Are you ready to aircharge your phone?

Are you ready to aircharge your phone?

Oxford-Brookes-EPS

Case study by Oxford Brookes University

What if you could just lay down your tired mobile at your desk, in the coffee shop, or at the airport, and have it automatically charge? An exciting new venture from an Oxfordshire company, supported by a KTP with Oxford Brookes, is making it possible to do just that; and not surprisingly, the interest from potential customers is huge.

CMS Industries was seeking to grow its business by moving from the distribution of components for office furniture to the creation of original products. MD Steve Liquorish approached Oxford Brookes University to enquire about a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), and the outcome was a two-year project in engineering design that is reaping spectacular rewards.  

‘Aircharge’ is a growing range of neat, visually sophisticated wireless charging devices that integrate into furniture and desk accessories. Initially installed around the Clerkenwell district of London (hub of the UK’s office furniture industry), the products have gone on to attract attention from household name companies such as Vodafone and a major fast food chain, with trials for installation in customer areas nationwide. They’ve been used at F1 corporate events and are generating interest in the hotel, travel and banking sectors, among others, that could result in worldwide rollout. As a business, CMS has moved almost overnight from distribution in a niche market to selling its own designs into companies they could never have approached before.

Key to the project was KTP Associate, Glenn Le Faou, a young Master of Design recruited by the partnership. Guided and supervised by Shpend Gerguri, Senior Lecturer in Engineering Design at the University, Glenn developed the aircharge product line and even created the distinctive logo and icon that could become as widely recognised as the wifi symbol.

For Glenn, it has meant direct experience of taking a product to market – and the triumphs and tribulations that entails. From Brookes he has been given access to the latest thinking and research on such issues as assembly, testing, bonding technologies and new materials, including glues developed by Brookes researchers, plus access to testing machines and other resources.

Being based at CMS has enabled Glenn to become an integral part of the development process, gaining insight into the entire business function from project management and finance to understanding customer needs. He has come into direct contact with the challenges and complexities of scaling up products for mass production. His role has given him responsibilities and a breadth of experience rarely found at such an early stage of a graduate career – to the extent that he was shortlisted for the national award for ‘Business Leader of Tomorrow’.

“Seeing aircharge through from conception to a new brand and product range has been an insightful and rewarding experience,” said Glenn, “particularly as I want to help create products that people can use in day to day life. It has taught me about the process of harmonising technology, ergonomics and manufacturing methods cost-effectively to make something worthwhile.” For CMS, Brookes has brought fresh thinking and support that has given it the confidence to expand into a ew market and develop a product line unlike others in its portfolio. Sales Director Barry Grant comments, “Finding Glenn has proved to be one of the most invigorating moments in our 24 year history.

With the backing of Oxford Brookes we had a great deal of confidence in the high level design input from the experienced individuals behind him. He and the KTP have given us benefits over and above our expectations.” It’s no surprise then that as the project came to an end, the company recruited Glenn to a permanent position as Design Manager. The value of the framework was also demonstrated as the company launches a further KTP, this time with Glenn as Company Supervisor for a new Associate.

Brookes staff, meanwhile, have been able to test their thinking in a dynamic market sector and bring insights from the commercial process of product development to their teaching and research. Whether or not ‘to aircharge’ becomes the verb of choice when charging your mobile device, the benefits of the partnership to the company, the sector, the University and the individuals involved will be around for years to come.

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