The idiom “one stone alone cannot grind corn” has perhaps never been more relevant than in these days of technological complexity and expanding societal demands for innovative products and technical problem-solving. Awareness of this complex socio-technical terrain drives the engaged approach to socio-economic development adopted by Fibrenamics at the University of Minho (UMinho) in Portugal. Fibrenamics is a platform that connects national and international HEIs and businesses who strive for innovation in the field of fibres and advanced materials. Emerging from the School of Engineering at UMinho, Fibrenamics aims to create, transfer, and communicate frontier knowledge from the research domain to the market, through the co-design and development of products that respond to societal challenges and stakeholder needs.
The Fibrenamics platform
In less than 6 years, Fibrenamics has transformed itself from a modest university-based research group into an international “fibre-hub” where its diverse members can engage, prepare and implement a variety of scientific and practical projects. The Fibrenamics platform currently engages with 18 national and international universities, 19 research centres, 17 technology and collaborating centres, and more than 120 companies in the course of their activities. With such a wide organisational outreach, Fibrenamics also supports an online community that provides services to its more than 1,250 members.
Fibrenamics’ fundamental research group unites researchers and academics from various fields, together with Masters and PhD students, to produce new scientific knowledge – seeking answers to profound theoretical and technical questions concerning a sustainable fibre future. These attempts underlie the development of solutions to real societal issues, in the form of innovative products designed and developed by the Fibrenamics team and its partners. The Fibrenamics applied research group involves companies directly in the implementation of these innovation projects. The applied group collaborates directly with firms to design products in terms of their functionality and to fully assess the materials and processes required.
A true innovation at Fibrenamics is the integration of a specialist technology-marketing group as the third, and equal, focus of the organisation. The technology-marketing group promotes Fibrenamics’ projects and products, and help firms to link with other Fibrenamics partners in choosing their innovation path. This includes providing a comprehensive market assessment and consultation to new contact firms. The technology marketing group is also responsible for building capacity in the fibre sector, whether this is through knowledge transfer activities, such as workshops and advanced training courses, or by encouraging the development of an innovation culture and strategy in partner SMEs. The technology marketing group also runs the online presence and social media strategy of Fibrenamics.
Motivated by success and the promise of the fibre future
The reciprocal interplay between stakeholders, thoughtfully coordinated by the Fibrenamics team, has so far resulted in 15 registered patents, more than 40 completed, and on-going projects. Two success cases provide particular validation, and continuing inspiration, for the Fibrenamics approach:
- Registered as a medical device and currently sold in 17 countries Protechdry© is an underwear designed for men and women who suffer from low impact incontinence.The product has recived very positive feedback from users, due to its durability and flexibility that allows patients to enjoy their social life, despite their medical condition.
- Another health product, Pradex, is a multifunctional sleeve designed for lymphatic sufferers and mastectomy patients with swollen or distended upper limbs. Cancer patients express satisfaction with the sleeve’s unobtrusive and natural look, whilst maintaining compression behaviour similar to traditional products.
Besides these quantifiable outcomes, the Fibrenamics team seeks to foster a vision for a better fibre future, though organising an annual conferences, and other activities. For example, the documentary TV series ‘Fibrenamics: The Extraordinary World of Fibres’ has been seen by around half a million people via multiple media platforms, and is still being watched today on YouTube.
All in all, Fibrenamics is indeed a platform that embodies connectivity. With its activities and strategies for stakeholder engagement, it exemplifies a robust model for University-Business Cooperation that fosters open innovation for a technologically advanced and sustainable model of social and economic development.
To learn more about the mechanisms, outputs, and impacts of Fibrenamics, you can find the detailed case study here.
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