awareness and providing training and education;
  • the limitations rising from statutes and working practices designed for academics;
  • the need for creating industry tailored equipment, standards and certification;
  • the need for a tailored working approach, developed in compliance with the peculiarities of the industrial context.

In order to mitigate the effect of these barriers, the paper presents a set of specific factors, matured in the context of NFFA-Europe and generalisable to the whole community of the research infrastructures, in particular in the domain of nanotechnology:

  • the effectiveness and the importance of the use of TNA to support industrial activities in the pre-competitive phase;
  • the crucial role of the open innovation initiatives and technology infrastructures and the importance of having with them a sustainable and durable interaction;
  • the importance of intermediary organisation to help overcoming the translational barrier and in some cases to support the data analysis;
  • the interest to adapt the RIs branding to be more efficient in outreach and awareness building actions
  • the investment in training of users and facility staff, and the attention for the design of new career paths more rewarding for scientists working at the interface with industry;
  • the installation of novel industry tailored instrumental facilities, with particular attention for standardisation and high throughput of more mature and adopted techniques;
  • the contribution to the improvement of the structuring of the industrial user community, in order to identify the right interfaces, with a crucial role played by the European Materials Characterisation Council (EMCC);
  • the implementation of the networking and teaming up initiatives among facilities;
  • in the case of distributed research infrastructures, the importance to manage potential conflicts of interest among the partners;
  • the preference for engaging with industry on long term projects, more than on one-shot services, aiming at developing real industrial programmes, ambitious and visionary.

All these elements have been taken into consideration in the definition of the proposal for the recently approved NFFA.Europe Pilot initiative, in which an entire work package has been dedicated to the activities with industry. This new project aims at maximising the impact of the TNA access provided on the industrial community. In this respect:

  • a dedicated intermediation service will be set up to exploit, coordinate and rationalise the competence available in the various Industrial Contact Offices (ICOs) often already present at member facilities;
  • a dedicated outreach campaign will be launched in compliance with the results of an ad-hoc analysis of the industrial needs at low TRL, in the domain of nanoscience and nano-to-micro analysis of materials;
  • specific actions will be organised in order to better cooperate with other open innovation European initiatives and the EMCC.