FROM INNOVATIVE IDEA TO MARKET: STANDARDS HELP PAVE THE WAY
Joan Guasch is the Director for International Development and Public Programs at Eurecat, a Research and Technological organization (RTO). Eurecat works together with a wide range of industries, from textiles, food processing, automotive, railway and aeronautics, to electronics and the health industry.
“We take advantage of our cross-sectorial position to work together with the different types of industries in our region,” says Guasch. “It's a very exciting place to work, because we're two steps ahead of what's currently on the market. That's why standardization is really important.”
Eurecat collaborates with companies in three main ways. Guasch: “The first is that we are hired by them to develop and deliver results. The second way is working in close collaboration with companies contributing their own resources, their own knowledge and working on progression together. The third way is when we develop something on our own and use our own resources and then sell that knowledge. So we license and let others exploit the knowledge that we developed.”
“We're two steps ahead of the market. That's why standardization is really important.”
Eurecat (RTO), Spain
“The licensing business is the little brother of the family. It's what we are lesser known for. As an example, we have licensed Dolby to use one of our patents. When this happens, the use and application of that knowledge is embedded in other products. In any case, we are glad to see that our research delivers something of interest for the companies.”
Including standardization in research projects
At Eurecat, standardization activities are included early on in the industrial projects under development. Guasch: “When a research project starts, you define the considerations like budget, calendar, deliverables, resources, partners, etcetera. Once there is a clear technological view on the project, we ask our national standards organization, the people from UNE, if they want to join.”
“By including standardization in your project, you are paving the way for the exploitation of the project's results.”
Eurecat (RTO), Spain
“By including standardization in research projects from the beginning, we are assuring compliance with existing standards. Then we get in touch with the standards committees and those preparing new standards, so we can contribute our knowledge to the creation of these standards. In a recent research project for the development of a new medical device, we had somebody from the standards organization, who coached the researchers that it’s not to not delay the delivery of the project results, but it was in their interest to make sure they were not researching anything that was already covered by existing standards. So when I talk about 'including standardization', it's more than just 'developing standards'.
Paving the way for your innovation
“We consider it important to collaborate with the standardization community because it helps to disseminate what you are developing. It gives you access to other experts, influencers and regulators in the same field. And very importantly, you are already paving the way for the exploitation of the project's results,” he says, waving his personalized glasses.
Besides improving his eyesight, Guasch's glasses serve as a prime example of an innovative personalized product, getting to the market guided by standards. The glasses are a result of 3D printing innovation to produce the frame and a manufacturing chain made by an artificially intelligent algorithm that enables decision making on where to produce the parts, among other features.
One of the project partners was collaborating with an ISO committee responsible for eyewear products and services. This collaboration ensured that once the technology was totally ready to produce 100% personalized glasses, the standards were ‘open’ to the product. “Operational instructions, such as production location, cost, timeframe and where to have the product delivered, all these things are possible thanks to standardized communication between the 3D printers, enabling the product to be manufactured according to requirements of the user.”
The relationship between the national standards organizations and Eurecat started during the Horizon2020 programme. It was a challenge knowing how to engage or how to write project proposals, as it was a new type of collaboration. Although the technology center was initially skeptical about it, they found out that it was in fact very, very easy.
Guasch does not hide his surprise: “We saw that the national standards organizations were in fact facilitators, opening different opportunities for participation. They gave examples of potential contributions not only during the project, but also after the project, which is a vital moment for us because that’s when you will see the result in the market.”
“In 2019, the Spanish standards organization UNE gave us an award as recognition for the participation and collaboration that we have had with them since Horizon 2020. I think that after the experiences that we have had, we are already inspiring other institutions to use standardization as a tool for the execution of research projects.
“We are already inspiring other institutions to use standardization as a tool for research projects.”
Eurecat (RTO), Spain
Indeed, I presume that for the next European programme, the Horizon Europe, we finally will see standardization activities become standard practice in collaborative research projects.”
Standardization as standard practice
Based on their experience with projects developed during the Horizon2020 programme with standardization experts, Eurecat already added standardization activities in the coming years.
“I know that there are people who doubt standards, and consider standards as barriers or walls that block access to the market, but I don't see it like that at all. I think it's rather the opposite - standards facilitate. I think in the future standardization will be used as a common activity in collaborative research projects in the same way we now use, for example, the OneDrive system to share our documents.”
Collaboration and consensus
“We don't have standardization in all the projects that we run. It’s important to note that if you run a private project with a company, you are often more a user of standards than developing new standards. But for highly innovative, large projects, where you have a consortium with more industries participating than universities or RTOs, we ask our national standards organization to join and help the consortium with standardization.”
Guasch underlines the importance of consensus in decision making during a research project. A collaborative project has different actors, each with their own experience and knowledge, joining forces to achieve the final target. “By using the consensus building methods, we learned from standardization, we increase the team commitment, and we facilitate decision-making to go forward in the research.”
“We increase the team commitment and we facilitate decision-making.”
Eurecat (RTO), Spain
Guasch explains: “In all research projects, there comes a certain moment when decisions are made regarding the protection of intellectual property rights, and what to open to the whole global community. The standards organizations are intermediaries, made up of experts in the field, because of their professional background or individual experience. If you engage the standards organization in your consortium, you have the opportunity to interact with those experts without explaining the exact knowledge that you are developing, because that will be for sure protected.”
Worst case scenario
In Guasch’s opinion, the worst that can happen if you don't involve standardization in a research project from the beginning, or from the early stages, is to discover at the end of the project that all your development is not accepted by end users requiring standards compliance. And then problems will appear at the end of the project's execution. “When you were too focused, only looking out for your own interest and your own passion, and suddenly you discover that a similar initiative exists somewhere else, an innovation which somehow competes with yours. That is the worst case scenario.”