University and P&G working together to fast-track new projects

THE University of Leeds and consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble have struck a deal with the aim of harnessing academic research to develop new high-tech products.

The ‘strategic relationship’ represents a new way of getting university researchers and industrialists working together, according to Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. He said: “The objective is to build teams across both organisations that can respond very flexibly to business, research and educational opportunities.”

Within P&G, a Connect+Develop board identifies the potential academics partners for key projects, while university researchers also are encouraged to approach P&G with ideas. With intellectual property and confidentiality issues already covered by the agreement, the idea is that work can get underway quickly.

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“We can get a sub-agreement for a specific project in place within a couple of weeks,” said Dr Hossein Ahmadian, relationship manager from P&G. “From a timing and logistics point of view, that speed of start-up is invaluable.”

P&G and the university have a long-standing partnership, with more than 20 joint research projects currently underway, but the university said that the new approach will more thoroughly integrate the two organisations’ planning and operations.

P&G’s joint projects with Leeds include more than a dozen PhD and post-doctoral projects, but the partnership also gives the company broader access to expertise across the university. A P&G Simulation Centre, based on the university’s campus, recruits final-year PhD students from a variety of disciplines to work on 20-hours-a-week, six-month contracts on projects for business units across the company.

Students are recruited because they have relevant expertise to a project and are often not working with P&G in their full-time research. For example, Fernando Zapata Cornelio, a PhD student looking at bone fractures in the university’s School of Mechanical Engineering, is working on razor blades at the centre.

Sandy Black, a PhD student in the university’s School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering, is applying his knowledge of modelling combustion to the storage of liquids by P&G.

“The work with P&G is allowing me to broaden my experience beyond my particular research area. I am using new tools and developing an understanding of working in industry and the pressures and timescales you are expected to work to. I talk to my P&G supervisor in Brussels by webcam every week and work on the P&G computer system,” he said.

Under the agreement, P&G and the university will identify strategic research themes across academic disciplines including engineering, maths and physics, design, computing, chemistry, psychology, business and the arts.