In the high tech industry, software systems tend to be extremely sophisticated. Companies often rely on research institutes or universities to solve their research challenges. As these two worlds speak different languages, the implementation of those research results often fails. ICT Group and ESI (TNO) prove that a collaboration between industry and academia can be smooth sailing, if the right people and skills are involved.
Software systems in the high tech industry have become so complicated that they push conventional software engineering practices beyond their limits. This is why high tech companies increasingly collaborate with universities and research institutes to address challenges in their software systems.
These kinds of innovation processes go through different stages of development, defined by the corresponding Technology Readiness Level (TRL), an index to measure the maturity and usability of an evolving technology. Universities usually focus on fundamental research (TRL 1 to 3), whereas research institutes also cover validating the technology in the lab and prototyping (TRL 3 to 7). The high tech companies bringing the innovation to market concern themselves with prototype testing and completing the system in its operational environment (TRL 7 to 9). Though the pipeline seems efficient, partnerships between academia and business often suffer from a disconnect between these different phases of the innovation process.
ICT Group is on a mission to tackle this problem. Having experience in both academia and high tech industry, its software engineers are able to take care of the second phase of the innovation process (TRL 5 to 9) to help companies innovate faster. ICT Group recently teamed up with ESI, the leading Dutch research group for high-tech embedded systems, to provide a sophisticated software solution for the Dutch printing company Océ.
Océ has developed an innovative industrial printer that can print on different paper types and is able to differentiate between printing single and double sides in the same print run. These extra functionalities posed challenges for the design of the paper handling engine, the system that transports the paper through the machine. Océ worked with both the Eindhoven University of Technology and ESI to create an advanced scheduling algorithm that could accomplish this task at a high throughput speed.
However, the algorithm prototypes were not yet optimized for direct implementation in Océ’s printers. This is where ICT Group stepped in. Software designer Waheed Ahmad tested the algorithms and made changes to the model to optimize their performance. Océ then picked the best performing algorithm, which Ahmad fine-tuned for inclusion in the printers’ embedded software.
This collaboration between ICT Group and ESI provided a smooth transition between the different phases of the innovation process. After the fundamental research, including prototype development carried out by the university (TRL 1-3), ESI took over by validating and demonstrating the algorithms in their industrially relevant environment (TRL 3-7). ICT Group helped out by fine-tuning the prototypes (TRL 5-7), moulding the raw technology into a workable software system, which can now be taken up by Océ to finished product (TRL 8-9).
‘These kinds of partnerships are quite rare,’ Ahmad says. ‘Since ESI isn’t a software company, its research takes place on the prototype level. It usually takes time for companies like Océ to understand and integrate that kind of knowledge. Thanks to our collaboration the integration phase went much faster.’